LINGUISTIC LANDSCAPES: EXPLORING THE BRIDGE BETWEEN LANGUAGE AND HISTORY THROUGH THE POETRY OF LUIS PALÉS MATOS AND DEREK WALCOTT
Bi-College (Haverford and Bryn Mawr Colleges). Comparative Literature Program
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Derek Walcott famously writes in his poem “A Cry from Africa” that he is “divided to the vein”—in itself a succinct exploration of what it means to be born into a colonized (or once-colonized) country. Luis Palés Matos explores this division in different words, but to a similar effect, as he describes “la antillana” [the Antillean] that is “una mitad española / y otra mitad africana” (“Ten con ten” 37-38). The history of the Caribbean manifests itself in both of these lines as they complicate narratives of Caribbean identity. My essay not only aims to explore what it means to be divided to the vein, but more precisely, what it means to be divided to the tongue. Through Palés Matos’s lens, this tongue is one that is both Spanish and African and through Walcott, it is African, English, and Dutch. The tongue, when explored through the works of these two poets, becomes a site of resistance. By employing my reading of Homi K. Bhabha’s “OF Mimicry and Man,” I trace how Walcott and Palés Matos challenge a one-dimensional rendering of the Caribbean and allow for a more nuanced understanding. Though both poets work within the linguistic in order to reframe accounts of the Caribbean, they differ in intention and in effect. Walcott’s poetry embraces colonial language and poetics, yet manages to employ them within his larger critique of colonialism. Conversely, Palés Matos defines and (at times) creates a Boricua Spanish, which works within a larger Antillean language. Through this linguistic invention, Palés Matos creates a document that records the sonic aspects of the islands—ones that are inextricably tied to African dance and song. By exploring the linguistic finesse of these two poets, my project aims to uncover how their respective works delineate different accounts—with attention to their advantages and limitations—of a Caribbean history.