Look We Have Coming to Dover!

Robert Potts writes:

At the end of David Dabydeen’s poem ‘Coolie Odyssey’ (1988), the poet, deracinated by education, distance and time from the dirt-poor ancestors he is elegising, considers his British audience:

congregations of the educated\ Sipping wine, attentive between courses –\ See the applause fluttering from their white hands

Like so many messy table napkins.

The poem’s skill is part of its predicament. It raises a question that has preoccupied not only writers from Britain’s former colonies, but many of Britain’s native writers. How can a literary art, with its highly developed codes, language, conventions and traditions, do justice to those excluded (often deliberately) by those codes? And how can the applause of the self-styled owners of those conventions and traditions be other than condescending and self-congratulatory?

(LRB 21 June 2007)

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