A Cantering Homage: Syncopated Evocations Whilst Reading Kamau Brathwaite's


read Kamau Brathwaite's new book, Born to Slow Horses 

(Wesleyan University Press) on a plane last month to som sub-urban place in the US. These days mos sub-urban places in the US of America look/feel/taste the same to me, so it doesn't matter w/here, real.ly, xcept that i (& i) were following a coastline, over the sea, the black eviscerating letters

 discrete sand grainy characters forming island whorlds, synthesizing piecemeal, forming i&land words on white pages, coming to life, the black distressed figure-letters creating a granular land-gauging language into itself that Brathwaite self-dubs "nation language." 


Reading from page to por.thole window & port.hole window to page til they were indistinguishable. In the beginning poems, the Barbadian Brathwaite too is traveling places, though far more exotic, following coastlines, through islands, "marine to noon on AméricasAirplane" or "flying over the Bahamas 12 Oct 1492..." or somewhere over Turkey, or to NYC after 9/11. Displacement & xile enables Brathwaite to be @ home anywhere, within the African Diaspora or beyond, extending his r.each His musing journeys & poetic meditations take i beyond his family-ar landxcape of Caribbean aisles, through the Arctic,

 over the Alps & the figurative Mt. Blanc (blind-folded, no less). Instilling in all of us an "extra-territorial" "multilingual matrix." A new race not necessarily defined or broken down by geographical borders, but one that assimilates & erases the lines of demarcation & builds way beyond post-colonialization. A new race that changes with time. On Slow Horses i (& i) travel vicariously thanks to Brathwaite's text

scribbled notes down (at the time) while i was reading, but i got side/tracked 

after i got back & they don't make much sense to me now, derailed from the rhythm, in a different mindset. The notes are syncopated much like Brathwaite's verse. i wrote words like lo-fi, punchy, ruminating, rock steady, sonic innuendos, xile, raw dub, amplification of nuances, pixelated, morphological, enTropic tropes or phrases like sometimes unsure if what I was writing down were my i'mpressions or his ex.pressions, except when i put definite quotes around them, like

& his.stories became etched into mine mining mind.


 n a perfect world i wd write this in the same dub-style syntax that Brathwaite writes,  but that is not possible for i am not him, for one i am (derek) white not black i was born from oppressors, he was born from oppressed, to Slow Horses. Brathwaite has his own voice, even his own typeface & spellings. His own language he invents. Perhaps if i wrote super-facially in his "Sycorax video style" typeface/font (samples of which are embedded herewithin), you cd get the idea & decide to read it for yrself (you shd). 

What is Sycorax? 

yu ask (besides that witch-hag from the Tempest). more sampling in Brathwaite's own words> 

 he letters themselves archipelago chains, DNA sequences with the urgency & meaningful contradictions of BMWs & the late 70s video game Space Invaders done island style, the lines swooping cross & down, the footsteps approaching, amplifying, the eyes shooting letters, liquid concrete objects that harden when read, forming words, recapitulating into passages. Passages defying stereotypification, pas.sages extended from his previous Middle Passages. Passages thru landxcapes. Sobering post-9/11 pieces, expressing the anguish of a mother who lost her son,

the Sycorax letters are sparks on anvils, "the anvil awaiting its sunlight." creating life/text forms on the paper xface. Is this how new language formations evolve?

 deconstructing into components, skewed, stretched, until new meaning emerges from familiar words. punctuation becomes harder, physical. punching the belly out of Queen's English

language that takes on the attributes of the action, like

language that sticks, language that explodes, breaking the mold, and solidifying to something new, sublimating concrete, it sticks in your brain like sticks washed up on the beach. Listen when Brathwaite sez:

& refuses to accept the language that enslaved his ancestors.

read the sticky & rhizomic book some more once we got to where we were going, in a 

courtyard Marriott. it cd've been anywhere. there was an apple bee's right outside. perpetual happy hour. they had a crappy gym w/two treadmills, but when mi Zea Mexican & i used them simultaneously, it blew a fuse in the rm. they had one crumby computer in the lobby but it was broken. they also had the book of mormon in the bed/side table along w/the bible. i thought to replace it w/Slow Horses. trying to imagine what yr average american wd think

 w/no introduction. A message in the bottle washed up on the beach. 


Invoking Jamaican rituals of Kumina, extending his generational inhertiage via language, pulling from the landxcape, when possible, morphing new dialects from xtinctions, pulling you vis-à-vis. 

How can we sing in a strange land? 

Ask Brathwaite.


Brathwaite leaps in bounds, embracing change & evolution & technology, rolling w/the punches, he rides the off-beats, rupturing digitized elementals, island hopping on Sly & Robbie base lines & ride symbols, Linton Kwesi's vocal delivery, & of course Marley, ever

But this is Brathwaite's voice singing. Listen.

Slow Horses Canter.



seen from 35,000 feet as the ocean separates is/lands from the mother/land for

He said a cotton-pickin' mouthful.


e reminds us that it is the in-habit-ants that give a city its life, not its geography. Brathwaite divides his time between CowPastor, Barbados & the concrete jungle of NYC. 

Figures, Gotham, another island 

for the displaced, no one is from here yet everyone is. No cow pastures or black/white mottled pastors, yet everyone is. read Slow Horses on the sub\way to take you a/way (in a completely unrelated incident, (in the here & now) I just had my first worm straight from a mezcal bottle). perchance it was Brathwaite. really no different than taking a vitamin or communion. lodged in my throat @ first. in fits & starts, not easy-listening or classic rock, but rock-steady, Jazz, freeform free of form. & come to tink, i dated a mod/ska/punker girl in high school whose last name was Brathwaite. 

& why Horses? 

they figure prominently, b/sides the title. Perhaps it's cuz horses are an animal that lived in the Americas & went xtinct & were reintroduced to bcome an integral part of American culture & when i say American, I'm not just talking about the united states of, cuz surely there is more to the Americas as Brathwaite proves again & again

& again expanding our mines, sourcing our river fonts, embellishing/restoring the land in green, the seas in blue, the mixing of lapiz lazuli, natif American turquoise




How can we sing in a strange land? 

Ask Kamau Brathwaite. 

He will tell.


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(c) 2005 by Derek White