KYK-OVER-AL AND THE RADICALS

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Kyk-over-al is the name of a ruined Dutch fort kyking over all the waters of the Essequibo, Mazaruni and Cayuni. As a name for a new magazine, started and edited by Arthur Seymour in conjunction with the B.G. Writers’ Association in 1945, it was a fittingly symbolic title. Here was something Guianese, with its association with the (ruined?) Dutch and Amerindian past; an outlook or tower from which could be surveyed the cultural landscape, first of Guiana, finally of the entire Caribbean area.

‘What are our aims? Kyk-over-al we hope will be an instrument to help forge a Guianese people, to make them conscious of their intellectual and spiritual possibilities. There’s so much we can do as a people if we can get together more, and with this magazine as an outlet, the united cultural organizations can certainly build, we believe, some achievement of common pride in the literary world, without detracting in the least from their group aims or autonomy.

This, from Seymour’s first editorial, December 1945, is the language and hope of the post-war British Caribbean: conscious of the need for identity, aware of the need for co-operation, anxious, still, to retain local autonomies. Very soon, of course. Seymour and Kyk were to be swept along towards the vision of a West Indian Federation where these local autonomies, it was expected, would count for less than hitherto. But that was to come a little later. For the moment, Kyk was concerned with a form of Guianaese cultural nationalism and the coming to terms with its colonial inheritance. Here Seymour’s outlook was crucial to the development and direction of the magazine. He was what for convenience we might call a post-war, liberal intellectual. He felt the importance of coming to terms with European culture; though like most West Indians of his generation (and since), his attitude to this was ambivalent. In his Editorial Note of Decem­ber 1948 he said:

‘We do so desperately want to be rooted in the European soil, that is the only earth avail­able….’

But at the same time, as was fashionable thinking then, he regarded this ‘soil’ as outworn and dying. There was hope however:

‘…. the accident of forced immigration into the Caribbean has isolated us to the impact of a dying [Western] civilization so that we can pass on some flaming torch higher up the line.’

Seymour, in other words, had conceived a role, and an optimistic one at that, for Caribbean culture: a European-based expression, benefitting somehow from its experience of slavery, bringing new life to the Western world. The work of Kyk-over-al has, I think, to be assessed in terms of its performance in this role; and that is what this essay will be about.

Kyk’s objectives can be found in a sentence of Seymour’s in the editorial of December 1948 already referred to:

‘We must make an act of possession somehow of our environment and the faster the better. …”

For the seventeen years of its existence [1945- 1961], | Kyk-over-al did make an effort of possession, an effort which for sustained endeavour and variety of range and means, surely places it among the signifi­cant documents of our time. While Bim and Focus remained purely literary journals, Kyk was always, as Seymour had defined it, a cultural magazine, re­flecting first our post-war hope, moving from a purely Guianese to a West Indian position with the setting up of University College of the West Indies and the talk of Closer Union and Federation, and coming, towards the end, to an awareness of the importance of African culture in our lives. This last development, though only hinted at, must be regarded as revolutionary with­in the terms of West Indian liberal thinking of the time; but the criticism of the work of Kyk as a whole is just this: that despite the gestures of intention it never was, despite one or two important exceptions, revolutionary. Its teeth of words would smile but never bite.

This can best be illustrated by taking a look at the quality of some of the contributions. Those were several brilliantly conceived features, some of which occupied entire issues of the magazine: A survey of West Indian Literature, Pen Portraits of West Indians Adams, Sherlock, Arthur Lewis, C. L. R. James, two anthologies, one of Guianese, the other of West Indian Indian poetry, the Cities of the Caribbean, the Novels of the West Indies, a symposium on The Artist in Society, Guianese Christmas, Children and Value in a Changing Society, The Theatre in British Guiana. .

But none of these did more than scratch the sur­face; few were concerned with analysis, though quite often there was disagreement, especially in the sym­posia, with the editor’s concept and point of view.

One is, of course, fully aware of the difficulties facing an editor in our part of the world: the shortage of contributors, their laziness and unreliablity over promised submissions. From this point of view, in fact, Kyk did very well. The list of contributors is im­pressive. And one might say in extenuation of the point about lack of analysis, that Kyk’s concern was necessarily with description, with supplying an inventory of values; tory of values; that this had to be done before the work of assessment could take place. But seventeen years is a long time and one can’t help feeling that a little more editorial rigour, a little less of the old liberal acceptance of the amateur (or rather, amateur-type performances) would have paid off more hand­somely in the long-run. How, for example, can one account for the publication of a poem like Van Sertima’s Poem for Princess Margaret, even though there is an element of pastiche within it:

When you see us massing in the streets thronging round your car, gazing on your face, know that we hunt for the golden glimmer half-hidden in the jungle of our auburn hair.