Angela Buck on Leonard Schwartz with Kamau Braithwaite

Kamau Braithwaite
Kamau Braithwaite

This monthly series features highlights from the Cross Cultural Poetics archive. Cross Cultural Poetics is one of the longest-running radio shows in America focused on contemporary poetry and poetics. Based at The Evergreen State College and hosted by Leonard Schwartz, the entire archive, running from 2003 to the present, can be accessed on PennSound.

For March, I’ve chosen an episode that originally aired February 2, 2004, and features poet and scholar Kamau Brathwaite. Brathwaite reads the poem “Negus” (from Islands), as well as “Stone” (Middles Passages) and “Hawk” (Born to Slow Horses). Brathwaite discusses his usage of “nation language,” which he describes as “English in terms of its lexicon, but not in terms of its syntax,” and narrates a bit of his personal history as a poet—from founding the Caribbean Artists Movement in London in the 70s, to establishing the journal (and later press) Savacou, to developing his distinctive Sycorax style, which he describes as a “kind of hieroglyphics or mural” that translates onto the page the felt sense of the spoken word. For me, Brathwaite’s work, which spans six decades and creates channels of dialogue between the U.S., Europe, Africa and the Caribbean, embodies the courage and ambition possible in the poetic act (both as a personal transformation of the received language and as a confrontation with history)—a poetics that, as Brathwaite puts it, “connects with myself and also connects with the society I know.”

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Kamau Brathwaite, born in Barbados in 1930, is an internationally celebrated poet, performer and cultural theorist. Co-founder of the Caribbean Artists Movement, he has served on the board of directors of UNESCO’s History of Mankind project, and as cultural advisor to the government of Barbados. Brathwaite has received numerous awards, among them the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the Bussa Award, the Casa de las Américas Prize, the Charity Randall Prize for Performance and Written Poetry and the Griffin Poetry Prize. He has received Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships, among many others. Brathwaite has authored many works, including Middle Passages, Ancestors and Elegguas.