The fine lines between past and future

Postcolonial Poetry in English. First Edition

May 25, 2007

In both publishing markets and university departments where the label "postcolonial literature" is generated and deployed, it is often narrowly equated with narrative prose, due to factors of availability and saleability.

The relative neglect of poetry has been partially addressed in general or regional anthologies of postcolonial literature. Yet it is only recently that book-length studies have appeared, notably Jahan Ramazani's The Hybrid Muse (2001), which have attempted to reclaim space for poetry as a subject of both critical inquiry and pleasure.

This recent impulse reflects a recognition that postcolonial poetry offers a unique insight into how the energies of contemporary global cultures are scripted from linguistic and literary modes of transcending cultural dependency, charted in parallel to the often violent transitions from political and economic dependency enacted in the parts of the globe marked by European imperialism.

Postcolonial poetry in English confronts the reader or listener with some of the most exuberant and exciting experimentations with image, language and voice, stretching and refreshing the parameters of the English language.

This new volume in the Oxford Studies in Postcolonial Literatures series aims to provide a comprehensive introduction for undergraduate students to the ways in which poetry in English developed in the former colonies of the British Empire. It addresses two key questions that enable the retrieval of poetry within this critical field: "How is postcolonial studies relevant to the interpretation of poetry? How does poetry contribute to our idea of postcolonial writing?"

Rajeev Patke negotiates intertwined colonial histories and regional focuses. One of the main strengths of the book is the diversity of voices it makes available through quotation, allusion and cross-reference, which in itself is a vital contribution to existing representations of the sheer wealth of postcolonial poetry in English.

The book is structured in three parts, the first of which seeks to address the links, along historical and linguistic lines, between poetry and postcoloniality. Echoing Ramazani's book by using the Irish example, and specifically Yeats, as a launchpad into 20th-century postcoloniality, Patke then makes the atypical contribution of addressing the work of three women writers in some detail - Nourbese Philip, Jackie Kay and Ingrid de Kok - to develop his analysis.

The second part traces the development of local traditions, mapping out poetry in South and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, black Africa and the settler countries in separate chapters.

While this section is certainly useful for the student, it also demonstrates one of the innate problems of such wide-ranging attempts at comparative literary analysis. Here, the posing of key questions such as the relationship between poetry and cultural nationalism, or violence and art, tends in some parts to become bibliography, losing in the process the ability to convey the vitality that the poems themselves embody. Yet, Patke does succeed in signposting new directions."

The final part, which deals with specific "postcolonial preoccupations", is the most interesting. It raises stimulating points of comparison (such as that between Pacific and Caribbean writing) as it deepens analysis into areas such as gender, postmodernity and world writing, and linguistic/metaphorical translation.

Postcolonial Poetry in English. First Edition

Author - Rajeev S. Patke
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Pages - 267
Price - £37.00 and £16.00
ISBN - 9780199298884 and 01995649

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