Late last year, The Monserrat Reporter published an article whose title begins “Deputy Governor of Montserrat writes book…” We can all imagine the subject matter of hardcovers that would be penned by (or ghostwritten for), say, the governor of Wyoming or Alabama or New Jersey or _________ (fill in your favorite state). In fact, just last night on Charlie Rose the former governor of West Virginia (Bob Wise) was out pumping his new book Raising the Grade: How High School Reform Can Save Our Youth and Our Nation. Let’s just say it didn’t quite sound like Michael Apple.
But back to The Monserrat Reporter, which late last year ran an article whose full title read (in full) “Deputy Governor of Montserrat writes book about Lasana Sekou.” Born in Aruba in 1959 and reared in St. Martin until he was 13, Sekou has since published more than a dozen books of poetry, non-fiction and other imaginative writings including Maroon Lives…for the Grenadian Freedom Fighters, Big Up St. Martin—Essay & Poem, The Salt Reaper—Poems from the flats and most recently Brotherhood of the Spurs.
In the tradition of writings I’ve been focusing upon in my blog entries for Harriet, Sekou’s writings intertwine the lyric, labor, and political liberation in dynamic, aesthetically innovative, and transnational ways. A tremendous introduction to Sekou’s writings is Howard A. Fergus’s Love, Labor, and Liberation in Lasana Sekou, published last year by House of Nehesi Publishers in St. Martin (which also recently released such varied titles such as Amiri Baraka’s Somebody Blew Up America, Drisana Deborah Jack’s skin, and the Gracita Arrindell-edited Looking Back to Move Forward—Speeches from the Forum of Former Prime Ministers of The Netherlands Antilles.
Fergus opens his chapter on “The Love-Labor Nexus” by writing that “Sekou’s national agenda for St. Martin recur throughout his work like the utterance of a Greek chorus…” I immediately began to ask myself which USAmerica poets, for example, could be said to write with “national agenda”—and if I were asked, what I’d say mine might be? The section on exploitative labor in this chapter is exceptional. Fergus discusses Sekou’s reading of the St. Martin version of slavery in the salt mines of his country, tying this into the slavery that “did not end in 1800” but has “persisted into contemporary life in the form of neoslavery.” (Readers interested in this topic in the USAmerican context might look at Douglas Blackmon’s new book, Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black People in America from the Civil War to World War II).
In the next chapter on “Liberating the Mighty,” Fergus contends that “[s]ituations exist in St. Martin to be set straight. Divided and owned by two European countries, the island is doubly disadvantaged; in Sekou’s eyes St. Martin colonialism is not particularly benevolent [is it ever??]. One of [Sekou’s] aims is a genuine participatory democracy along with decolonization and Caribbeanization of his ‘homeland’.” Fergus brings to the fore Sekou’s political poems such as “The Blockade Next Time” (on the St. Martin protest of January 15, 1990). And in a chapter on “The Sekou Aesthetics,” Fergus tackles Sekou’s more innovative work in ways that display the poet’s always tri-partite (as opposed to “third way”) poetics of love, labor, and liberation in the colonial context of the Caribbean basin, such as the poem from The Salt Reaper, “r’ass remnants”:
poking ussssssssssssssss. still.
The acronyms identify the remaining colonial territories of the Caribbean region (and the sixteen “s”’s in “us” certainly points to the USAmerican colonial project in the Caribbean (& in Iraq, & in Afghanistan, & in…). As Fergus later writes, “Sekou’s knowledge, for instance, of the paraphernalia of US imperialism such as the Monroe Doctrine, the big stick policy, manifest destiny, dollar diplomacy, and the Caribbean Basin Initiative, among others, is critical for carrying out his liberation agenda.”
Reading Howard A. Fergus’s book reminded me not only of the deep intermingling of love, labor, and liberation in the books of Lasana Sekou that I’ve been reading for much of the past decade; it also reminded me of what feels (often) like a paucity of global political and econmic knowledge and engagement by poets and their poetry here in the United States. Does “American exceptionalism” in much of our poetry worry us? Can we speak about the Monroe Doctrine? The Caribbean Basin Initiative? DR-CAFTA? Should we have to, as poets? And if not, why not?
poking ussssssssssssssss. still.
Mark Nowak is the author of Revenants (Coffee House Press, 2000), Shut Up Shut Down (Coffee House Press, 2008), and Coal Mountain Elementary (Coffee House Press, 2009). His writings on new labor poetics have recently appeared in The Progressive, Virginia Quarterly Review, American Poets in the 21st Century: The New...