Kamau Brathwaite's "The Nines"—an indispensable guide for writers



WHAT does Art education/education in the arts mean to you and me, as artists and patrons, as individuals and a people? Barbados’ (unofficial) poet laureate, Kamau Brathwaite, tells it the only way he can see it.


LET ME CONFESS that i don’t have a cue about this object.  i’m only strugglin to do what i can. because of my admiration for what ARTS ETC stands for. and w/v little secular wealth. but great spirit & elan. is achieving for the arts in baJam
       “Art/Arts Education”? a dumb. have nvr been comfortable with the formal juXtaposition of these two woerds. but “Educating people about art.” esp their (own) art. and even more & better. the “education of the artist”. . . that's whe you’ll grab my attention. esp since it’s too often assumed (in our part of the world?) that art/the artist. just happens. like some kind a knife-bloomin cereus. but is not so at all at all all. no matter what the energy of genius


[one]  WHO you?

the artist/wd-be artist (and let me confine this tight allowance of lines to “artist” i kno best—the literary one) has first got to educate himself/herself about himself/herself. i mean WHO you? whe you come from and what do you feel about that? and how much? anyway do you kno about whe you come from? So some research. some history. some finding out. some talkin to the (ole) folks and the people of the “whe you come from.” important. since this kind a thing not in the “schools’ curriculum”


[two]  get the SKILLS

set about acquire the skill(s)—vocabulary—to as accurately as possible and increas-ingly as you become more + more “sophisticated”—to describe “whe you come from.” i mean is just not enuff to say “Carrington Village” or “Rock Hall.” or “Golden Square” or “Sandylane” & leff it at dat. ef Geo Lamming had “leff it at dat.” we wudda nvva have had <In the castle of my skin>


[three]  kno the ANCESTORS

so nxt is getting to kno what yr ancestor artists have done—to aVoid inventin their wheels all over again. Getting to kno them for inspiration & model-makin & criticism (they you/you them). but above all to build a sense of pride & tradition. that you is a part of something bigger than yrself as dem say in that outdoorin in <Roots>.  an because time longer than yr twine


[four]  the NAMES of things

is vocabulary again. this time a knowledge of the names of things—not juss “tree” & “bush” & “bird” etc but the <names> of these powvrs and how they can be brought to memory & life thru accurate & creative description. so that is simply not a “pink” or “yellow” flower. or a “bright” day or bay. or a “great” or “chattel” house. but as a starat the way Henry James wd do it. with all that detail. ok? or Austin Clarke in <The Polish Ho>. or Oonya Kempadoo.   so many different mangoes. or the Inuit. so many different kinds of names of snow. or Wilson Harris. with all that unXpected


[five]  LIVING  the LIFE

to get there. You’ve got to live the life. there is no such thing as a part-time artist. you might have to have  a “part-time job.” That’s yr private bizness. But the radar that you are has got to be switch(ed) on & workin 124 hours a day for the rest of yr life and hopefully afterwards too. and you've got to live yr life & the life of everything around you. visible & invisible. from alpha to omega and. as i say. Beyond


[six]  MASK, mas

from here is mask mas and metaphor.  <mask> (and un/mask) is how you “nego- tiate” the person yu now know into persona. how much will be allegory how much confessional? <mas> is yr knowledge sense of ritual. the ceremonies thru which the culture “works.” at carnival <wuk(s) up>


[seven]  <METAPHOR>...

(and all the other aspects of it) is how you mask & mas the words. ancestral wisdom (spider & paradox & parable) of the language. <dat sea doan got no bannister>. <this strong elombe of opinion> etc etc etc


[eight]  pin to PEN TO page

you’ve got to make it happen. from pin to pen to page to publisher.  “pin” being that first moment of the insertion of the skill & inspiration into the joy or crisis. “publisher” being who or what helps or allows you to share the harvest with others outside yr house


[nine]  ...to PUBLISHER

in the ideal world. the community wd be the publisher. But that’s another story. 

Kb5 @CowPastor/Emancipation Day. rev 8/8/ 05 05 05 05 05


• “The Nines” first appeared in print in ArtsEtc No. 16, Sept-Oct 2005—Art Education 2