Traces from "the great mass of the memory mountain": the poetry and poetics of Edward Kamau Brathwaite
For the land has lost the memory of the most secret places. We see the moon but cannot remember its meaning. A dark skin is a chain but it cannot recall the name of its tribe (Brathwaite, Arrivants 164). These lines from the second section of"Jah," published in Islands in 1969, recur in Kamau Brathwaite's latest book of poetry, Born to Slow Horses (2005).' This is a volume that carries the deliberate trace of Kamau's poetic mission to assert and ensure the survival of "tribal" memory - memory of peoples, culture, language, rhythms, poetics - the history of African survival in the Caribbean and the further shores of the "new world"Chicago, Detroit, New York, Paris, London. For fifty years Brathwaite has performed the role of tribal drummer, giving voice to silence, giving body to the disembodied, giving name to the unnamed, giving a sense of belonging to longing. His poetry is a poetry of return - a poetry of trace - a journey back that is always also a cumulative journey forward into the future: "So i turn back turn back," intones Brathwaite in the poem "Mountain"- a poem that rises up slowly, speculatively, cumulatively out of the body of the volume, Slow Horses,....