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The Bulletin
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The Big Picture, a regular Bulletin feature both on-line and off, is an in-depth look at selected new titles and trends. See the archive for selections from previous months.

Under the Moon & over the Sea: A Collection of Caribbean Poems; comp. by John Agard and Grace Nichols; illus. by Christopher Corr, Sara Fanelli, Cathie Felstead, et al.
Candlewick, 2003 77p
ISBN 0-7636-1861-6 $17.99
Gr. 6-12

A good poetry anthology is like a banquet, offering a splendid array of savory delights; the best of them balance familiar tastes with new sensations, exotic ingredients and classic elements. Having already compiled one such lavish buffet in the Caribbean-themed anthology A Caribbean Dozen: Poems from Caribbean Poets (BCCB 12/94), Agard and Nichols now serve up a new repast of over fifty more poems with an enticing Caribbean flavor.

These have a slightly older slant than the entries in the previous title (though many individual poems will delight younger readers and listeners), and they cover a broad and intriguing range in their five thematic sections. The first poems deal with the sea, the defining edge of island life; there are playful lyrics about its denizens, acknowledgments of its force, and ruminations on its place in the changing fortunes of the islands as it brings fateful visitors from across the ocean (“those terrible canoes/ were coming for me”—Pamela C. Mordecai, “Aximu’s Awakening”). The next section treats the supernatural, offering trickster poems, creepy chants, tales of jumbies, duppies, and ghosts, and responses to same (“Then is when/ I does wish I didn’t listen/ to no stupid jumbie story”—Grace Nichols, “I Like to Stay Up”). The land itself serves as the inspiration for the third section, with special attention to what it grows and what it knows (“and all I heard was tongueless whispering/ as if some buried slave wanted to speak again”—Martin Carter, “Listening to the Land”). The penultimate group of poems approaches the poetic feast literally, glorifying in markets and baked goods and consumption (“She warm meh about bellyache;/ but I cahn help it,/ I really love Johnnie bake”—John Lyons, “I Love Johnnie Bake”). The final group explores the bittersweet reality of island residents away from home, living abroad, “bringing your Caribbean eye/ to another horizon” (John Agard, “Windrush Child”).

Even within these themes, there’s plenty of variety. Familiar names such as James Berry, Valerie Bloom, and Faustin Charles (in addition to the compilers, who sprinkle the mixture with their own fine poems) provide contributions, and there are lively traditional entries and lyrics from lesser-known poets. There’s a pleasing diversity of tone and style throughout, with joyous sea shanties (Lynn Joseph’s “Pullin’ Seine”) and dark portents of upheaval (Maggie Harris’ “El Dorado”), shivery ghost poems (Faustin Charles’ “Jumbie Man”) and shivery poems of distant cold climates (Valerie Bloom’s “De”). Some poems push readers towards thoughtful contemplation, and others invite them to roll with the rhythms and rhymes; some poems evoke the islands in their imagery, while others also glory in island intonations and dialect (all quite accessible to readers).

It’s therefore unusually effective to have each of the five sections illustrated by a different artist, an arrangement that risks inconsistency but here simply adds to the diversity. While styles differ, there’s an embrace of vigorous color and strong shapes throughout that draws the sections together. There’s also plenty of character, with Jane Ray expanding from her more designerly pastorals to tackle some very, very creepy haunts (here’s your chance to booktalk poetry with the pictures of a bleeding skeleton and a screeching vampirical ghost), Satoshi Kitamura employing sharp edges and quivery black line in his droll portraits, and Sara Fanelli adding cut-paper textures to her unfettered and dancing compositions. Not only is this a delicious banquet, it’s unusually successful at evoking a certain place, a goal many anthologies strive for but few meet. There’s a very clever interweaving of the concrete and the emotional throughout the anthology that conveys to readers not just what one would see in the Caribbean but what one would relish, what one would regret, and what one would miss from far away. Both poignant and jubilant, this is a luscious and satisfying collection. A combined index of poets and first lines is appended.

Deborah Stevenson, Editor

Big Picture Image

Cover illustration from Under the Moon & over the Sea: A Collection of Caribbean Poems. Illustrations for See Full Moon, Hear Jumbie Story copyright ©2002 by Jane Ray. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Candlewick Press, Inc., Cambridge, MA, on behalf of Walker Books Ltd., London.

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This page was last updated on February 1, 2003.