Olive Senior is a Jamaican poet of high repute and is the author of Gardening in the Tropics. In this poetry volume Senior seeks to tackle history, moral issues, travel and environmental crises. Senior’s poems are pervaded with irony, humour and sarcasm and her tone is conversational and calm. Senior’s style of writing aids in creating a diacritic voice which is evident in the poems “Seeing the Light”, “Meditation on Yellow” and “Stowaway”.
Senior in an interview with Kwame Dawes entitled “Talk Yuh Talk” admits that she has been haunted by the absence of the Tainos and was always unsatisfied with the image of the Tainos being a simplistic group of people that existed before Columbus’ arrival and then they suddenly became extinct. Her interest in the Tainos is evident in her poems “Meditation on Yellow” and “Seeing the Light” where she sows seeds of discourse to the colonial notions that the Europeans achieved anything positive in their conquest.
The poem “Seeing the Light speaks to the destruction of the Caribbean by the Europeans. Their conquest to the “New World”/Caribbean was aimed at introducing civilization to the Taino society and Christianity through evangelism. Au contraire, their conquest terminated the lives of the Tainos and resulted in severe deforestation. Senior employs a bracketed aside to express counter discourse to the productivity of the European systems. “(Though in their chronicles they may have recorded it by another name: Conquista?
Evangelismo? Civilizacion? )” Senior manipulates Spanish diction which is the tongue of the European colonizers to embellish her argument of counter discourse by mocking and criticizing them. The question marks are utilized to interrogate the Europeans. Additionally, Senior skilfully exploits rhetorical questions to challenge and cast on doubt on the religion of the Europeans and supplement the counter discourse. The speaker proceeds to ask “Why did those who speak of Light wear black, the colour mourning?
Why was their countenance so grave? Why on a dead tree did they nail the bringer of Light, One Cristo, torture and kill him and then ask us to come, bow down and worship him? ” These questions subtly enhance the cynical tone of the speaker. The third question is the most crucial as it is a direct counter discourse to the Europeans’ religion and beliefs. The speaker wants to know why the Europeans would kill Jesus Christ, who they worship and then ask the Tainos to bow down and worship him.
Furthermore, “Meditation on Yellow” centers around the theme of exploitation and this relates to the Tainos, Africans and contemporary worker, for example in the tourism industry. Senior deploys a bracketed aside “(for heat engenders gold and fires the brain)” this creates an extremely sarcastic and critical tone that interrogates the colonial narratives and seeks to question the motives of the Europeans and reveal their lust and desire for gold and their resultant insanity.
Senior puts to use appropriate lineation which separates the innocent and peaceful nature of the Tainos from the lustful and insane Europeans. The break makes the distinction between the two groups and adds performativity. In addition, there is usage of pun and humour in the lines “a bit continent despite your vast holdings” the tone is sarcastic and it emphasizes that despite the Europeans’ immense possessions they cannot hold it in like waste.
Moreover, the bracketed aside “(though I was gratified to note that despite the difference in our skins our piss was exactly the same shade of yellow,” is used to symbolize equality through urine and the diction; “piss” is extremely crude. In the lines “I wished for you a sudden enlightenment that” is ironic because the Europeans thought that they had brought or were bringing enlightenment to the Tainos, however it was the Tainos this “barbaric group of people who wanted to remind them of their location.
The voice is again critical and sarcastic as there is counter discourse to the notion that the Europeans were more enlightened and knowledgeable than the Tainos. In these two poems Olive Senior is the vox populi. She has given a voice to the Tainos and Africans whose thoughts have been suppressed and effectively offers a afro -centric perspective to the historical events involving the Europeans and natives. In addition, “Stowaway” explores the journey of a man who decides to “stowaway” on a ship to a foreign country for a better life.
The diction in this poem mimics a monologue as the reader feels like they are being spoken to. A double entendre appears in the first line, “there’s this much space between me and discovery” this pun makes the reader aware that the traveller has no space around him and that he will soon be discovered. This pun brings to light the terrifying condition aboard the ship and the uncertainty of the travel time. The repetition of “I” creates a distinctive voice and adds an element of performativity to the poem. One day light will enter this grave” is another double entendre conveying the idea that the man will soon be caught or he will soon discover this new land/territory. Grave is a metaphor for the ship and is a symbol of darkness and hence there is a biblical allusion to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The tone created is one of isolation, fear and anxiety which accompanies the theme of travel especially in this case as an “undeclared passenger” a “stowaway”.
When the speaker decides to just settle down and wait for the ship to dock his tone becomes calm and relaxed, the tempo is slowed down in contrast to the erratic and frenzied rhythm before. Olive Senior employs various poetic devices namely bracketed aside, metaphor, irony and double entendre to skilfully create distinctive voice in her poems with the aid of her effective and stylistic diction and lineation to create counter discourse. She blends these devices and techniques to create tones which contribute to her distinctive voice.
Courtney from Study Moose
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