Two lost poems by Martin Carter have recently been discovered in a UK archive. The poems, along with other previously unseen work, will be published for the first time in University of Hunger: Collected Poems and Selected Prose, edited by Gemma Robinson (Bloodaxe publishers, February 2006). Stabroek News has been given exclusive access to this new edition and publishes the two poems with a note from Dr Robinson.
[Let my greatnesses transcend my indecencies]
Let my greatnesses transcend my indecencies
and let the sun that nature fashioned to make trees green
be as nothing to the light I fashion to make myself
Because I have discovered the secret of death
which has nothing to do with the end of a life
or a soul or a heart or an ignorant brutal mouth,
can be revealed in a moment of supreme love
and pain, the origin and birth of a face.
I have seen the rain fall in so many places
that I have ceased caring where the drops come from
whether from clouds or tree tops or the eyes of monkeys
who would like to cry but have to howl instead.
And so I look through the savage window of the world
sitting perilously on the sills of the shoulders of the clock
While a sweet child smiling with innocence
still wonders why a frown is not so ugly.
[Having, as I do, a profound hatred for
humans and alcohol]
Having, as I do, a profound hatred for humans and alcohol
I welcome both as dear friends to my bosom.
For while the former enrages the instincts of love buried in my skin
the latter makes release of what I should not want.
On the pavement of the street near to my house
I saw a man kill nearly for a love
which like a beetle he knew would soon escape
and vanish in the yellow pool of moonlight.
Human moonlight, alcohol of beetle and murder of love is one
As everything is in my futile benab
where the tribesman's poison arrow is the rain
that makes the greenest leaf turn yellow brown.
And yet I want you seriously to know
that the poison on the arrow's bark is food
as a curse is, or a moan is, when a man and woman soar,
as all of us have soared beneath the ocean's drowning.
On August 2, 1971, Martin Carter dated his handwritten copy of the poem that begins 'Let my greatnesses transcend my indecencies.' A poet who always celebrated and mourned what it meant to be human, Carter writes, 'I look through the savage window of the world.' This frank admission of human disgrace has not lost its poignancy. I came across the manuscript of this forgotten poem in the New Beacon papers held at the George Padmore Institute in London, UK, while researching Carter's work for the first edition of his collected poems and selected prose.
The 1970s can now be seen as a period of great poetic activity for Carter, but this was not obvious at the time. At the end of 1969 the Trinidadian historian, C. L. R. James, wrote to him saying, 'I hope you have not entirely abandoned the writing of poetry.' Carter had not given up on poetry. In that same year, while Minister of Information and Culture, Carter invited John La Rose (the Trinidadian writer, activist, and founder of New Beacon publishers) to publish a retrospective selection of his poetry. Between 1970 and 1975 the collection expanded, and the new poems, titled 'The When Time', eventually took up a third of the collection we know as Poems of Succession. The manuscript is now held in the New Beacon papers at the George Padmore Institute, and among the papers, proofs and correspondence, the two new poems, undiscovered for over thirty years, were found.
Both pieces display Carter's characteristic talent to voice compassion and fury in a single poem. The second poem begins, 'Having, as I do, a profound hatred for humans and alcohol/I welcome both as dear friends to my bosom.' But this is not a misanthropic or nihilistic poem. It ends with a bittersweet line, encouraging us to think about the heights and depths of human experience: 'all of us have soared beneath the ocean's drowning.'
The new Bloodaxe edition of Carter's work is intended to complement the important 1989 and 1997 Selected Poems, which included Carter's choice of his work. The new edition, titled University of Hunger: Collected Poems and Selected Prose, is the most comprehensive collection of Carter's work, including the first republication of 'To A Dead Slave' (1951), poems from the PPP journal, Thunder, all his uncollected poems, and key prose pieces. We may never know why these poems were not included in Poems of Succession, Poems of Affinity or Selected Poems, but I am glad to be able to introduce them to readers of Carter. In his work we find (in the words of Derek Walcott) a phenomenal 'tenderness.'
Carter could make poetry out of a flower, a leaf, the rain, a bird or a fish as easily as he could address fury, fire and futility. Writing in Georgetown, in the country where he spent his whole life, Carter's world was both local and global. Composing poetry on whatever was in front of him - cigarette cartons, envelopes, scrap paper - the urgency of his writing matched his need to understand himself and the world. Today, on the anniversary of Carter's death, it is important to remember him, his example and his work.
(Courtesy of Stabroek News, Tuesday December 13th 2005)