With these poets drawing from the pool of their collective unconscious, the haunting memory of a traumatic past from “passage to plantation,” something new emerges. It is the Coolitude of endurance, the transformation of a vocabulary into a grammar that depends upon inclusion in various national spaces. As seen in Torabully’s poetry, the history and weight words occupy when given different parts of speech, to the continuing negotiating of kalapani, and the power to topple patriarchal atavism with queer interventions — poets Coolie language.
Critic, writer, and novelist David Dabydeen was born in 1955 in Berbice, Guyana, moving to England with his parents in 1969. He read English at Cambridge University, gained a doctorate at University College London in 1982, and was awarded a research fellowship at Wolfson College, Oxford. David Dabydeen is Director of the Centre for Caribbean Studies and Professor at the Centre for British Comparative Cultural Studies at the University of Warwick. He is also Guyana’s Ambassador-at-Large and a member of UNESCO’s Executive Board.
The poetry of David Dabydeen’s Coolie Odyssey (1988) is the first of the Indo-Caribbean body of poetry that I examine, as it was my own personal entry point into poetry. In his first book of poems, Slave Song, Dabydeen wrote entirely in Guyanese Creole ekphrastic poems that gave voice to the brown and black bodies painted by colonials in Guyana during the days of slavery and indenture-era plantations. This book moves between Guyanese Creole and standard English to produce the effect of a Caribbean person living a bicultural life in diaspora.