In a recent review of Austin Clarke’s In Your Crib for ARC Poetry Magazine, David Swartz states in the first paragraph, “In In Your Crib, Clarke speaks with heart-throbbing urgency. His message is a dire warning, his tone accusatory, and yet his poetry itself is melodious, compassionate and assertive”.
Swartz emphasizes the force of the collection, and its powerful reflections on issues of blackness. He explains, “the poems read like one long concentric chant. They speak about recovery through self-consciousness, black pride and vision, the sacrifice of politeness, the price of assimilation and ignorance and the desire to ‘Let the world be a Black Poem’”.
Swartz also mentions that despite the size of the collection, they are filled with “intense fire”. This fire is fuelled by reflections on the recent history of blacks in America, and its moments of oppression, assimilation, and triumph. The collection is guided by “true-true Elders” like Malcolm X, Bob Marley, Amiri Baraka, Martin Luther King, John Henrik Clarke, LeRoi Jones and Elijah Mohammed.
Asking “just what does it mean to be black?”, Swartz points out that according to Clarke, “the Elders say it means to have ‘black faces, faces that are black, a black community’”, yet Clarke suggests that “the face is not identiful enough”. Being black means being willing to “Let the world be a black poem”.
Swartz concludes his review by stating the following: ““Despite a prophetic, Jeremiah-like tone, there is irony and humour, pregnant phrases, overlapping repetitions. Beyond his ostensible subject – the black experience in a multicultural setting – In Your Crib is about exile itself, the visible and invisible realms of human experience, the price of wearing masks, the painting of faces, incorruptible truths, the paradoxical Other”.
Austin Clarke is the writer of ten novels, six short story collections, and three memoirs in the United States, England, Canada, Australia, and Holland. His books have been shortlisted for many awards, and have received numerous literary prizes. In 2003 he had a private audience with Queen Elizabeth in honor of his Commonwealth Prize for his tenth novel, The Polished Hoe, and in 1992 he was honored with a Toronto Arts Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. In 1998 he was invested with the Order of Canada, and in 1999 he received the Martin Luther King Junior Award for Excellence in Writing. His book In Your Crib, a “lyrical plea, both indictment and lamentation, and a powerful account of the ongoing struggle for racial equality” was released by Guernica Editions earlier this year.