George Elliott Clarke’s Creativity in Poetry

George Elliott Clarke is a multitalented author, offering a unique perspective as a Black Canadian in his works. Poetry is just one of Clarke’s facets, but it allows him to express his identity in a concise and vivid way. However, even a small sample of the works reveals a great variety in style and themes, making it hard to form an all-encompassing statement regarding his poetic side. Some stylistic devices, such as metaphors, personification, and various types of repetition, appear to be the staples, while race and love combine as the thematic pillar, supported by floral imagery. This paper will attempt to dissect six of Clarke’s poems to prove that the elements mentioned previously are commonplace in his poetry.

The first poem under consideration is The Ballad of Othello Clemence, which concerns the topic of violence and injustice. The victim is alluded to be black by the epithet in “black wind” and the fact that his corpse is “cankered white,” meaning he was originally black (Clarke, “The Ballad” para. 1; para. 2). The perpetrator’s race is left ambiguous, although the indicators that he’s “free” and the government “don’t know how to weep” imply an institutionalized problem (Clarke, “The Ballad” para. 1; para. 3). The themes are supported by repetition (anaphora in “there’s a” and epiphora in “a change that’s gonna have to come”) and consonance (“Scratch Seville shot” and “man moulderin”) (Clarke, “The Ballad” para. 1; para. 3). They serve to emphasize the tragedy’s reoccurrence, cruelty, and, perhaps, inevitability. The floral imagery (“flowers,” “petals,” and “lilies”) also creates the contrast between the bloody event and the beautiful surroundings, undisturbed by it (Clarke, “The Ballad” para. 1; para. 2). Overall, the poem utilizes the style to highlight the themes of violence against black people and injustice.

Another poem is Blues for X, which is a dedication from the dead to the living. The narrator is supposedly a woman, addressing her lover, a “pretty boy,” and the diseased status is implied through the imagery of bones and blues and his black clothes (Clarke, “Blues” para. 1, para. 3). Repetition (anaphora in “pretty boy,” “my bones,” and “and blues” and epiphora in “your tears”) is used, perhaps, to highlight the frequency of tragedy in the Black community (Clarke, “Blues” para. 1; para. 3). The poet also applies personification in the nicknames (“sweet potato”), which, together with the concluding lines, demonstrate that the narrator wants her addressee to pretend that she is alive (Clarke, “Blues” para. 1; para. 2). The floral imagery is present through vegetables (“potato,” “peas,” and “beans”) and grains (“rye”), which could symbolize life and stand in contrast to the narrator’s state (Clarke, “Blues” para. 2). Altogether, the theme of death is relayed through the imagery, and its frequent nature is evident in repetitions.

The third poem under discussion is Discourse on Pure Virtue, focusing on love towards a person from the same community. The piece is rich in epithets (“golden,” “sable-eyed,” “august,” “diamantine,” and others) and metaphors (“yellow hibiscus,” “light uplifting,” and “fresh light”) to describe the addressee’s appearance (Clarke, “Discourse” para. 1). Repetitions (“her” and “earth”) and a simile (“like you”) are also present to emphasize the importance of the girl to whom the poet is devoted (Clarke, “Discourse” para. 1). The stylistic devices work to develop the idea of love as a savior, which is especially vivid in the quoted passage (“liberating me from murk”) (Clarke, “Discourse” para. 1). The signature floral imagery is also partially present (“hibiscus”), although it includes all flora instead of solely flowers (“cedarly,” “sandalwood,” and “grass”) (Clarke, “Discourse” para. 1). Thus, the stylistic devices and the imagery serve to support the theme of love’s saving qualities by describing the object of affection in an exaggerated tone.

The fourth piece, Everything is Free, unites the themes of love and equality. Its notable sound devices are male rhyme in each stanza and the repetition of the title or its variation, “everyone is free” (Clarke, “Everything” para. 1). The freedom described is from fears, financial instability, and loneliness, and there is a strong implication that domestic violence will disappear (“don’t try to bind” and “surrender force”) (Clarke, “Everything” para. 1). The usual floral imagery is partially present, supporting the idea that freedom will concern nature, “everything,” as well (Clarke, “Everything” para. 1). The poet tries to envision a better future for his community, humanity, and the world as a whole.

Another poem, Exile, seems to tell a story about alcoholism and survivor’s guilt. The prominent imagery is that of fire, maintained with such epithets and metaphors as “fiery,” “ether,” “chars,” “flames,” and others (Clarke, “Exile” para. 1). The poet uses it to indicate a person’s physical (internal organs) and mental burnout (inability to mourn properly) due to being the only one alive. This is supported by the lines with repetition (“all the”), which imply that the surrounding people are all dead (“dead faces” and “slain lovers”). The person is trying to handle the guilt with alcohol, “slave-sweat rum” (Clarke, “Exile” para. 1). The floral imagery in the broad sense and a simile are applied to indicate the state of withering (“like dead leaves”), which further solidifies that the person will meet an eventual end at that rate (Clarke, “Exile” para. 1). Overall, the imagery of fire and flora, together with several stylistic devices, helps emphasize the horror of being the only survivor.

The last poem under consideration is King Bee Blues, which has an erotic overtone. The poet uses the childish metaphor of bees and flowers to set a mature mood (“women got good pollen,” “if I sting your flower today”) (Clarke, “King” para. 1; para. 3). The floral imagery is strengthened by the personification of flowers (“Lily,” “Rose,” and “Susan”), which is also an effective wordplay (Clarke, “King” para. 1; para. 3). The second and the third stanzas have repetition, although it is more expressive in the latter together with the epithet in “black word,” suggesting that the poem handles the theme of love and sexuality in the Black community (Clarke, “King” para. 1; para. 3). Altogether, the floral metaphor, imagery, and other stylistic devices allow the poet to create a playfully erotic depiction of affection in his community.

In conclusion, Clarke’s poetry focuses on various themes pertaining to the Black community in Canada, including inequality, violence, and love. In order to develop them, the poet uses such stylistic devices as sound and word repetition (both initial and final), floral imagery, although it can expand to fire, and some features of figurative language. The most frequently used ones are metaphors, personification, and similes. The synthesis of themes and style results in poignant pieces which can resonate with anyone, but the Black community in particular, as the issues described there are ever-relevant to them.

Works Cited

Clarke, George Elliott. “.” Poetry Foundation, 2020. Web.

“.” Poetry Foundation, 2020. Web.

“.” Poetry Foundation, 2020. Web.

“.” Poetry Foundation, 2020. Web.

“King Bee Blues.” Poetry Foundation, 2020. Web.

“.” Poetry Foundation, 2020. Web.

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