interminglings and mismatchings of cultures, customs, and languages, Constab Ballads presents a heterogeneous verse that modulates between Jamaican dialect and standard English, between vernacular rhythms and measured and mannered prosody, a modern Caribbean verse spoken by a range of subaltern Jamaican speakers, articulating distinct and dissenting visions of colonial modernity.
Focusing on McKay's first volume of verse, Songs of Jamaica, published in Kingston several months before Constab Ballads appeared in London, Hathaway finds particularly troubling the "linguistic irregularities" of McKay's speakers, who shift between standard and dialect forms, obeying no "identifiable system or pattern." Combined with the poems' "structural inconsistencies," especially the "intrusion of formal style and language into dialect verse" (36), these irregularities "force" readers to question whether McKay "fully trust[s] dialect to convey accurately the meaning the author hopes to express" (37).
This essay argues that McKay, the dialect he appropriates, and the poetry he forges in Constab Ballads demonstrate more agency than North and Hathaway allow.
This essay's first section analyzes one of the most striking and significant dramatic monologues in Constab Ballads, "The Apple-Woman's Complaint," to argue that the poem salvages Jamaican dialect from the denigrations of minstrelsy, colonial racism, and ethnographic primitivism, demonstrating dialect as a lively and eloquent medium for modern poetry--a vital verse of colonial modernity.
(17) As with all dramatic monologues, those in Constab Ballads assume the fiction that acts of poetic ventriloquism can provide access to the interiorities of others.
(21) Brathwaite's assertion that McKay "allowed himself to be imprisoned in the pentameter" notwithstanding, Constab Ballads employs an array of metrical and prosodic forms--couplets, quatrains, sestets, and octaves in trimeter, tetrameter, pentameter, even octameter, many regularly iambic, others more regularly irregular--and often injects unsettling vernacular rhythms into the regularities of English prosody.
When Constab Ballads appears in London, late 1912, African-American intellectuals like W.
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