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Aime Cesaire's 'Solar Throat Slashed' illuminates Diaspora realism

MISANI Special to the AmNews | 11/18/2011, 3:10 p.m.

"Solar Throat Slashed: The Unexpurgated 1948 Edition" (Wesleyan University Press, 2011) is a razor-sharp, cutting-edge, heady trip into Aime Cesaire's surrealist world of poetry.

From the outset to the end, this title is a powerful, groundbreaking work of literature by the late esteemed Martinican poet, in whose honor a plaque was sealed earlier this year in the wall of the Pantheon in Paris, France, where the nation commemorates its heroes.

As Martinique's most celebrated native son, Cesaire has distinguished himself internationally as an essayist, politician and the co-creator of the Negritude movement, a pre-cursor to the Black Power Movement.

Initially published in French in 1948 as "Soleil cou coupe," half a century later this contemporary edition, revamped as a bilingual collection, continues to resonate deeply, providing wisdom for the mind, wealth for the soul and strength for these times. "Solar Throat Slashed" is poetry that transcends the ages.

Sensitively and honestly translated and edited by A. James Arnold and Clayton Eshleman, Cesaire's collection of 72 surrealist poems illuminates Africa as a jumping-off point as well as a mythical homeland. On each inviting spread of "Solar Throat Slashed," Cesaire's French poems samba with Arnold and Eshleman's concise translations on opposite pages, as "Black Magic" and European surrealism rumba and waltz enigmatic blessings to the master poet's work. Here's a toast to some of the other alluring titles: "To the Night," "Nocturnal Crossing" and "The Nubian Vultures Have the Floor."

Night transforms to day as Cesaire's poetics of the tropics heat up the pages with yet more imaginative poems: "The Woman and the Flame," "Devourer," "Tornado," "The Law is Naked," "Among Other Massacres," The Son of Thunder," "Unmaking and Remaking the Sun," "Noon Knives," "Sun and Water," "The Sun's Knife-Stab in the Back of the Surprised Cities" and "When in the Heat of the Day Naked Monks Descend the Himalayas."

Cesaire takes poetic license in redefining style, and it is brilliantly revolutionary. Similar to his conceptualization of Negritude, defined by Webster's Dictionary as "a consciousness of and pride in the cultural and physical aspects of the African heritage," Cesaire uniquely rejoices in this birthright, in his work. His poem, "Magic," portrays this approach:

"with a thin slice of sky on a hunk of earth

you beasts hissing into the face of this dead woman

you ferns free amidst the murderous rocks

at the far point of the island amidst conches too vast for their destiny

when noon sticks its wicked stamps on the tempestuous folds of the she-wolf

beyond the pale of worthless science

and plugs her against the walls of the nest suffete of the islands swallowed

up

like a sou"

Opening with the personification of the sky and earth as a sandwich, Cesaire expertly spreads onomatopoeia, thickly vocalizing the "hissing" sound that smacks the reader with the direct sense of the word. The personification continues in "when noon sticks its wicked stamps," and Cesaire's unique style persists all the way through to the last two lines of this first stanza with his use of simile ("swallowed up like a sou"). Each poem carries this master poet's gold seal, showing why Cesaire is one of the greatest poets of the 20th century.

Spirituality is also sprinkled all over this title, as described in Wesleyan Press' poetic notes: "Charged with the blasphemy and eroticism of African and Vodun spirituality, this edition of 'Solar Throat Slashed' launches the French surrealist adventure to new heights and depths. The poetic space Cesaire creates is spiritual, apocalyptic, coarsened by colonial brutality yet also redolent of the primeval earth. His poetic exclusivity continues to resonate and inspire contemporary literature."

"Solar Throat Slashed" is highly recommended by the Go Get a Book in Your Hand Adult Reading Group for homes, schools and libraries, poets, rappers, songwriters and writers. This collection of poems is that of a master poet, Aime Cesaire, at his best.

For more information and to order "Solar Throat Slashed: The Unexpurgated 1948 Edition," visit www.wesleyan.edu/wespress.