KYK-OVER-AL AND THE RADICALS

In ‘Cities of the British Caribbean’ which could have been a really valuable ‘act of possession’, we find this kind of writing:

‘and neath the ‘witching drapery of the night, concealing the scars of ugly buildings and dirty streets, lovely indeed the town was!’ (Basseterre)

‘On my way I stopped to look at a white-helmeted policeman on point duty.’ (Kingston).

Instead, too, of so much ‘Is there a West Indian Culture’, ‘Is there a West Indian Way of Life’, one would have hoped to find more solid, specific descrip­tions say, of komfo dances, queque songs, masque­rades: the basic elements of the ‘culture’. Or did con­tributors’ European-based liberal eyes not see these things? Even the calypso did not make its appear­ance until Kyk no. 13, 1951, and was treated then like an exotic butterfly, pinned to the point of a lepidopterist’s amazement.

If this was all Kyk had to offer, it would hardly have been worthwhile writing this article. But exist­ing side by side with the majority of liberal and gene­ralizing contributions, there was a small, more radi­cal and critical element within the magazine; and it is in the encouragement of this minority, and the pro­viding it with an opportunity to co-exist with the majority view, that Seymour’s success as an editor lies; even though I think he did not (perhaps could not) make the most of his opportunities and the talent available here. Although there was co-existence, it was, as the term implies, a passive condition. There was no real dialogue between the views.

Since Seymour was himself perhaps the most substantial and evident spokesman for the liberal point of view in Kyk, it is not surprising that radical criticism of West Indian liberal thinking was expressed through critiques of his work. Discussing Seymour’s 1957 edition of the Kyk-over-al Anthology of West Indian Poetry, Laurence W. Keates wrote:

‘One of the editor’s assumptions I must challenge. It is this: that West Indian cul­ture is the exclusive concern of the Negro, whereas it is a fact that in two of the impor­tant territories the Negro is in a minority.

‘….a definitive West Indian culture and literature must be founded on wider basis than at present. The contribution of the non-Negro

elements to the common culture may well be highly significant.’

(Kyk 23, pp. 43-46).

And Wilson Harris writing about the artist’s re­lation to society said, through his review of Guiana Book:

‘A. J. Seymour’s poetry marks to my mind the completion of the ornament in a century of poetry in the West Indies and British Guiana. The poet is unaware, as it were, of internal weakness, and therefore uses his scope, leisurely in a gracious dream of the past.

‘….most writers in British Guiana are completely devoid of anguish or real passion, and experiment is frowned upon by them as too personal, ugly and sinister…’

In typical Harris style, the theme is developed, all the more impressively when one realizes that the review is dated 1948. Where else in the Caribbean but in Kyk could one have found this scope and penetration so early in the day, as in this considera­tion of Seymour’s successful ‘epic’ poetry (For Christo­pher Columbus, The Legend of Kaieteur), with (in Harris’ view), the unsuccessful social statements of Tomorrow Belongs to the People?

‘The poet here stands on two legs, both epic, one truly epic and grand, and the other diplomatic, cautious and evasive. The form­ula is the same but its applicability, so spon­taneous and eventful in the first instance, has begun to wear. This may mean simply of course a degeneration in the hero and not in the basic myth. But I think it goes further than this superficial cover and indi­cates a weakness of petition, a static ap­proach that cannot be overcome by appeal­ing to the individual at a time when no decentralization of resource or transplanting of the myth is able to free itself from collec­tive disaster, unless escape is really the aban­donment of formula in search of an open mind to a new and constant form.’

And he concludes:

‘To a great extent the failure and in­effectual ornament of West Indian and Brit­ish Guianese verse has been the supplanting of surprise, of leap, by moral.’

(Kyk 2, pp. 37-40)

This 800-word review article, plus the several other book reviews, even without the more recent (1965) Tradition and the West Indian Novel (pp. 11-17), would be enough to establish Harris as per­haps the most illuminating literary critic in the West Indies today. The regret is that despite its appear­ance in Kyk, this type of mind and vision was never really given the opportunity to influence the direction and bearing of the magazine, so that an assessment of the achievement of Kyk becomes paradoxical and difficult. How much weight should we give to the ‘radical’ outlook in our summation of the whole?

This difficulty presents itself within an even wider context in Lilian Dewar’s review of Vic Reid’s New Day. Here again something relevant, illuminating and in terms of treatment of Reid’s book, original, is being said, in Kyk, though, one feels, it is not par­ticularly of Kyk:

‘…after three generations of prepara­tion Garth Campbell, the lawyer is not after all so heroic. We are meant to applaud the refinements of the methods of achieving poli­tical liberty. What we see is that the people and spirit of 1865 have been rejected along with methods. ‘The Campbells have moved away from the people. David Camp­bell was one among several who thought they saw what was good for Jamaica, and who were willing to fight for it. Garth starts out on a lone fight and is later joined by a cousin of his. What has happened to the people of Stony Gut? Did they have no grandsons? What are the Jamaican people themselves going to contribute to political liberty? It seems that they are to contribute their willingness to be led, that the Garth Campbells will give them what is good for them, before they even ask for it. In losing sight of the people with whom he set out so bouyantly, Reid has lost sight of social reality’

(Ky, 12,  p. 113).