NYU Black Renaissance Noire NYU Black Renaissance Noire Vol 17.2: Fall 2017 - Page 84

Omeros — the Greek name of Homer — dissimilar from linear construction of the Greek classics, is a circular, non-linear narrative in five books that magically cuts across time and space, bringing to mind for one critic the 11th century Bayeux Tapestry, an embroidered mural-scale cloth that illustrates the Norman conquest of England, to chart the agonies of displacement suffered by the Native Indians, the despair of African enslavement on the isle of St. Lucia, and strains on English colonials adrift in exile. It is a narrative propelled by the journey of two local island fishermen, Achille and Hector — echoes, perhaps, but not character templates from The Iliad — who are rivals for the affection of the beautiful housemaid, Helen…(a libidinal Helen of Troy). At a certain moment, Achille makes a spiritual journey to his ancestors located in the African settlement where he discovers his family’s original language, learns his true name, and lives their traditional life, before walking back to St. Lucia on the bottom of the ocean. It is a cleansing passage much like the journey Citizen must take in August’s Gem of the Ocean, where for redemption, he must ritualistically traverse the City of Bones at the bottom of the ocean. Derek, too, was cognizant of the perils on paths traveled, when searching for self in a creative process without a sense of origin, and the need to ritually experience the past to resurrect oneself in the present. It came to him as an epiphany, while directing a small theatre troupe without benefit of a formal theater site to perform Greek, Roman, and British classics they had studied. Yet, they were not discouraged, since “darkness still preserves the awe of self-enactment, as the sect gathers for its self-extinguishing, self-discovering rites.” Actors must do more than mimic history, when history has no place in memory, limiting access to emotions of servitude that must be purged, thereby requiring an exercise that allows them to “return through the darkness whose terminus is amnesia” to activate “the imagination and body to move with original instincts,” * a re-encounter with the bush with all its dread, a journey not easy to reconcile, as Derek recalls vividly in What the Twilight Says: Every actor should make this journey to articulate his origins, but for those who have been called not men but mimics, the darkness must be total, and the cave should not contain a single man-made, mnemonic object. Its noises should be elemental, the roar of rain, ocean, wind, and fire. Their first sound should be like the last, the cry. The voice must grovel in search of itself, until gesture and sound fuse and the blaze of their flesh astonishes them. The children of slaves must sear their memory with a torch. The actor must break up his body and feel it as ruminatively as ancestral story-tellers with twigs to the fire. Those who look from their darkness into the tribal fire must be bold enough to cross it.* Emerging into the twilight, one is born again, transformed. It is not mere hyperbole, then, to rank Derek and August among the pantheon of 20th century masters of English word that would include, Pound, Eliot, Shaw, Soyinka, James, Pinter, Beckett, Joyce, Baldwin, Morrison, O’Casey, Thomas, Toomer, among others who have distinguished themselves with masterful constructions in the English language. While their sense of ethnic urgency may have differed, both Derek and August responded to the rhythms that had fueled their particularized apprehension of the world and pursued the deep structures of African and diasporic mythology in the rituals of ordinary life to erect a revitalized language, which owned an authenticity that enriched and amplified the narratives of Black lives in United States and Caribbean within a context of cultural traditions, as opposed to personal narratives that merely record experience. In the final word, excavated from the shared memory of Liver ‘n Onions at a Hill District eatery, August responds deferentially, yet with characteristic candor, to Romare Bearden’s assignation to “explore in terms of the life I know best those things, which are common to all culture,” noting that his plays are affirmation of the “commonalities of all culture within the life I know best…which is black life, that’s who I am…I’m gonna express that! That’s what I want my art to be about. This is the way we do things. We all bury our dead, we all have parties, we all decorate our houses, but we do it different. And it ain’t nothin’ wrong with it.” n 1 Unless otherwise indicated, ALL quotes by August Wilson and Derek Walcott are from the Aaron Davis Hall public conversation recorded and transcribed by Dr. Donald Morales, Professor of Theatre, Mercy College, CUNY who also took the photos of August, Derek and myself. 2 The symbol * refers to Walcott quotes from What the Twilight Says: an Overture, his introduction to his play, DREAM ON MONKEY MOUNTAIN, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1970. 3 The symbol ** refers to Walcott quotes in Google’s BrainyQuotes. 4 The symbol *** refers to Wilson quotes from his Preface to August Wilson, Three Plays, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1991. 41 BLACK RENAISSANCE NOIRE The sun beats lightning on the waves, The waves fold thunder on the sand; And could they hear me I would tell them: Wide from your side, whereto this hour The sea lifts, also, reliquary hands. And so, admitted through black swollen gates That must arrest all distance otherwise, — Past whirling pillars and lithe pediments, Light wrestling there incessantly with light, Star kissing star through wave on wave unto Your body rocking! and where death, if shed, Presumes no carnage, but this single change, — Upon the steep floor flung from dawn to dawn The silken skilled transmemberment of song; O brilliant kids, frisk with your dog, Fondle your shells and sticks, bleached By time and the elements; but there is a line You must not cross nor ever trust beyond it Spry cordage of your bodies to caresses Too lichen-faithful from too wide a breast. The bottom of the sea is cruel. II — And yet this great wink of eternity, Of rimless floods, unfettered leewardings, Samite sheeted and processioned where Her undinal vast belly moonward bends, Laughing the wrapt inflections of our love; Permit me voyage, love, into your hands…. Take this Sea, whose diapason knells On scrolls of silver snowy sentences, The sceptred terror of whose sessions rends As her demeanors motion well or ill, All but the pieties of lovers’ hands. … Mark how her turning shoulders wind the hours, And hasten while her penniless rich palms Pass superscription of bent foam and wave, — Hasten, while they are true, — sleep, death, desire, Close round one instant in one floating flower. … Crane provides a new synesthetic color field with his sensual language. 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