Geoffrey Philp – Archipelagos

Geoffrey Philp – Archipelagos

Geoffrey Philp. Archipelagos. Leeds : Peepal Tree Press, 2023. 61 pages. ISBN:13:9781845235505

Archipelagos is Geoffrey Philp’s seventh poetry collection, but the Miami-based Jamaican writer is also well-known for his numerous short stories, novels and children’s books. He was born in Jamaica but moved to the USA in the late 1970s because of the political violence which had engulfed Jamaica at the time.
Over the years Philp has become a very important voice in Caribbean poetry, and his poetry collections have all been published by Peepal Tree Press, the pioneering and now well-established “home of the best” in Caribbean and Black British poetry. In 2022, he was awarded the Silver Musgrave Medal by the Jamaican government for his outstanding contribution to Caribbean literature.
Geoffrey Philp’s latest collection takes as its main point of reference the Anthropocene and examines the link between that new and recent period in the earth’s history when human activities are characterised by their very important impact on the natural environment and on the climate, and colonialism.
The concept of “Anthropocene”, which became influential at the end of the 20th century, is thus related to the issues of global warming, climate change, and environmental damage. In his new collection, Philp endeavours to connect that concept to the twin issues of colonialism and European expansion in order to show how one thing led to another and how man’s imperial and colonial expansion gradually led to the destruction of our planet and to the substantial modification of our climate.
Two quotations in epigraph, one by Amitav Ghosh and the other by Bob Marley, set the stage for Philp’s exploration of these themes.
The title poem, dedicated to Derek Walcott, warns us that “At the end of this sentence, a flood will rise/and swallow low-lying islands of the Caribbean,” and, in a spectacular tour-de-force, that long sentence manages to encompass the history of the Caribbean and of the Americas, with its cortege of human and natural disasters, and its damaging impact on the natural environment, from the leatherback turtles on Miami beach to the low-lying islands of the West Indies. Sam Sharpe and the Maroons are mentioned as being part of the poet’s heritage and DNA, as is his long-standing support for environmental causes. The dedication to Walcott is totally apposite as the late Nobel Prize winner was well-known for the stance he took in his native Saint Lucia against the damage perpetrated by mass tourism on the Lucian landscape and fauna.
In the same vein, the beautiful sonnet “After The Hurricane”, dedicated to the Puerto Rican academic Lizabeth Parasini-Gebert, establishes a compelling link between “environmental” disasters like hurricanes, water pollution in Florida, and “the debris of empires that crowd our shores”, lines which remind us of the “sands of our beaches\littered with masks and plastic bottles” at the end of “Archipelagos”.
Other poems in this collection, like “Precauionary Measures”, “Philisophy 101”, “Target Practice”, and “American Welcome”, deal with Philp’s experience as a Jamaican and as black man in America and with his confrotation with the ever present danger of guns, but also institutional racism (“the evil of men doing their job”) in the police forces, and of course the eductaiton system’s blindness to cultural differences.
The sweep of Philp’s palette is quite impressive and manages to include the persecution of Rastafarians in Jamaica, with the destruction of L.P.Howell’s Pinnacle compound and the infamous Coral Gardens massacre (“Bad Friday), as well as the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Britol (“A Reckoning”).
The penultimate poem, “Anthem For The Woke”, is practically a call to arms, an encouragement to take a stand again any kind of oppression or ideology which diminishes mankind and to “change [our] fear from a plague of doubt into a power that liberates” .
Geoffrey Philp’s latest collection is a challenging and thought-provoking book that should realign a few minds and change a few perspectives. That is precisely what poetry should do.


Posted on

13 June 2023