Martin Carter is dead

Guyana Chronicle
December 14, 1997

RENOWNED Guyanese poet, Mr Martin Carter, died from a heart attack around noon yesterday at his Lamaha Street, Georgetown home. Carter was 70.

Presidential candidate of the Alliance for Guyana party, Dr Rupert Roopnaraine, broke the sad news shortly after midday at the Elections Commission where Elections Chairman, Mr Doodnauth Singh, Prime Minister and presidential candidate for the PPP/Civic party, Mrs Janet Jagan, other presidential candidates and representatives of political parties contesting the elections had gathered for a meeting.

In an invited comment on the poet's death, Mrs Jagan, who has known Carter since he was a young man, told reporters "a great man has passed away".

She said they had been friends even though, at times, they had political differences. But this did not affect the friendship.

"I have always had the greatest esteem for his beautiful, wonderful poetry, poetry that this nation had never before heard nor my mind he is the greatest poet and he has expressed the mood of the people at important periods of our life," Mrs Jagan said.

The Prime Minister expressed sympathy to the sorrowing wife, children and other relatives and friends.

And in a special release on Carter's death, the PPP/Civic said "a giant drum of Guyanese enlightenment has missed a vital beat".

"The PPP and its Civic partners collectively mourn the passing of our national poet. Surely, with his spirit of defiance, death has not found him thinking that he dies. Though our banner is draped in mourning, we will take comfort in the dedication of Martin Carter for the fulfillment of our people's dreams of happiness and peaceful existence.

"Martin Carter's genesis in struggle was in the PPP. Through the years, in the fight for Independence and the heroic struggle for the restoration of democracy, Carter has been a tower of strength, and his poems a weapon against oppression. Carter had come to symbolise the conscience of our nation," the PPP/Civic statement said.

It added, "We say: Take courage; Martin's dreams live on."

Information Minister, Mr Moses Nagamootoo expressed his deepest sympathy at the death, adding Carter was one of "my bosom friends. We go back a long way."

In a statement too, the PNC, mourning the death of a "great son of our soil" said Carter was one of "our eminent poets and a former Minister of Information and Culture in the People's National Congress government, personified excellence in writing. He lent weight to the adage, `the pen is mightier than the sword'".

The PNC statement recalled that Carter was involved in Guyana's Independence struggles and was jailed by the colonial administration in the 1950s for his frontline role in those struggles.

"As a people, we owe him a debt of gratitude," the statement said, adding he will be long remembered for his `Poems of Resistance' which won him international acclaim.

"He carved for himself a permanent place of prominence amongst the great writers of Guyana and the West Indies and he will long be remembered for his poems such as `I come from the Nigger Yard', `Looking at my hands', `Death of a comrade', `Black Friday 1962' and `For my son', which have all been immortalised.

The party has extended condolences to Carter's sorrowing widow and other members of his family.

And, reached by telephone for his initial reaction, cultural icon of the Caribbean, Barbados-born novelist, Mr George Lamming said he was "simply too shaken to speak at this time."

Both Carter and Lamming celebrated their 70th birthday earlier this year.

Another literary figure, Mr Ian McDonald also expressed his shock at Carter's passing.

"Words," said McDonald, "cannot measure up to the stature of a great human being like Martin Carter.

"He was undoubtedly Guyana's greatest poet and ranked with the best of West Indian literary figures".

"In time," he said, "Carter will be recalled as a great poet of the Americas and the world. I was glad to be his friend," McDonald told CANA.

Carter was born in Georgetown in 1927, attended Queen's College and worked as a civil service clerk for four years but was forced to resign because of his political commitment to the struggle against imperialism.

Carter's collections of poems include `The Hills of Fire Glow Red' (1951), `To a Dead Slave' (1951), `The Hidden Man' (1952) and his most popular `Poems of Resistance' (1954).

Professor of Caribbean Literature at the regional University of the West Indies (UWI) Dr Gordon Rohlehr last year described Carter as a poet of "varied mood, tone and style".

According to Rohlehr, Carter's work contains "glowing rhetoric...counter-pointed by difficult philosophic statement or by tight reticence that has honed the poem to its skeleton".

Carter's poems focus on themes such as resistance, rebellion, global struggle, love, time and death.

The poet has received several national and international awards for his work, including the Cacique's Crown of Honour and the Order of Roraima, as well as the Gabriel Mistral award from the Chilean government.

Death of a comrade

Death must not find us thinking that we die

too soon, too soon

our banner draped for you

I would prefer

the banner in the wind

Not bound so tightly

in a scarlet fold

not sodden, sodden

with your people's tears

but flashing on the pole

we bear aloft

down and beyond this dark, dark lane of rags.

Now, from the mourning vanguard moving on

dear Comrade, I salute you and I say

Death will not find us thinking that we die.

-- Martin Carter