Honouring `The Poems Maní By Linda Rutherford
Guyana Chronicle
September 29, 2002

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IT WASNíT his birthday. That was on June 7.

It wasn't his death anniversary either, as that is still a few months away. December 13 to be precise.

Then what was it about last Tuesday evening that so inspired the management of the Upscale Guyana Restaurant, that they departed from their traditional Tuesday-night sessions to dedicate it to the memory of the late Guyanese poet laureate, Martin Carter?

This same question must have crossed the mind of academician/art critic Mr. Al Creighton, as it was reflected in the title of his presentation: 'Why Celebrate Martin Carter?'

And the reason he gave for celebrating Carter that night was that not only has Carter been the foremost poet produced by this country, but he also remained at home when so many of his contemporaries chose to go abroad in search of greener pastures.

Noting that the only time Carter ever spent any extended period outside of Guyana was during the early 70s when he was appointed Poet In Residence at England's University of Essex, Creighton said: "Exile for him was not going overseas like so many of the Caribbean's best writers, but exiled within his own country; in his own way, and fighting the fight at home."

Another admirable trait of his, Creighton said, is that even though Carter was a writer of the highest quality, he was also very popular, in the sense that he always had this, what he termed "proletarian sensibility," which is what helped him ground with the people of Guyana.

The poem which best illustrates this, he said, is one called 'The Poems Man' in which Carter speaks about his chance encounter with a mere 12-year-old in some far-off village, and the fact that she was able to recognise him even though she was so young.

Look, look, she cried, the poems man
running across the frail bridge
of her innocence. Into what house
will she go? Into what guilt will
that bridge lead? I
the man she called out at
and she, hardly 12
meet in the middle, she going
her way; I coming from mine.
The middle where we meet
is not the place to stop.

"That says something for the kind of popularity he enjoyed; that he related to the people and they to him." It also shows the "very careful craftsman" he was as a poet.

He ended his presentation with a piece entitled 'Proem', which, though it subscribes to the popular notion that Carter is a difficult poet to understand, is a simple poem which speaks not only about the joy of writing poetry, but also of the symmetry between the poet and his poem; the poem and the audience; and the poet and the audience.

Not, in the saying of you, are you
said. Baffled and like a root
stopped by a stone you turn back questioning
the tree you feed. But what the leaves hear
is not what the roots ask. Inexhaustibly,
being at one time what was to be said
and at another time what has been said
the saying of you remains the living of you
never to be said. But, enduring,
you change with the change that changes
and yet are not of the changing of any of you.
Ever yourself, you are always about
to be yourself in something else ever with me.

What Carter is saying, Creighton said, is that these relationships are never-ending: "The poem is written and published; but once it is read, it has so many different meanings."

Close friends David DeCaires and Ian McDonald rendered their favourites 'After One Year' and 'Tomorrow and The World' respectively. Bobby Fernandes, with whom the late Carter passed many a pleasant evening chatting about his travels to the interior, and whom he feels the label of 'political poet' is too limiting a term for a man as gifted, rendered 'The Poet's Funeral' which he wrote following the debacle outside State House where his remains lay in state on the day of his funeral.

Among others who paid tribute that night to the late Carter were reigning 'Miss Talented Teen' and First Runner-up, Shamaine Davis and Zena Edwards, and veteran playwright, Francis Quamina Farrier.