In a lesson on trying to make the abstract more concrete,
one of my students, a Guyanese boy, late teens,
shares a draft in which he’s counting
the breaths of his sleeping girlfriend.
He's met her father, shook his hand –
weeks later, the girl explains
that her Akan blood arrows back up to royalty,
that the boy is the son of a slave,
that there is no future for them, only a past.
I understand that the counting makes it easier,
lends a sense of a narrative, a march into the future
of something as simple as breath, in the face of something
so large it blots whatever light he’d been drawn by,
but it’s not working, and as much as I try,
I can’t suggest anything to make the poem any easier,
until he offers a resolution: a memory
of sitting on the sea wall in Georgetown, facing the Atlantic,
following the darts of sunlight riding the backs of waves,
wondering where each began, how each follows
the heels of another as they furl
towards wall or shore, how he can only understand
as much of it as his eye can drink in,
how the rest, for him, is a mystery.
The second part of Magnitude is a continuation of a lesson on trying to make the abstract more concrete. The poet scales the theme of conflict and persecution from a global level to the viewpoint of an individual; one of my students, a Guyanese boy. Rather than looking at a grand concept, he uses a very real scenario, something as simple as breath, in the face of something/so large to continue the search for clarification. Once again, numbers are important, but this time they are scaled down to match the experience of the individual, with lots of references to singular objects, people and ideas; a resolution, a memory, in the face of something, his eye.
The main focus is a student who shares a draft in which he’s counting/the breaths of his sleeping girlfriend. The poet reveals that there is no future for them, only a past due to the fact that the boy is the son of a slave and the girl’s Akan blood arrows back up to royalty. Although they have been close and He's met her father, shook his hand, it takes only weeks later for the relationship to collapse because of a past beyond their reach. The boy is late teens, and the gap in age between him, his girlfriend, the tutor and their ancestors, further highlights the continued struggle of generation and it very real existence in modern day.
The addition of specifics such as Akan blood, a Guyanese boy, and
In a hopeful climax, it is the student who eventually offers a resolution: a memory/of sitting on the sea wall in Georgetown, facing the Atlantic,/following the darts of sunlight riding the backs of waves. The fact that the student can still see the darts of sunlight and draw upon the backs of history and his own past experiences to understand the present lends a sense of a narrative, a march into the future. Although the boy can only understand/as much of it as his eye can drink in and the rest, for him, is a mystery he has by default helped the poet to come to his own real, fleshy equation ( Part I). The poet can take comfort in the fact that future generations understand the continued struggle and are looking to dissolve the problem of ethnic divide.
As stated in the first part of the review; the point of the poem Magnitude is the sum of its parts. The two sections look at the same theme from opposing perspectives and situations to try and address a difficult subject which mimics the very crux of ethnic division. The first part opens up the size of the problem and the second part tunnels it back into a single experience. Through the interaction of two individuals a form of resolution is found which ends the poem on a lingering sense of hope.
*Magnitude by Jacob Sam-La Rose was commissioned by the Arts Council England. Reproduced with kind permission from Samenua Sesher, Arts Council England.