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For our friends in the paths of Irma and Maria

Of course, we feel deep sympathies for all the Caribbean peoples who have suffered loss of life and property in these last couple of weeks, but we think particularly of the writers we know and publish who have been part of this catastrophe of nature. We think of the fine young poet Richard Georges in Tortola, unable to get to the Forward Prize award ceremony where he is shortlisted, because the Tortola airport is out of action. We think of the playwright Alwin Bully in Dominica who has reportedly lost his roof. We think of Loretta Collins Klobah and her daughter in Puerto Rico, whose brilliant new collection of poems, Ricantations, we have just accepted for publication. We think of Howard Fergus and Edgar Nkosi White sitting it out in Montserrat, no doubt remembering the devastation caused by Hugo in 1989. We think of Joanne Hillhouse in Antigua, with ties to Barbuda. And there are no doubt others, migrated away from those islands in the eye of the storm, who are thinking anxiously about relatives back home.

There are, of course, the dependent territories such as the British Virgin islands and Montserrat for which the UK, however slowly and grudgingly, will have to take some responsibilities for rebuilding. But we think the British responsibility must go far beyond that. We must remember that but for the British engagement in the slave trade, and the fortunes made in the sugar industry, almost none of the ancestors of those currently suffering the devastations of Irma and Maria would be there. We forcibly shipped them there. We can’t forget our debt to them. We have the opportunity to repay a little of that moral debt in urging our government to extend its help to islands like Dominica and other independent territories for which we were once the colonial power.

But we also know that writers make use of circumstance, however harsh, to feed their imaginations. Let us leave you with two poems that do just that. First there’s Merle Collins’ “October, All Over” from Lady in a Boat, written before the destruction of much of Grenada’s housing by Ivan in 2004, and then Howard Fergus’s “In Hugo Memoriam” from Lara Rains and Colonial Rights, which shows how even in extremis a sardonic humour can be found. For other treatments of hurricanes on the Peepal Tree Press web site, there’s Geoffrey Philp’s Hurricane Center, Andrew Salkey’s classic children’s novel, Hurricane, and Diana McCaulay’s Jamaican novel, Huracan. See too the DISCOVER section/ PLACE/ Hurricane for other titles.

 

OCTOBER, ALL OVER

 

Batten down door, cover up

window, buy matches and candle,

I tell you, acquire

 

masanto. Caribbean

hurricane season and wind,

raging, could just wind down on

 

rooftop, grab it, lift it up,

swing it high, fling it free, move

it with a rhythm and a

 

rhyme there from time. June, too soon;

July, stand by; August, look

out, you must; September, remember;

 

October, all over.

But that hurricane season

was cool as cucumber.

 

Sky blue, no warning from radio,

days sticky like wet cocoa,

sweating, turning slow,

 

even the warning from time

wasn’t sounding urgent. June,

too soon; July, stand by; August,

 

look out, you must; September,

remember; October,

all over. But sudden so

one day in October radio

shouting bout rumours

of wind. Some say, cho, some say,

 

chupes, is October, all over

already, man. Ain’t got to

batten no door, worry bout

 

candle. Hurricane season

gone through if you really study

the regular rhyme. June,

 

too soon; July, stand by;

August, look out, you must;

September, remember; October,

 

all over. You know

hurricane develop in

secret? Not a whisper in

 

breeze till wind with its rumour

shake roof in October. June

was soon, July, still soon, August,

 

soon, soon. September, well,

starting to remember. October,

wind was rage, was riot,

 

raise people and fling them

dekatché them who dead, who

dying, who behind bars. So

 

October, all over, oui.

You know nuff rooftop gone? Who

disappear, disappear and

 

folks watching the sky begging

for a sign, for some relief

from this sudden destroying.

 

And same October so, all

over in truth. You ever

see that? Look how you could listen

 

to a rhythm all the

days of your life and never

get the form and the turn

 

and the meaning of the thing

that it saying. June, too soon

July. Stand by. August, look

 

out, you must. September, remember

October. All over.


Merle Collins, taken from Lady in A Boat

 

 

IN HUGO MEMORIAM

 

In sacred memory of our beloved

Hugo born of a virgin

On a wet September night

His horror scope harboured

Good winds; it was a shot

In the vein of a sick economy

Inflating it to dizzy heavens

Ensuring high prices and a speedy

Recovery. Hugo rocked the island

With music and tongues of fire

Echoed over many waters

Calling nations like a revival

To Montserrat Beaulah land

 

We celebrate Hugo child of God

He killed and made alive for a season

Men at prayer for a Christmas hurricane

Are not entirely out of reason.


Howard Fergus, taken from Lara Rains and Colonial Rights

 

Read Loretta Collins Klobah's account of Hurricane Maria.

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