Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

If We Must Die

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With every successive media opp, generally the more seasoned journalists who are known to go deep, like Jacque Cousteau, always ask me a question about "what drives me" or "what's my inspiration" and I'll always bring them back, way back to the country of my parents birth. Jamaica is a country of innovation and speed, urgency and bite. And word, sound, power. So, Miss Lou made it be known to the world that patois is not slang, but "nation language" to be recognized by non-Jamaicans and academics alike. Jamaica is the land of runaway slaves (Maroons) who formed their own communities and preserve African languages. Jamaica is the land of Marcus Garvey, an activist who Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X studied to sketch out their own theorems. Jamaica is Rastafari. And Harry Belafonte too (who`s Calypso LP featuring `Day-O`was the first million selling record, ever). Jamaica is the home of the late Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. And Usain Bolt, the fastest man on the planet. Some traces of most of the aforementioned figures and cultural items coarse through my veins, and find their way in my literature psychically. I too am driven by The Most High. Claude Mckay, one of the Harlem Renaissance`s finest wordmsiths was born in the same parish as my mother Pearlita, and his piece If We Must Die sends chills down my spine every time I read it. It speaks to the struggles faced by black people of African descent throughout the Diaspora. I told a colleague recently that he could never walk a day in my shoes, and I meant it. Here`s some mighty fine poetry for your reading delight, courtesy of Claude Mckay.

``If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!``

1 comment

Dalton, Thank you so much for introducing me to this thrilling poem. I am eager to read more "mighty fine poetry" by Claude Mckay. Karen

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

Dalton Higgins

Dalton Higgins is a music programmer, pop culture critic, author, broadcaster and journalist. He is also Canada’s foremost expert on hip hop culture. His latest book is Hip Hop World (Groundwood Books/House of Anansi).

Go to Dalton Higgins’s Author Page