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Nations of Nothing But PoetryModernism, Transnationalism, and Synthetic Vernacular Writing$
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Matthew Hart

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195390339

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195390339.001.0001

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Tradition and the Postcolonial Talent

Tradition and the Postcolonial Talent

T. S. Eliot versus E. K. Brathwaite

(p.106) 4. Tradition and the Postcolonial Talent
Nations of Nothing But Poetry

Matthew Hart

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the relation between Edward Kamau Brathwaite's Caribbean “nation language” poetics and the poems and critical essays of T. S. Eliot. Reading Brathwaite's epic sequence, The Arrivants (1967–73) alongside his essays from the same period, the chapter explains how Eliot's ideas about poetic language and literary tradition provided an agonistic model for Brathwaite's creation of an archipelagic “nation language.” In doing so, it makes three key interventions in this developing field. First, the chapter rejects traditional narratives of postcolonial belatedness in favor of a dynamic model of literary influence that emphasizes the Caribbean poet's ability to resynthesize his problematic Euro‐American inheritance. Second, it admits the insular nature of Eliot's late poetic, but refuses to make Eliot a straw man for modernist Eurocentrism. Finally, it rejects the picture of Brathwaite as a racial essentialist, reading his “nation language” poetics as a product of the uniquely reflexive sovereignties of the postcolonial Caribbean.

Keywords:   Kamau Brathwaite, T. S. Eliot, postcolonial poetry, Anglophone Caribbean literature, modernism, synthetic vernacular, nation language, tradition, sovereignty

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