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    Grace Nichols is a Caribbean poet Essay

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    Grace Nichols is a Caribbean poet. She was born in Georgetown in 1950 and grew up in a small village on the Guyanese coast. In 1977 she moved to the United Kingdom as an act of independence and to experience a different type of culture. She wanted to escape the Caribbean”s long history of violence, invasions and slavery. Grace came to Britain seeking an identity, however through her poetry she shows that she will always be proud of her heritage and that her heart lies in the Caribbean. The issue of cultural identity is very important to her, as she feels torn between two cultures.

    She is searching for something which feels natural to her. Caribbean life is natural to her however, after spending so much time in the UK, going back home would be strange. The three poems link together sharing memories of childhood in the Caribbean and memories of adulthood in the U. K. The poems follow a cycle of life. The first talks of childhood- Praise song for my mother, the second of adulthood- Fat black woman, and the third, of death- Tropical death. The language she uses represents the attitude of the people from the country.

    For example, Creole is a free-speaking dialect- not restricted by punctuation or spelling. This represents the Caribbean and its laidback, un-restricted attitude whereas Standard English has to be carefully constructed and it’s restricted format represents the English culture. There is a good example of the varied dialects in her writing in her poem ‘Fat Black woman. ‘ An example of Creole is ‘and de weather so cold. ‘ But she later goes on to say ‘frozen thin mannequins’ which is an example of Standard English. ‘Praise song for my mother’ shows positive colours of the Caribbean all the way through.

    It uses images to compare her mother with features of the Caribbean. The poem admires her mother for bringing her up and loving and caring for her. She later admires her for giving her freedom and letting her go. She is not inhibited or stifled. She is natural with her feelings and emotions. ‘Standing alone’ is giving a positive image also. The layout of the poem resembles childhood. Three simple stanzas all beginning with ‘you were’. The poem is full of colourful Caribbean references. It has a different structure to the other two poems as it has almost half the amount of words.

    She has also fused her childhood memories with her adulthood, which emphasizes her cultural struggle. The poem is written from a child’s point of view. Grace Nichols poetry shows clearly her search for her cultural identity. The negative imagery of the U. K and positive of the Caribbean shows she prefers her home country and feels more comfortable there. ‘Fat black Woman’ is a poem that attacks the stereotypical views of the English people. The title itself is an attack on the stereotypical image of a Caribbean woman.

    The poem shows a ‘fat black woman’ who goes shopping to find that all the clothes are too small for her. As she enters the shops, the sales girls frown upon her. The poem gives a negative view of the U. K from the very beginning as it starts ‘Shopping in London winter, a real drag for the fat black woman. ‘ This immediately gives a negative view in terms of weather but she continues to give negative views when she moves on to colour. London is made to sound unwelcoming and ‘bad weather ‘ is a recurring image throughout all of the poems. Nothing bright and billowing to flow like breezy sunlight’ is a line that suggests that in the Caribbean there would be colourful clothes as it is a bright and colourful place; not dull and stormy like the U. K.

    The simile ‘like breezy sunlight’ appears to be referring to the type of clothing she is looking for but, on closer inspection, this relates to the rhythmic, slow paced but comfortable Caribbean lifestyle. Nichols comments on Britain’s obsession with appearance and her words suggest the sale girls are shallow and only see her for her size. ‘De pretty face sale gals exchanging slimming glances. Emphasis on size is repeated because British stores generally only cater for thin women and only employ those with good looks and nice bodies. The fat black woman feels she is getting nowhere, like she will never fit in. She is still confused as to why she came to Britain – ‘all this journeying and journeying’ – for what? On the surface this line appears to relate to the shopping trip, going from store to store. However, what she is really trying to say is that traveling all the way to Britain did not get her anywhere and if anything, made her unhappier.

    To Nichols, the British are cold and impolite and their smiles are false. ‘Look at the frozen thin mannequins fixing her with grin. ‘ Use of assonance here creates a cold, sharp tone. Grace Nichols also uses ambiguity in this poem. For example, she writes ‘the choice is lean- nothing much beyond size 14. ‘ This line is referring to the variety of clothes as well as stating that the stereotypical British woman has a lean body. It also shows again the stereotypical views of the English, as clothes beyond a size fourteen are hard to get because they make their clothes for thin people.

    This joke at the end is written to make you feel sorry for the ‘fat black woman. ‘ ‘Tropical death’ is another poem about a ‘fat black woman’ who wants a Caribbean funeral, not an English one. The title gives us instant contrast. ‘Tropical’ shows warmth, colour, and happiness whereas ‘Death’ shows coldness and sadness. As in the previous poems there are also contrasting descriptions of Britain and the Caribbean. Everything about Britain is negative and ‘cold’ in this poem making the colourful and lively Caribbean sound much more appealing.

    The poem uses an abundance of Creole and Standard English. She describes an English funeral as ‘a polite hearse withdrawal’ to show that the emotions are controlled and stifled whereas a Caribbean funeral is considered a celebration. We know this by the line ‘a brilliant tropical death yes,’ written in Creole. ‘No quiet jerk tear wiping’ is a quote that shows she doesn’t want people to hold back at her funeral also, monosyllabic words describing a stereotypical Brit at a funeral creates a mocking effect. The line ‘some brawl’ represents the Caribbean lifestyle.

    It shows how she wants a fuss made at her funeral-some excitement at the celebration of her life. ‘First night third night nine night,’ repetition here emphasizes how long she wants the wake to go on for; also it imitates the rhythmical beat of the Caribbean steel drums and of a heart. The lines are also shortened, making them stand out and again, creating a slow rhythm. More than anything, the ‘fat black woman’ wants to return home to her motherland and family, ‘In the heart of her mother”s sweet breast’ and she wants the protection of her Caribbean roots, ‘In the shade Of the sun leafs cool bless’.

    She now knows what she wants and where her cultural identity lies. The poem is concluded with confirmation of her longing to return home as it ends with a simple ‘yes’. From studying the poems it is clear that Grace Nichol’s is a troubled and confused woman, searching for somewhere she truly belongs. It is evident throughout her poetry that she isn’t where she wants to be as Britain’s culture differs intensely with that of the Caribbean.

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