‘Before a Raging Sea’: The Poetry of Alphaeus O. Norman

Anegadian Alphaeus Osario Norman (1885-1942) may have been the most skilled poet of form these islands have produced. Unfortunately, his poems are not readily available for reading, most easily accessed in time capsule documents like 1834-1984: 150 Years of Emancipation published by the Ministry of Education and Culture or in books of devotional and autobiographical poetry by his granddaughter Andria Flax. Andria has been very gracious in sharing several of Norman’s poems while I pursue my doctoral degree, and his grandson Richard Courtney deCastro shared documents that clarified errors in other publications. With the hope of spreading both an appreciation and intellectual curiosity for Norman’s work, I have selected three poems here to focus on:the haunting ‘Loss of the HMS Valerian'; a retelling of the 1733 St. John slave rebellion in ‘Amina Negroes'; and the anthemic ‘The British Virgin Islands Negro’.

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Firing the Canon: The Condition of the Literature of the British Virgin Islands.

The contents of this essay have been ricocheting around inside my skull for the greater part of two years. Maybe this is not an essay – perhaps it is an extended musing on the state of affairs for a writer in a community increasingly bereft of readers, perhaps it is the rant of a man who fancies himself more a writer than he has any just reason to be considered one. Ultimately, this essay is about three especial concerns of the Virgin Islander (or any) writer. Those concerns succinctly put are: audience, exposure, and reception. These three concerns almost mirror exactly the issues that Jamaican scholar and poet Edward Baugh identifies in his revisiting of his famous essay “The Quarrel with History” in 2012 for Small Axe. In his introductory paragraph he talks specifically of the difficulty West Indian critics have in finding their routes to publication both locally or in British and North American journals and the attached anxieties of “audience, exposure, and sustained accessibility”.

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