Canticles is a lyric-styled epic. Clarke's visions of canonical and apocryphal scriptures are black in ink, but lightning in illumination. Testament II issues re-readings, revisions, rewrites of scriptures crucial to the emergent (Anglophone) African Diaspora in the Americas. Canticles II (MMXIX) and Canticles II (MMXX) follow Testament I (also issued in two parts) whose subject is History, principally, of slavery and imperialism and liberation and independence. Canticles II is properly irreverent where necessary, but never blasphemous. It is scripture become what it always is, really, anyway: Poetry.
About the author
George Elliott Clarke is a Canadian poet and playwright. Born in Windsor Plains, Nova Scotia, he has spent much of his career writing about the Black communities of Nova Scotia and served for a time in the African-American Studies department at Duke University. He earned a BA Honours degree in English from the University of Waterloo (1984), an MA in English from Dalhousie University (1989), and a PhD in English from Queenâ??s University (1993). In addition, he has received honorary degrees from Dalhousie University (LLD), the University of New Brunswick (LittD), the University of Alberta (LittD), and the University of Waterloo (LittD). He is currently professor of English at the University of Toronto.
In 2001 he won the Governor Generalâ??s Literary Award for poetry for his book Execution Poems. Clarkeâ??s work largely explores and chronicles the experience and history of the black Canadian community of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, creating a cultural geography that Clarke often refers to as Africadia. Clarkeâ??s Whylah Falls was one of the selected books in the 2002 edition of Canada Reads, where it was championed by Nalo Hopkinson.
If you want to read poems that just about sing themselves free of the page, read George Elliott Clarke. His ear is tuned to the forms and frequencies of history; the sound and syntax of humanity. No other North American poet writes with his majestic euphony.
Terrance Hayes, author of Lighthead, winner of the 2010 National Book Award
Canticles is George Elliott Clarke’s most textured work to date. Like Virgil guiding Dante, Clarke guides us deep into the dark echo chamber of history where he remixes an epic catalogue of multicultural voices from Hannibal to Harriet “Moses” Tubman. Weaving these voices together, like bards of yesteryear churning raw material into epic song, Clarke plays the role of a chameleon poet inking a brutal lyricism onto the page. These canticles abound with polyphony: Clarke echoes slave and imperialist debates that stretch back to Cleopatra, provides new voice to Marie-Josèphe Angélique and Phillis Wheatley, and revises and reworks history with the powers of a firebrand poet in full control of his craft. As spirited and incendiary as Ezra Pound’s querulous Cantos, Canticles is a manifesto that tells us—howling, screeching, testifying, rhyming—that poetry makes things happen, and that it has as much to tell us as ever.
Paul Watkins, Assistant Professor of English at Vancouver Island University
[Truth] is a preoccupation [of] Canticles II (MMXX). In the introduction, Clarke describes the book as “a conjured, ‘Africadian’ Bible,” but qualifies that “[o]ne will be careful not to read it as if it were The Bible” (xii). Clarke’s reflections on his adaptation of sacred texts imply that his book seeks versions of “the” truth.
Other titles by George Elliott Clarke
Where Beauty Survived
A Memoir of Race, Family Secrets, and Africadia
Canticles III (MMXXII)
Blacks in Canada
The Quest for a 'National' Nationalism
E.J. Pratt’s Epic Ambition, ‘Race’ Consciousness, and the Contradictions of Canadian Identity
I Am Still Your Negro
An Homage to James Baldwin
A Portrait in Words
Canticles II: (MMXIX)
Writers on Writing in Canada
J. J. Steinfeld
Essays on His Works