Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Throwback to The Rag Doll collection of short stories

The Rag Doll and Other Stories

Published by Savacou Cooperative 1978 in Kingston, Jamaica 
(no ISBN)
A recent query by a student in the USA doing a paper on Caribbean literature sent me back to the beginnings of my published writing, the first collection of short stories published by Savacou in Jamaica in 1978 entitled The Rag Doll.
(Don't ask me why I was included in his list of Caribbean writers since I am now mostly known as a writer of children's books.)
Savacou was a small publishing unit spearheaded by Kamau Brathwaite and his late wife Doris, and probably the only publishing entity which would have put out my stories at that time.
Savacou published a second collection of my stories entitled Woman's Tongue in1982.  Both books have been out of print for a very long while, but I recently reconfigured most of the stories from both as an ebook on amazon entitled WhenTimes are Strange, and The Painting.
I was quite amazed to (re)read, after all this while, Brathwaite's positive comments on my vision as a writer. Since nothing in print should now be lost, (one of the positives of the Internet) I am reproducing here Brathwaite's introduction to The Rag Doll. It is exactly as printed in the introduction to the book (his iconic spelling, punctuation etc.)
 I don’t know if I want any comments. (except to say I should put up The Rag Doll (story) as an ebook).

Introduction to The Rag Doll and Other Stories  (collection of short stories for adults)
 by Kamau Brathwaite

Hazel Dorothy Campbell, a Public Relations officer with the API, and a secondary school teacher of ten years' experience, was 'born under the clock' in Kingston, played organ, as a teenager, in her mother's Church of God, was educated at Merl Grove, Excelsior and (1964-67) the UWI, Mona, where she read English and Spanish Literature for her Bachelor of Arts degree.

When did she start writing? There is a little laugh, hmmmn, and
 I remember wanting to write at about age fourteen and sending off for a Short Story Course to one of those English Colleges . . .

But, her initial interest was fostered early in her secondary schooldays by Alma Mock Yen, who has herself just published A Guidebook for Using Print and Radio

After that, there was no guidance or Inspiration: school magazines were few and far between; apart from which I didn't feel I had any direction  . . .
I remember, for instance, entering for a Christmas Competition one year, and being very disappointed that the story got no recognition . . .  I don't remember what it was about now and it could not have teen worth anything but the rejection helped to foster a feeling of inadequacy. I didn't know what to do although I wanted to write. So I think this is what prompted me to take up that Correspondence Course . . .which I didn't do very much with . . . I remember writing …. they said you were to write what your problems are . .  .and pointing out that nothing much happened at school: the most exciting thing was like somebody's hat had blown off and them had to run down the road behind it. . (They must have thought me crazy).
So, there was a dearth of plots and I didn't finish the Course.

But the interest continued through beginning to teach English. In those days there wasn't much readily available West Indian material for the children to use: which is another thing that served to spur my interest in writing West Indian material for the children, though, strange enough, my own writing isn’t geared for children . . .*

It was not until after graduating from the University that Hazel began to write the kind of stories that she felt were 'real stories'; and then, she still would have had the problem of what to do with them (publication) were it not for the Gleaner (her first story appeared in the Sunday Gleaner in 1970) and Festival. For her, the annual on-going Festival Short Story and Poetry Competition has been a tremendous source of encouragement especially since her first submission, 'See dem come' ('The Carrion Caters') in this collection), won a Medal in 1972 and was published in the Jamaica Journal
that same year.

Bronze Medals followed in 1975 and 1976 for 'Christmas Drops' (unpub.),'Rag Doll' and 'First Love,' respectively. And, in addition, there have been Medals and Certificates for poetry, with two of them, 'Plastic People' and 'Faith of our Fathers' now in the Festival Speech Anthology 1977-1978.

Of the stories in this collection, therefore, only 'The Carrrion Eaters' has so far appeared in print, and the Rag Doll and other stories is Savacou Co-operative's second major production; third, if you include Retamar's 'Revolutionary Poems', with the Dept. of Spanish, UWI, Mona.

Hazel Campbell is another of our rising race of woman writers. And I say this without apology or challenge, because I don't need to. Our developing literature which has been, in its ex-patriate phase, almost completely dominated by males, especially in its proseworks (Rhys, Quale, Wynter, Hodge, notwithstanding) ;now, as it becomes homegrown, autocthonous, it begins, quite naturally,to enrich itself with male and female expression. And this immatriate influence is necessary, since the male principle by itself cannot con-ceptualize tomorrow.

The male West Indian writer is still, on the whole, concerned with the stage or platform, box/plantation, on(in) which we find ourselves; dominated by the aggressive sun, embattled by the wind of isms, finding romantic solace in the id: witch moon, night prostitute, the jasmine of the Other. 'Reality' is therefore too much noon or passion flower sunsets. Not so the Mother. The area of conflict: call it conflict: cannot be public stage or platform, the politics of shame or sugarcane: but bed. Sex, yes; sweat, yes; sweet, always. But for itself and others: gene, gender, generation; so that the bed sinks down, becomes its own foundation; the bed drifts slowly up and travels out: space traveller of dreams and unborn children.

So that the conflict is subsumed to something sown, personae become persons, and the creak of flesh becomes at last creative. Yet, if this transformational quality were all, it would be nothing more, perhaps, than Male Romantic in another guise: Wordsworth/Arabian Nights combined. But, in addition there is always the intransigent and feminine specific: domestic eye, domestic sense, domestic domination. And it is this twin and almost magic opposite which brings (begins) into our literature its newfound sense of matrix and maturity: see Una Marson's blues, Among the potatoes (Barbara Jones), Olive Senior, Olive Lewin, Goulbourne, Susan Craig and Sandra Shaw and Dulcimina

And these stories by Hazel Campbell...

Which, as you will soon note, are not planks or metal rods but woven baskets ("LIFE IS A MUTUAL AFFAIR"). The themes and voices plait here into each other until there is a subtle vehicle of feeling thought, so that no one, though alone, is ever left lonely: not Dessie in the feature story, not Gloria of 'First Love,' and certainly not the 'Lady who lived on that isle remote,' although she was pretty near to it when she had 'plenty of time to look through her smoky glass at 'unreality' (p. 26). And when unreality  equals life and people of the streets - irony and paradox are complete. So that although nearly all these stories carry the basic male-imagined Caribbean sense of i-solation, there is a complementary sense of community which cuts across the ego-traps and weaves us back into the whole.

Which is why perhaps Hazel Campbell is so clearly influenced by our first major (and male exceptional) novelist. His 'tongues in the lane' clack-clack almost continuously' throughout this collection, except that the sacrificial figures in The Rag Doll are not Christs (Brother Man) but Virgin Mary (p. 39), Magdalenes, submerged mothers capable of using the anti-cosmos of their tombs to liberate themselves. Hence the ambiguous sense of doom and resurrection pervades these - I almost said poems. 'Social comment' on the surface; a frail crucible of conflicting scars placed under it.

To understand this writer, you will have to understand (or rather recognize) the function of religion in our shattered cultures: Legba in tatters, the Spanish/ American notion of the stripped god, the rainbow as his ribbon; 'Her blood scattered in the streets. Her flesh being seared by the fire' (p. 29) Mammon (the Benz) and Carrion (unreality) are the negative poles of Ms. Campbell's vision; 'reality,' no matter how harsh and painful, is its positive; love, its saviour: intimate and compellingly carnal at its base, uncornered by the haunt of transformation; figuration: even if false as in flight. ( 'The FASTEST WAY TO CANADA')

But, the story in  which Hazel Campbell, deceptively simply, contributes significantly to the theology of our literature, is 'The Rag Doll,' where  the weave is signalled and structured by an apparent repetition of parts where accident becomes dream, (a process reversed in 'Benz') and  dream patterns itself into fact. But above all, we are dealing in this story with the horror (for this is what it can be, too) of incarnation: Non-Father, Dead Son and Holy Doll, Conrad (Heart of Darkness) saw this dramatically in the humus of the Congo; Harris (The Whole Armour) in the androgynous jungle of Guyana; Ms. Campbell presents it quietly to us out of the encroaching dungle of Jahmaica:

the downpressed makes God out of the darkness that She no longer appears to dwell in: resurrecting Herself, therefore, out of fetish and ikon, gargoyle and scarecrow, carrion and womb: the duppy conqueror. And yet —

"They didn't ask her name. For them it wasn't important who she was. She needed help and they gave what they could (magda) without question, fear or favour. (p. 29) "

Edward Kamau Brathwaite 1978

* That was to come later

The Rag Doll and Other Stories ebook now available on amazon at www.amazon.com/Rag-Doll-other-stories-ebook/dp/B018Y7DREQ/