This Listening of Eyes:Shana Yardan
Preserving our literary heritage
By Petamber Persaud
January 28, 2007
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In her own words, Shana Yardan confirmed, “Sometimes I think my blood is made up of red, white and blue corpuscles. The blue ones flow through my pen and tell what is in my soul.”
And her soul cried out for understanding of her opinions and respect for her space, “How can you walk into the garden of my life/And trample on the neatly laid beds of habits?”
Her soul also cried out for love, an equally reciprocated love, “then love, if you must come/Tread softly through the garden of my life/Touch not nor break the buds that fragrance lend/But graft them to that other side of mine/Which is you.”
For Yardan, love was an essential part of life but she also explored other issues that bothered her and the women of her generation; themes like sexual relationships and gender inequality. She was breaking the mould not as to ridicule the mores of the time but to effect a debate, working the issues, working out the issues.
Yardan was also concerned about other forms of discrimination destroying the fabric of society, “Oh grandfather, my grandfather/Your dhoti is become a shroud/Your straight hair a curse.”
That quote taken from one of her better known poems, “Earth is Brown”, is highly symbolic and carefully crafted.
In fact, most of her poems were carefully crafted which meant she was mindful how she presented her emotion, she ran ‘the gamut of cold, safe intellect’. There was a sort of innocence in her exploration of certain themes, engaging the reader bit by bit, “so this is love/this touch like fired ice/this gentle laughter/interrupting volcanic emotion/reducing it to a subtle growl/this waiting ended.” In her craft, she sought to temper heart with mind, aiming for balance and validation.
But for all this effort to make her world better, she experienced anguish and pain in her past and present conditions to test the best of her intention.
In “Earth is Brown”, she captured the true spirit of the frugal industrious Indian and the hurt when the children turned from the land that sustained them.
She is not deceived about the present, “know that I understand/The mystery of life and death.”
Again, in the poem, “These Desperate Days”, she harboured no illusions, “these desperate days we inhabit/These scarecrow days/Guard nothing precious.”
For all that righteous indignation and all that emotional outpouring and all that suffering embodied in her poetry, Shana Yardan started writing late, late into the 1960s.
But by 1968, her poetry gained prominence when one poem was published in “An Anthology of Voices of Guyana” edited by Donald Trotman in commemoration of International Human Rights Year.
In 1972, her poem, “Ever Waiting” placed second in the open poetry competition organised by the National History and Arts Council.
In that same competition her poems, “Places” and “Renewal” earned honourable mention.
Those poems were published in KAIE of July 1973 with part of the editorial by Celeste Dolphin reading, “new names and new themes will be found in this issue …this means that the literary tradition in Guyana is being continuously renewed and developed in a living fashion…the themes reflect the growing complexity of life in a progressive Third World Nation”.
Those words announced the arrival of Shana Yardan, the themes and the circumstances. Themes were already discussed but what of the circumstances. Yardan was among the pioneers of writing by Guyanese women of Indian ancestry which included Mahadai Das with Rajkumari Singh leading the way.
In 1972, a significant number of women poets were inadvertently sidelined from the official publication for CARIFESTA ’72. Those women including Syble Douglas, Sheila King, Evadne D’Oliveira and Yardan banded themselves to publish, “Guyana Drums”, a symbol of the female voice crying out to be heard. That was a history making book – the first Guyanese anthology of poems by women writers.
The 1970s seemed to be the best years of Yardan’s life. Also around this period she continued to make use of her opportunities, furthering her education at University of Guyana.
She also worked at the Guyana Broadcasting Corporation. Her “wonderful voice – that rich, warm cushion of sound” took her places where she performed her poetry at venues like the Green Shrimp Bar, Georgetown, and Grove Launch Stelling, East Bank Demerara. That group of performers included Donald Trotman, Herman Singh, Cheryl Winter, Sardar Asare.
In 1976, “This listening of Eyes” her first only collection of poems was published by the National History and Arts Council. The fifteen poems in that collection were tabulated in letters rather than in numbers and many of the pieces were titled from the words of the first lines.
Some of those poems were published earlier with selected titles. Her work could be found in major anthologies and journals including Kaie, New Writing in the Caribbean, Treasury of Guyanese Poetry, and They Came in Ships.
Shana Yardan was born in the early 1940s in Mahaicony Village on the East Coast of Demerara. It seemed she had lived in various parts of Guyana. She was educated at St. John Baptist School in Bartica and St. Joseph High School in Georgetown.
Some of her poems are to be found in two collections published in Linden, 1975 and 1979 respectively.
Shana Yardan died in 1989 in the USA where she was buried after a prolong struggle with cancer.
She died, travelling to “strange, familiar places” that “are but the beauteous graves where I must rest/Till resurrection comes”.
She died looking forward to a resurrection, a resurrection of her work.
Note: *unable to confirm date of birth
* Tribute to Shana Yardan by Joyce Jonas, Chronicle 1989
* Interviews with Syble Douglas, and Cheryl Winter, Georgetown, Guyana, January 2007.
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THE GUYANA ANNUAL 2006-2007 is a literary and artistic tradition started in December 1915 courtesy of the then Chronicle newspaper. This issue continues the tradition of excellence in Guyanese literary and cultural heritage with the results of six competitions in poetry and fiction with special sections on literature written for children. This family-oriented general magazine offers recipes, Balgobin stories in the tradition of Guyanese folklore, Guyanese proverbs, articles on Guyanese cricket, festivals of Guyana, attitudes of young people in Guyana to HIV/AIDS, avant-garde art, Carifesta, and pen-portraits of Helen Taitt, Philip Moore and Paul O’Hara. It also includes a two-page listing of new Guyanese publications and much more.