We often hear the word associated with music, and art, and yes, with literary compositions. We have pronounced it in multiple ways as well, like “jonray”, “jawnra”, “jawn”. Having both French and Latin origins, “genre” comes from the French genre which means “kind, “sort”, or “style”. As the French language is based on Latin, “genre” also has Latin origins, a derivative of genus meaning “type” or “kind”. Those of us who might have done a bit of Biology and recalls more than just the dissecting of a frog – the high point in Biology at my all-girls high school in Jamaica - whether Latin or French, both words boast the gen- root and signifies that everything in a group, whether genus or genre, belongs to the same family and origins. Genre is therefore defined as “any category of literature, music, or … art … based on some set of stylistic criteria … characterized by a particular style, form, or content”.
In English literature, there are three classic genres – prose, poetry, and drama. These can each be further broken down into dozens of sub-genres. For example, prose can include fiction and non-fiction sub-genres. Each genre has canonised writings that almost perfectly reflect its requisite style, form, and content. Canonised literature is the collection of works deemed worthy of mention, that set the standard against which others are measured as they are the ‘ideal writings’, believed to be representative of a period or style. In British Literature for example, William Shakespeare’s works, whether sonnets or plays, significantly impacted writings in those genres. Also canonised, are the works of the Romantics who stressed the importance of expressing emotions, valued imagination over reality, glorified nature over the artificial, celebrated the common man, freedom, and the supernatural, and revolutionised forever how we write and what is written in western civilization. Canonised works are memorable, complex, stretch the imagination, are aesthetically pleasing, and certainly worth studying.
What is the relevance you might ask, to Cayman writings? The answer is simple – though we do not always realise the depth and breadth of what we produce, writings from our small islands are also reflective of a multiplicity of genres that are memorable because they capture and preserve what is authentically Cayman.
Richard Nordquist, professor emeritus of Rhetoric and English at Georgia Southern University, defines prose as “written text that aligns with the flow of conversation in sentence and paragraph form … employ[ing] common grammatical structure and a natural flow of speech”. Prose sub-genres would include essays, biographies, autobiographies, novels, memoirs, fables, and short stories. Canonised prose in Caribbean Literature includes George Lamming’s In the Castle of My Skin, and VS Naipaul’s A House for Mr Biswas. Cayman prose encompasses JA Roy Bodden’s short stories like Stories My Grandfather Never Told Me, Lemuel Hurlston’s memoir A Life that Counts, and novels by Sheldon Brown (Caribbean Cartels) and Douglas Schofield’s Storm Rising are truly great reads. For religious or inspirational prose there are many, like 7 Keys to Successful Family Living, by Hyacinth Grace Rose, and EK Jasmine’s Unlocking the Prayer of Jabez. A personal favourite is the Brac fable by Kathleen Bodden-Harris, Quest on the Marl Road, which Cayman’s school-age children should all read; and, for a good laugh, there is Faye Lippitt’s Sixteen Chickens on a Trampoline.
In the preface to “Lyrical Ballads”, the poem that ushered in the Romantic Era, William Wordsworth states that “Poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings”. By this he meant that poetry is emotion driven, and its aesthetic qualities prove therapeutic. Nordquist defines poetry as “written in verses … known for evoking emotional responses … through its melodic tone and use of creative language”. Identified as “a thing of beauty” which “brings joy forever” (John Keats), poetry is distinct from the other genres by its stanzas, rhythm, notional and semantic content. Reflection on outstanding Caribbean poets immediately brings Derek Walcott, Louise Bennett, Claude McKay, and Nicolas Guillen to mind. Similarly, Cayman boasts talented poets whose works evoke emotional responses; though perhaps reminiscent of Shakespeare, the Romantics, other Caribbean poets, their works remain distinctly Cayman. Whether they write ballads, odes, sonnets, epics, folk songs - any poetic form - worth celebrating are local poets like Nasaria Suckoo Chollette, Philip Paschalides, Leonard Dilbert, JA Roy Bodden, budding poets Lauren Williams and Kareen Walker-Balfore, and Christopher Williams whose epic poem “Non-History” is certainly worth reading.
According to Nordquist, drama is “theatrical dialogue that is performed on stage … generally broken down into four subgenres including comedy, melodrama, tragedy and farce”. Folklore, rituals, and myths of the folk are the sources of Caribbean drama. Memorable Caribbean dramatists include Derek Walcott (Ti-Jean and His Brothers among others), and Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl. Cayman drama is beautifully written and regularly performed on local stages. Of course, Cayman National Cultural Foundation’s Artistic Director, Henry Muttoo, creator Dave Martins, Matt Brown and several others must be lauded for “Rundown”, which keeps Cayman laughing at itself, and proves therapeutic as running commentary on our experiences viewed through the lens of comedy. “Time Longer Dan Rope” by Frank McField must be mentioned, as it too effectively calls on Cayman to examine itself and how it responds to change and development.
Cayman’s varied writings cater to whatever is our individual interest and preoccupation, displaying awesome talent. Since Cayman can brag such a multiplicity of genres, it is hoped that we will take a new look at ourselves, what we produce, visit a local bookstore, and simply delve!