The Poet Martin Carter

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  • Topic: Guyana, Poetry, Walter Rodney
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  • Published : April 10, 2013
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Martin Carter
Born on June 7, 1927, in Georgetown, Guyana; died on December 13, 1997; married Phyllis Carter, 1953; children: four Education: Queens College, Georgetown, 1939-44.
Career
Poet; British Guiana Civil Service, secretary to superintendent of prisons, 1945-53; teacher, 1954-59; Booker Group of Companies, chief information officer, 1959-66; United Nations, Guyana representative, 1966-67; Republic of Guyana, minister of information, 1967-71; Essex University, England, lecturer, 1975-76; University of Guyana, Georgetown, writer-in-residence, 1977-81; University of Guyana, Georgetown, senior research fellow, 1981-??. Life's Work

One of the most important poets to come out of the Caribbean, Martin Carter has been compared to literary lions such as W.B. Yeats and Pablo Neruda. His most famous work was fueled by the political turmoil that gripped his native Guyana in the 1950s and 1960s. He told fellow Guyanese writer Bill Carr in an interview for the Guyanese magazine Release that politics and poetry were inseparable. "[If] politics is a part of life, we shall become involved in politics, if death is a part of life we shall become involved with death, like the butterfly who is not afraid to be ephemeral." Unfortunately, because of the fame of his politically-charged poems Carter was often pigeon-holed as a revolutionary poet. But as Guyana's Stabroek News wrote, "there were other voices in Martin Carter, strains of tenderness, love poems of moving fervour, agonies expressed that have nothing to do with politics, insights into all of human nature." During his life, Carter received limited recognition outside of Guyana, mainly because he refused to abandon his country. A friend of his told the Guyana Chronicle, "Exile for him was not going overseas like so many of the Caribbean's best writers, but exiled within his own country; in his own way, and fighting the fight at home." As he fought that fight, he wrought words of defiance, beauty, pain, and hope, leaving a literary legacy that, finally, in the 21st century is receiving worldwide critical respect.

Developed Early Passion for Poetry
Martin Wylde Carter was born on June 7, 1927 in Georgetown, Guyana (then British Guiana) to Victor and Violet Carter. His parents were of African, Indian, and European ancestry and held secure positions in Guyana's middle class, thanks both to their mixed blood and to Victor's civil service job. They were also avid readers and instilled in Carter a love of literature and letters. In 1944, after graduating from Queen's College, a prestigious boys school in Georgetown, Carter also took a job with the civil service. He worked first for the post office, and then as the secretary to the superintendent of prisons. In 1953 he married his childhood friend Phyllis. "We knew each other for a long time," Mrs. Carter told the Guyana Chronicle. "We were married when I was about 21, he was about 26." Their marriage lasted 47 years and produced four children. Even as he held down his daytime job, Carter was passionate about producing poetry. Mrs. Carter recalled to the Guyana Chronicle that Carter would wake in the middle of the night and go to his desk. When she called out after him, he would reply, "I just got a word I wanted. I coming back." He was also known to spend long car journeys scribbling on the insides of cigarette packs, leaving the driving to his wife. In the 1950s, Guyana was still a British colony. Though Carter was a product of British education and worked for the colonial government, he was not sympathetic to their rule. Like many Guyanese at the time, he longed for self-governance. He joined the anti-colonialist People's Progressive Party (PPP) and in 1950 published his first poems in the party's magazine, Thunder. However, in order to protect his civil service job, he published the most politically radical of his work under the pseudonym M. Black.

Published First Poems of Protest
Carter's first collection of poetry, The...
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