Jean-Paul Satre, in his essay ‘Orphee Negre”, wrote of the negro poet plunging into the dark void, using his instinct ‘as a kind of radar’, to discover a fresh vision of the truth. I would like to isolate this idea from Sartre’s suspect concept of negritude: the need to break out of new patterns and recreate a fresh and unique cultural sensibility occurs in every new nation, whether in India or Ireland, Nigeria or the early United States. The relevant point is that the imaginative writer, as Shelley insisted, a hundred and forty years ago, is central to that discovery of a new cultural and spiritual identity demanded by the emergence of any new nation. This is dramatically illustrated in Africa. There, to name but a few works, Chinua Achebe’s A Man of the People, Gabriel Okara’ s The Voice, and even lesser works like T. M. Aluko’s One Man one Matchet, are ‘open-ended’, exploratory, reaching towards values and answers which are in the process of being discovered.
The writer’s task as a cultural explorer is particularly difficult, even as it is peculiarly important, in the Carib-bean, where he has been subjected to such thorough, and such conflicting, influences; indeed, where he often begins without any sense of meaningful ‘roots’ from which to move upwards. Nevertheless, the role of imaginative writers in the evolution of newly independent Caribbean societies has not been negligible.
A.J. Seymour, Martin Carter and Wilson Harris indicate three different aspects of the way a writer can be significant in a country’s development. Before looking at his poetry, it must of course be said that Seymour is one of those cultural catalysts, such as Frank Collymore in Barbados and Henry Swanzy in London, whose importance to Caribbean literature goes beyond anything they have written. He has been the centre of a literary group in Guyana, and given West Indian Poetry a voice through his editorship of Kyk-over-al, and such ventures as his ‘miniature Poets’. He has written evaluative criticism in an era where such comment is curiously rare. And then there is his own poetry.