The Calypsonian

Say something political for him to hear;
he will be kaiso at once, a coonoomoonoo man
ready to blare out into your ears
like the gaffing poet with his dialect.

He will next put two and two together
and come up with verse, and the rhymes from under
palm tree, with waves singing in the background,

will fashion rhythms in your heart —
he, once a Bad-John gritting his teeth in the gutter.
now imagines love and fame.

He will stand up, and strum: and play on!
Watch his feet stamp, his body swaying —
he is a man for all seasons, the crowd will sway
with him in a real carnival; but don’t put him
in a corner to breathe slowly by himself

Or else another lyric will come to his lips —
and he will quickly out you into rhyme, immortalize
you better than the gloomy poet would —
his style is all that counts, his laughter
greater than waves, wider than the expanse of an ocean,
will be like a vacation writer’s, filling you up with sun
— and sparkling surprise.

Questions and Answers

What inspired “The Calypsonian”?

I have often thought of the character of the calypsonian; he’s a common figure in Guyana and the Caribbean as a whole; and you see, calypso music was everywhere around us when I was growing up. It’s the same young people in the Caribbean experience today. So here, I think, I was simply reflecting back, going back into memory; and as the American novelist William Faulkner said, “The past is never past”.

What poetic techniques did you use in “The Calypsonian”?

This poem was meant to be, well, a parody of the calypsonian. The technique is almost a narrative, a dramatic monologue where the personal voice or persona in the poem is asking the reader to come and engage with the calypsonian, as if he has just met him in a Caribbean street in Guyana, Trinidad or Jamaica, or in some other cosmopolitan city like Toronto, where Caribbean people are numerous. I wanted the poem to have a humorous element, a certain lightheartedness; the vocabulary is deliberately chosen to reflect this, including words like “coonoomoonoo man”—to give dialectal energy to it and make it have its special appeal. Knowledge of the Caribbean is essential in order to write a poem of this nature.

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