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'Vernacular Voices: Black British Poetry'

Lawson Welsh, Sarah ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2270-057X (2020) 'Vernacular Voices: Black British Poetry'. In: Nasta, Susheila and Stein, Mark, (eds.) The Cambridge History of Black and British Asian Writing. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, pp. 329-352

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Black British poetry is the province of experimenting with voice and recording rhythms beyond the iambic pentameter. Not only in performance poetry and through the spoken word, but also on the page, black British poetry constitutes and preserves a sound archive of distinct linguistic varieties. In Slave Song (1984) and Coolie Odyssey (1988), David Dabydeen employs a form of Guyanese Creole in order to linguistically render and thus commemorate the experience of slaves and indentured labourers, respectively, with the earlier collection providing annotated translations into Standard English. James Berry, Louise Bennett, and Valerie Bloom adapt Jamaican Patois to celebrate Jamaican folk culture and at times to represent and record experiences and linguistic interactions in the postcolonial metropolis. Grace Nichols and John Agard use modified forms of Guyanese Creole, with Nichols frequently constructing gendered voices whilst Agard often celebrates linguistic playfulness. The borders between linguistic varieties are by no means absolute or static, as the emergence and marked growth of ‘London Jamaican’ (Mark Sebba) indicates. Asian British writer Daljit Nagra takes liberties with English for different reasons. Rather than having recourse to established Creole languages, and blending them with Standard English, his heteroglot poems frequently emulate ‘Punglish’, the English of migrants whose first language is Punjabi. Whilst it is the language prestige of London Jamaican that has been significantly enhanced since the 1990s, a fact not only confirmed by linguistic research but also by its transethnic uses both in the streets and on the page, Nagra’s substantial success and the mainstream attention he receives also indicate the clout of vernacular voices in poetry. They have the potential to connect with oral traditions and cultural memories, to record linguistic varieties, and to endow ‘street cred’ to authors and texts. In this chapter, these double-voiced poetic languages are also read as signs of resistance against residual monologic ideologies of Englishness.
© Book proposal (02/2016): The Cambridge History of Black and Asian British Writing p. 27 of 43

Item Type: Book Section
Status: Published
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781108164146.022
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General)
School/Department: School of Humanities
URI: https://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/2088

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