• Full title:  
  • Formats:  Manuscript, Typescript
  • Creator:   Andrew Salkey
  • Copyright: © Model.CollectionItem.CopyrightDisplayForCollectionItem()
  • Usage terms

    You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

  • Held by  British Library
  • Shelfmark:   Andrew Salkey Archive Dep 10310 Box 24
  • Explore this item further


This poem contains strong language

In 1955 Jamaican writer and broadcaster Andrew Salkey won the Thomas Helmore Poetry Prize for his epic poem ‘Jamaica Symphony’, reworked as Jamaica, published in 1973. Of its conception he said:

I got a British Museum reading card, and I went to the Public Record Office nearby. And I really started learning about me and home and the history, because I damn’ well wanted to talk to Jamaicans about Jamaica... And therefore for the first time I began to realise myself as a colonial and us as a colony, and our history and the way that we were forever at somebody else’s beck and call.

This typescript version of the poem, which contains 15 parts, has been marked-up in pencil for publication. Two parts are shown here. The prologue, ‘I into history, now’, begins with an observation of how Jamaicans are not educated about their history: ‘You did know say / that none o’ them / know how much history /under them skin, / coil up inside, there so, / like baby hold back from born?’ (f. 6r). Frustrated by the ways in which colonial rule is responsible for these gaps in knowledge, the speaker defiantly writes himself into history – ‘I done wit’ you. / I into history, now’ – and calls on other Jamaicans to follow him:

So, look inside
an’ haul out you’self
an’ make a way in the worl’,
‘cross all the shadows them.
Is only you one you got.
You don’t want no help.
You got it
plait up
an’ hiding’ deep inside you’ ’ead. (f. 9r)

Part 1, titled ‘Caribbea’, contains the single poem ‘Xaymaca’, an elegiac tribute to the island and the sea surrounding it. ‘Caribbea’ and ‘Xaymaca’ (the Spanish name for Jamaica) are personified as female beings who possess the capacity to suffer and feel pain. As well as addressing the impacts of colonialism, this part of the poem asserts Jamaica’s longer history before the arrival of Europeans and simultaneously emphasises the island’s strength and resilience.