Online edition of Shunpiking
Published on Feb 2002
Culture & Life
George Elliott Clarke
From shunpiking magazine,
Volume 7, Number 41, January, 2002
For shunpiking magazine the Governor-General’s award to George Elliot Clarke for his extraordinary work Execution Poems carries a special signifcance.
Execution Poems (Gaspereau Press) revolve around the 1949 hanging of George Elliott Clarke’s cousins George and Rufus Hamilton for the murder of a taxi driver. The poetry explores and evokes the racism and violence that surrounded and shaped their lives.
As a self-described Canadian-Nova Scotian – Black Nova Scotian, who hails from the Black Loyalist community of Windsor Plains, was raised in Halifax, and is a practitioner of poetry and journalism – Dr. Clarke epitomizes the shunpiking approach to the historical panorama of our region.
The Maritimes are not simply a collection of diverse, separate, and disconnected threads that weave a haphazard tapestry, but a rich community of communities, whose voices, as George Elliot Clarke notes in reference to African Nova Scotians, are
"tinged with salt-water, gypsum, dust and honey, anger and desire. They are voices which, despite their debt to West Africa, have also adopted the timbre of Elizabethan English, Mi'kmaq, Gaelic and French – the other tongues of the ‘Latin’ country of Nova Scotia."
Our heartfelt congratulations. —Isaac Saney
George Elliott Clarke is from Windsor Plains and Halifax and teaches
world literature at the University of Toronto. He is the recipient of the
Governor-General’s Award for Poetry for his work Execution Poems (Gaspereau
I hate this language that Hate dictates to me.
It gusts the tang and bray of a savage civilization—
Violent words violently arrived at, violently loved.
Balderdash and braggadocio: what English is—
Crinklings of words in Bibles and newspapers—
A language that cannibalizes all other languages.
Speculate on the words still bottled blackly
In placid ink, fear what may leap from that innocence:
Forgetfulness of words in lovers’ faithless songs.
To howl in the night because of smoked rum wounding the heart;
To enter the Sally Anne—or Frenchy’s—and come out all spiffy;
To smell the sewer anger of politicians washed up by dirty votes;
To cakewalk the toxic narrowness of pasty, downtown streets;
To suffer a withdrawl of gangrenous twenty-dollar bills;
To become drunk with ink and repetition of crises in poker;
To feel your skin burning under vampire kisses meant for someone else;
To trash the best work of the original, Africville poets;
To carry the Atlantic into Montréal in epic suitcases with Harlem accents;
To mix sugar and tobacco and expensive loneliness in sorry bars;
To stagger a dirt road that leads to an exploded piano and bad sermons;
To enjoy sliced chicken on buttered bread, with a shot of rum;
To okay the miracle of a split length of wood supporting a line of verse;
To recognize Beauty when you see it and to not be afraid.
Sur Jean Chrétien
He is mendacious, swinish, foolish, garrulous,
Wrathful, calculating, vengeful, ornery, mean,
Execrable, difficult, violent, nice, amiable, sly,
Proud, forlorn, ironic, nasty, affronted, guilty,
Tyrannical, two-faced, dangerous, dirty, natty,
Comical, traitorous, gullible, cowardly, kindly,
Despicable, banal, and he is all of these things
Every single day of every election year. Then,
He gets worse.
Elegy for Blair States [1959-2001]
He has gone far from his name.
It is now like so much foam
Stranded, fading, on a beach—
When the wave undoes its stitch
And unravels again to the sea.
He is now no more an "I."
His bright, ebullient being—
Blonde-brash as bullion—was song
Not muted by mortal flesh,
But fire incapable of ash.
His name was an ex-slave name,
Remembering where we’s from
("States," some drunk, British clerk quipped—
For blacks from the ‘U.S.’ slipped).
Now, he’s fully free, escaped—
Like tidal shapes oceans sculpt.
In Memoriam: Geraldine Elizabeth Clarke [1939-2000]
To this caucus of liars, she was born,
Too generous a being, with a big laugh.
A first draft light, her beauty was perfume
That made oxygen itself redundant.
Her name is a green branch always surging
Under the pale moon of April’s Easter.
Without her, stars tumble blind into seas,
Aye, the stars fall blind into apple boughs,
And I’ll drown in the pense, North Atlantic waste,
That rapacious sea that drowns all light.
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