Kellman, Anthony

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KELLMAN, Anthony

Also has written as Tony Kellman. Nationality: Barbadian (naturalized U.S. citizen 1996). Born: Lewen Anthony Kellman, White Hall, St. Michael, Barbados, 24 April 1955. Education: University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, Barbados, 1982–86, B.A. (honors) in English 1986; Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, 1987–89, M.F.A. in creative writing 1989. Family: Married 1) Pamela Emptage in 1981 (divorced 1987), one daughter; 2) Malaika Favorite in 1988. Career: Troubadour, various clubs and pubs, England, 1975–77, and various clubs and establishments, Barbados, 1977–79; reporter, Barbados Advocate, Barbados, 1980–82; editor, De Mattos Advertising, Barbados, 1982–84. Assistant professor of English and creative writing, 1989–93, and since 1993 associate professor of English and creative writing, Augusta State University, Georgia. Public relations officer, Central Bank, Barbados, 1985–86, and National Cultural Foundation, Barbados, 1987. Founder and coordinator, Summerville Reading Series, Augusta, Georgia, 1989–94; since 1989 director, Sandhills Writers' Conference, Augusta State University, and since 1990 founder and director, Winter Gathering of Writers, Augusta State University. Awards: Georgia Council for the Arts award, for fiction, 1992, for poetry, 1995; National Endowment for the Arts poetry award, 1993; Frank Collymore Literary Endowment award, 2000, for Wings of a Stranger.Address: 796 Palatine Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia 30316, U.S.A.



In Depths of Burning Light. Leeds, England, Peepal Tree Press, 1982.

The Broken Sun. Leeds, England, Peepal Tree Press, 1984.

Watercourse. Leeds, England, Peepal Tree Press, 1990.

The Long Gap. Leeds, England, Peepal Tree Press, 1996.

Wings of a Stranger. Leeds, England, Peepal Tree Press, 2000.

Recordings: Surf Poems, Studio South, 1993; Surf Poems II, Studio South, 1994.


The Coral Rooms. Leeds, England, Peepal Tree Press, 1994.


Editor, Crossing Water: Contemporary Poetry of the English-Speaking Caribbean. Greenfield Center, New York, Greenfield Review Press, 1992.


Critical Studies: Come Back to Me, My Language by J. Edward Chamberlin, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 1993; "World Literature in Review: Barbadian" by Sasenarine Persaud, in World Literature Today, 69(3), summer 1995; "From Ancestral to Creole: Humans and Animals in a West Indian Scale of Values" by Jeremy Poynting, in American Identities, Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 1996; "World Literature in Review: Africa & the West Indies" by Cyril Dabydeen, in World Literature Today, 72(1), winter 1998.

Anthony Kellman comments:

For me poetry almost always starts with an image that I must explain to myself. This begins my journey. My aim then is to try to successfully marry language and landscape, as I follow the image, to communicate ideas. I try to allow my subconscious to rule an early draft, for I feel it is the magic of the subconscious that shapes a work and gives it its mystery and force. Then, as many other drafts as are necessary will follow in order to find le mot juste and the right arrangement of syllables and cadences in the line. These choices all relate to the goal of most effectively communicating one's ideas; so form (the formal impulses of the poem) must be chosen in a way that meaning will be reinforced, made clearer, and, ultimately, have more impact on the reader. I strive to have a strong sense of music in my poetry, not necessarily traditional sound patterns (although I have written in most of the traditional forms, most of my work is in exploratory form) but the literature-as-performance idea that Frost spoke of. One should feel like dancing on hearing a poem read or on reading the poem.

Among my earlier influences were Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, Eliot, Auden, Tennyson; later Seamus Heaney, Robert Lowell, Ted Hughes, Adrienne Rich. I read a lot of African English-language poets in undergraduate school as well as Dennis Brutus and African-American poets like Amiri Baraka and Langston Hughes.

*  *  *

There have been many twists and turns in Anthony Kellman's life. Born in Barbados, he left the island for Britain at age eighteen to play Caribbean pop and folk music in pubs and folk clubs. Upon his return he worked as a reporter and, after earning a degree in English and history from the University of the West Indies, for the Central Bank of Barbados. Subsequently, in the late 1980s, he received a master's degree in creative writing from Louisiana State University and began teaching at Augusta State University in Georgia.

Also in the 1980s Kellman began his literary endeavors with two early publications: In Depths of Burning Light in 1982 and The Broken Sun two years later. They reveal the potential of his poetic craftsmanship and hint at the raw but not yet polished quality of Kellman's poetry, which started to come to full bloom with his collection Watercourse (1990). Vivid imagination, anecdotal storytelling, and a cosmopolitanism shaped by the centuries-long influx of peoples to Barbados are typical characteristics in his writing about the island's tumultuous history and the lush beauty of its landand seascape. Kellman's fresh figurative language is evident in "Flight" when he writes, "On the south-east coast / where metal birds, although sensed and seen / surprise the skyscrape with ogre-like rumblings: / sudden as orange bougainvillaea or palm fronds / to the sunbather's waking eyes— / are the remains of a mansion." Another striking element of Watercourse is the use of the Barbadian vernacular in almost all of the poems and its juxtaposition to Standard English, which creates conflicts such as these from "Sprat": "When yuh weak, yuh humble yuhself, / When yuh weak, yuh humble yuhself, / Islands, touching, are shining shields / in the dark void of the world."

Landscapes are also significant in the novel The Coral Rooms (1994). A slim volume, it tells the story of Percival Veer, whose success is manifest in the executive position he holds in a bank, his large house, and his young, attentive wife. He is troubled, however, by recurring dreams of caves and by guilt over a past wrong. The more his inner world is upset, the more he feels the need to explore the limestone caves of his island, an adventure that will eventually take him back to his childhood. Realistic and dreamlike at once, the account Kellman gives is of a mythical Caribbean landscape in which the materialism of a postcolonial elite is countered by a man's search for his roots and identity.

The Long Gap, published in 1996, takes its title from the name of a street in Barbados on which Kellman walked to school, and it gives evidence of the gap that both separates Kellman from and ties him to his Caribbean home. The poems in the volume reflect the kaleidoscope of themes and multitude of aspects found in the Caribbean archipelago. Kellman enriches them with episodes honoring Barbadian artists, reflecting on politicians ("Island Lover," "Calypso Island," "Sea Horse, Pass By," "Conversations with a Dead Politician"), and giving impressions of the lifestyle of the U.S. south ("Hinckson," "A Churn in the South"). Drawing on popular and folk traditions, he intertwines dialect and standard forms to create a musical and metaphorically rich tapestry of language. Kellman is never polite in describing Barbados's development, and he is always on the lookout for the authentic in his political and social statements. Thereby he presents himself as an islander, rooted in Barbados and believing that a remembered past and the surrounding "salt water / heals all manner of illness," especially the wounds of the island's history ("Isle Man"). More than in his previous works, the fact that Barbados has shaped and still shapes Kellman's worldview runs like a thread through The Long Gap.

Though by profession an academic in the United States, Kellman has not lost touch with the sea, the Barbadian people, and the places of his childhood on the island, which he describes as "a sunwashed island / wrapped with lucid blue bandages" ("Isle Man"). He never tires of celebrating the natural beauty of Barbados and lists for his readers the ingredients that make up this particular place: coconut and mahogany trees, blood red ixoras, sand dunes, fossils, coral reefs, cliff edges, blue eggshell skies, khuskhus hedges, breadfruits. With The Long Gap Kellman has established himself as a major voice of the younger generation of Caribbean writers.

—Harald Leusmann

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Kellman, Anthony

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