The title of Kamau Brathwaite's latest poetry collection combines elegy and Eleggua, the latter term a name for the Yoruba deity of "the threshold, doorway, and crossroad." It is a perfect word to frame these poems, which are elegies but also often occupy the middle space between the living and the dead—a threshold at which communication can occur between the realms, a doorway where the spirits of the dead can enter to inhabit the living.
A book of songs, letters, and verse for political and personal figures, Elegguas is both passionate and inventive. Syntax is altered, dialect is transcribed, and the varied fonts of the poems create a unique texture and visual landscape. From "Poem for Walter Rodney":
in your arms
before you recognize the gorgon head inside the
eye of the walkie-talkie
The poem also repeats a refrain, in the first instance to describe Rodney's "flesh": his earthly body, and in the second instance, his death: "your death / like the islands that you love / like the seawall that you wish to heal." Praising Brathwaite as the major Caribbean poet of his generation, Pierre Joris notes, "[Brathwaite] never falls into political rhetoric...his language, breathtakingly innovative and inventive at the formal level, always carries a lyrical and poetic charge of unequalled intensity."
This book review originally appeared in American Poets.