Kamau Brathwaite's poems from Ghana: making sense of rhyme

Jarad Zimbler

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Kamau Brathwaite lived in Ghana between 1955 and 1962, during the period of the nation’s political decolonization. It is a staple of scholarship that his experience in and of West Africa induced profound change. The purpose of this essay is to look more closely at an aspect of this transformation that has been somewhat neglected: the developments in Brathwaite’s poetry and poetics. The essay first examines the years prior to Brathwaite’s departure from England, using archival materials to establish a compositional chronology and to determine the corpus of his Ghana poems. It then turns to the poems themselves, comparing them with previous as well as subsequent works. This leads to the conclusion that Brathwaite’s time in Ghana did not produce any wholesale change in technique. Rather, it provided new subjects and themes, and prompted the emergence of a more concrete, socially grounded register and orientation. Most important, it reconfigured Brathwaite’s understanding of elements of pre-existing practice, rhyme especially, bringing into view their organizational and their meaning-making potentials. It was in Ghana that Brathwaite recognized how echoing sounds, words and events might together enter into a decolonizing poetics – an amplification of resonance that would be essential to his subsequent work, and to his sense of the ways in which resources of a submerged past could be activated for the purposes of a decolonial present.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of West Indian Literature
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 30 Apr 2022


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