The Literary Corner: Dennis Brutus’ Life and Works (side b)


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[[flute and drums]][[birds chirping]]

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Vernon February: We as creative artists, as teachers of literature, and as scholars, should keep on being what Sinclair Drake, the Sociologist, calls cultural relativists and the primitivists, relentless social critics,

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where we can jostle people out of their sleep, we must keep on hammering through our literature, through our art, through our teaching so that one day, we can make, at least for ourselves.

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This world a little bit viable and livable.

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Brooks B. Robinson: Professor Vernon February, commenting on role black writers should play in today's world.

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Professor February is our guest on the literary corner, Black Writers of the World, a series of analysis and interpretations of black world literature.

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Professor February is a poet and teaches literature at the University of Amsterdam in Holland.

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Our interview with him is conducted by one of our regular analysts, Professor Daniel Kunene, chairman of the University of Wisconsin's Department of African Languages and Literature.

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They discuss Creole Literature and Professor February's works.

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Daniel Kunene: You've done a lot of research into Creole literature, both in West Africa and in Suriname, haven't you?

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Vernon February: Uh-hum [[affirmative]]
Daniel Kunene: What, what set you on this course?

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Vernon February: Well, it was very interesting. After I had first done what we know in Holland, as a doctoral in literature, I started working for the Africa Studies Center in Holland.

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Now, this is a research institute, where all of us at one stage or another and so on, spend at least one year in Africa. And at that stage, we are a team of Anthropologists who were doing work among the Mende

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Dennis Brutus: Sierra Leone and I was asked whether I would like to go to Fourah Bay. And you know, and um, of course, that Fourah Bay has a very prestigious name in Africa.

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And, um, Of course, it's also associated with Eldred Jones, one of the canons in African literature.

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Brooks B. Robinson: Mm-hmm. [[affirmative]]
Dennis Brutus: So I jumped at the opportunity to go there, and then I had my first taste of Creole literature.

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However, since Creole, as a language is not yet exploited to the extent that it is in Suriname literary-wise that wasn't my introduction really to Creole literature.

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As such, it was my introduction to Creole as a language.

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Brooks B. Robinson: Mm-hmm. [[affirmative]]

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Dennis Brutus: But it was only when I was back in Holland again that I teamed up with Professor Jan Voorhoeve one of the experts on Creole language who had done a tremendous amount of research.

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Now prior to that, all research on Creole languages had been done practically, as far as Suriname is concerned by the indomitable Herskovits and Herskovits. [[laughs]]
Brooks B. Robinson: Mm-hmm. [[affirmative]]

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Dennis Brutus: You know, in the United States.

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It was when I translated on the suggestion of Jan Voorhoeve a poem.

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And We had sneakily compared it with an attempt by Herskovitz.

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We found, to our, and I say this in all modesty, joy that mine was slightly more closer to the truth and actually a superior product that we decided to plunge straight into working together on Creole literature as such.

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Brooks B. Robinson: Mm-hmm. [[affirmative]]
Dennis Brutus: Which resulted then in the joint publication in Creole in probably the most comprehensive anthology yet for any particular Creole language done up to date.

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{SPEAKER name= "Brooks B. Robinson"} Mm-hmm. [[affirmative]] Now I will be asking you to read some of your own poetry a little later,

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but at this time you're talking about Creole literature and so on.

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Would you care to read something for us in that literature, in the Creole languages?

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I suppose what you have here would come from either West Africa or Suriname, either one will do.

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Dennis Brutus: The person I would like to read would be

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Dennis Brutus: Trefossa, it's a pseudonym of Henri de Ziel, who is a Creole.

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He's a very interesting person you see, because de Ziel deserves to be known on a much wider scale than he is really known

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in what is variously or derisively referred to as third-world literature, African literature, more respectably, and so on, or sometimes even so erroneously as commonwealth literature.

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Brooks B. Robinson: Mhmm yes.

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Dennis Brutus: But uh, Henry de Ziel was a man who at a very early age realized the possibilities

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- the creative possibilities - of Creole and exploited these, very beautifully.

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So much so for instance, when at one stage people said that

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"ugh but you can use as a means of communication, you can use it to swear you know, but you couldn't really use it to

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Brooks B. Robinson: [[laughing]]
Dennis Brutus: write beautiful little ah sonnets in it."

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Brooks B. Robinson: ah huh
Dennis Brutus: You know? I mean, you know, whenever we use a, uh, prime example of literary expression we resort to sonnets and all these things.

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So what they did was this: they took what we call a man whose poetic products one would possibly compare with a, say, Shelly of England, Clause, Willem Clause.

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And he took one of these poems, a very beautiful poem, and translated it into Creole,

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dispelling that notion that Creole was totally unsuited to such unadulterated expressions of beauty and joy.

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Brooks B. Robinson: Mhm, yes.

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Dennis Brutus: Therefore he gave them that initial impetus to use,

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um, the language, and de Ziel also has of course has written some very beautiful poetry himself,

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and he is, as far as I am concerned, a part from Okigbo, and uh, Brathwaite at the moment for me and so on,

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and I will possibly just stop with those three.

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Okigbo, Brathwaite, and de Ziel I think, would for me, be the three highlights in poetry from what was regarded as Afro-Caribbean, or Afro-American, or just plain African poetry.

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Brooks B. Robinson: Yea, yeah. Will you be able to give us a brief translation, uh, of what you read, or is there a complete translation?

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Dennis Brutus: There is a complete translation by me, but since I don't have that,

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so I will ad lib and give you a synopsized version of it. Towards the end, Henri de Ziel wrote -

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Of the child "manpichin pichin" being the word in creole from the Portuguese pikayun in Afrikaans, the rise of visibly more youthful black kids in saan where at a completely social linguistic all of the connotation as pikaneen but in this sense, it is shown off all these ethnocentric notions where it just means child and so we have this relationship manpichin man, child, God, uhh uhh um, Mary, recurring [00:7:09] (Interviewer): mmh hmm [00:7:09] (Brookes): in a series of poems towards the end. What is interesting, is this, that one finds of course a negative tudor poetry

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(Brookes): and with a negative tudor? a poet, and I'm possibly saying negative tudor poet in that way. uh one would find this tremendous inversion of the Christian myths it's almost uh, where they would reveal some of the things within, by through the Christian, and turnur, topic turner, practically, in order to show the rejection of a particular facet of Christianity, which itself incisively, uhh, affected black life in, say, the french west indies

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(Interviewer) mhh hmm (Brookes) the interesting thing is this, in Suriname,one does not find this type of ironicism, this type of sarcasm, this type of topsy turving, or an inversion of the Christian myth, except in one or two poems by Henny Dezil who himself was a product after all, of such Christianization, uhh, in Suriname

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and so it's a poem called yumo in excelsis and i'll give a slight synopsis of it first. Um, it says that, um, the devil got word- and i'm not giving a- i'm giving a literal translation rather than poetic- the devil got heard of some big event in song, that the main child of God- that is Jesus Christ- would soon be born in song and so he said "oh wonderful, we're going to have a great party!" see it's very funny when he uses this word fiary like we're going to have a big carnival, we're going to have, uh, something like a mardi gras, now this word of fiary- friary, within such a ostensibly hallow context, uhh, you must see this with this abundance of color and colorfulness within the Creole (chuckles) ceremonies, and you'll then see how strikingly contrasting, this then would be. (Brookes?) but now something happens, he says "look i'm gonna spoil this feast, i'm gonna cause a big blackout." he says, "i'm gonna cut the wires and i'm gonna let the electric sparks fly like stars to the heaven" but you see, it backfired on the devil. So what happened God has bared all scorched and saw the angels were singing, "huma in excelsis", and they were laughing, and then of course there's this beautiful skit on the catholic ritual, liberdr provodies, and baby Jesus at that moment was crying (crying noises) so ill read it--[proceeds to read the skit]

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Dennis Brutus: [[?]] [[they laugh]]which I think is one of the most beautiful--

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{SPEAKER name= {"Brooks B. Robinson"} Thank you. Very much. Yes. In fact, the kind of interest that you have in this literature is not only that of a man who wants to analyze it, to dissect it, uhh to put it back together and say this is a poem and so on, but of someone who enjoys it as literature, uhh just what you've given us now, is not uhh and [??] uhh additive to the literature, but almost like one who has the creative umm uhh talent in himself, one who approaches it also as an artist. Now you have written umm creatively yourself, I know you've written a poem called "they shoot children don't they?" a poem inspired by the holocaust, the murder of ahh [??] many children in South Africa {Dennis Brutus} well, of course, the title is really a skit on the other one, "they shoot horses don't they?" but I thought it was this, just this irony [??] "they shoot children don't they?" so I wrote this "they shoot children don't they? a repeat performance of the slaying of the innocence, see chapter so and so, verse so and so, of the old or new testament. [??] the story of an ancient hide and seek reads like a fairytale

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{Professor February} No stone chopped by a child has ever stopped a bullet though, they maim children don't they

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{Professor February} because the high priest of the clan had let the word be spread that bullets rat tat tat to stop each black child stone

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{Professor February} they shoot children don't they

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{Professor February} in the fairest, fairest south

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{Professor Kunene} That's very moving, do you have an other one you would like to read before we proceed

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{Professor February} I think that I would like to read this one

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{Professor February} Do you remember that uh, we were always inundated with the stuff, thing and so on when prisoners died in South Africa

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{Professor February} They either slipped in the shower or they jumped on the sill, but such some such excuse was always given by the minister of justice

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{Professor February} and so I wrote for a man whom I had never met and whom I will never meet

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{Professor February} George Boater who died uh, in south Africa, I wrote this one

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{Professor February} Slipped in the shower, jumped from the sill, fell down the stairs, the chief of police brazenly explained to the wives and children, the people of south Africa

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{Professor February} The death of the tine is nature of carnage

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{Professor February} and a little boy kept asking, but mommy, if there was a lift, why did daddy not take it

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{Professor February} then he would not have plunged on that rickety old stair

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{Professor February} slipped in the shower, jumped from the sill, fell down the stairs says big Jimmy Kruger, who is the spokesman for justice

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{Professor February} and then prayed in his church on a Calvinist Sunday

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{Professor February} the lordeth given and the lordeth taken

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{Professor February} after his bloody statement to the country at large

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{Professor February} and a little boy kept asking, why is daddy so long

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{Professor February} Slipped in the shower, jumped from the sill, fell down the stairs.

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{Professor Kunene} Thank you very much Vernon, that's really beautiful, I wish I could ask you for more (African Music fades out)

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You have been listening to an interview with professor in port, Vernon February and Daniel Kunene one of the

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Our operator has been Bob Chan. I'm Brooks B. Robinson. The Literary Corner was made possible by finance by W.H.A. Radio in Madison, Wisconsin. A service of the University of Wisconsin extension.

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