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In their humble opinions

rhondathompson, [email protected]

In their humble opinions

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The Layne-Clark Legacy
Despite being quite proud of her BBC English training, Jeannette Layne-Clark is a key figure through whom many older Bajan creole expressions are kept alive. Linguists can therefore find a rich mine of Barbadian linguistic history in her work.  However these two traditions struggle within her.
I admit that Layne-Clark has the problematic tendency to present very few of the range of human emotions outside of anger and hostility in her writings particularly for the stage.  Consequently, her characters, predominantly women, tend to look rather stereotypical and narrow, although never stupid.   
Therefore, I recognise that there is a problematic relationship with the creole as used by Layne-Clark, if one reads it in a particular way: literal and straight.  But is this how the writer presents it to us?  And is her intention the only thing we are expected to discover.  Is she not using a discursive practice that is far more sophisticated and imaginative?  Should we not be looking to document a practice in all its variety and complexity, rather than pontificating about it, using values that begin to sound rather patronizing and themselves classist and discriminatory?
Layne Clark’s characters are almost invariably working-class in origin even if not in present status.  What is significant for me here is the abiding personality trait that Layne-Clark upholds in her portrayal of these characters.  They show a wicked self-authorised insistence on their right to comment on every God thing in their universe!      
Creole narrative is the language of a people who are self-authorised and have been for generations.  Layne-Clark gives good example of just such self-authorisation in a piece where Punky Malone, the homosexual in Pampalam, insists on his right to comment on cricket even though he knows nothing about the game.
T’ree mo’ wickets went quick-time,
Wid Punky still runnin’ ‘e mout’,
Mistakin’ Courtney Walsh fuh Benjamin,
Counkin’ Hick in when ‘e was out…
Dis time, Gladys, Dinks an’ Vicey
Was tryin’to follow de action,
But de foolishness Punky was talkin’
Was provin’ to be a distraction.
So suddenly, between de t’ree o’ dem,
Duh decide duh did had enough;
Gladys tell Punky: “See you?
Ef yuh don’ hush, I gine gi’ you a cuff!”
But Punky by now was enjoyin’ ‘eself
In ‘e new role as commentator,
So ‘e purse-up ‘e lips to leggo some pips
Sooner rather dan later.
“T’ree drag-swords like wunnah cyahn frighten me!
Wunnah feel wunnah invent cricket?
Ef my cricket terms en right, I don’ give a s.…
I pay fuh my blasted ticket” (21)!
Punky, like other users of creole narrative, is talking not only to ‘air he mout’ (that is, not just ‘talking to hear heself speak’) although he is talking also for that purpose.  His statement that he is authorised to talk because he “pay fuh he blasted ticket” suggests he would have been talking even if to experts and inventors of the white people game.  Punky is talking to let others hear him talking, to be overheard.  He is talking to take up talking space. 
Punky is, in Lamming’s words, taking an occasion for speaking, and not giving a s…. how others receive he as long as they know he talking, cause he is people too.  As a consequence of this position, Punky exaggerates, he uses profane language, he chooses a role to execute a performance, and he expresses freedom.  All of these ways of positioning himself are manoeuvres of Creole narrative. 
The possibility exists that Layne-Clark may be manipulating Creole to laugh at its speakers, but her laughter is certainly also at the expense of the official standard and its attempts to discipline speaking.  After all, she gets to speak publicly and in writing in a way that, she always reminds her interviewers, she was constantly strictly forbidden to speak as a child. 
She gets to use a genre – creole narrative – that predates her, and which takes its definition from its oppositional stance.  Whether she intends this or not, this genre critiques her middle class upbringing as it well enables her to comment critically on her society.
It could be suggested, as one examiner did to me, that Layne-Clark is at the least laughing at homosexuals in her portrayal of Punky, but again, even this can be viewed differently.  Many homosexuals in Barbados effect public personas which they flaunt in the self-authorised manner of Punky.  Known everywhere as a self-righteous Anglican community, Barbados nevertheless was also known among West Indians in the Caribbean as the homosexual capital of the Caribbean.
A kind of albeit grudging acceptance of homosexuals obtained in Barbados, I think because of the very public and oppositional stance many homosexuals have taken in this country as they have carved out a space for themselves.  (Unfortunately, this may be changing as a very violent homophobia fuelled by anti-homosexual dance hall reggae culture and a new Christian fundamentalism appears to be gaining ground.)
Layne Clark’s Bajan Badinage gives us another insight into this carnival rhetoric, in her presentation of the politician as an archetype.  In Layne-Clark’s poem, Call Me. Minister (58-60), the minister of government character elaborates on how he now, with his ministerial status, is a person apart, “a veritable V.I.P”, “one of a exclusive breed.”  The persona concludes:
I got onderlings, minions, yardfowls
Dat does treat me as if I’s King Kong!
To show duh respeck,
dem does even genufleck-
To dem I cyan do neffing wrong.
So don’ fail to address me as Mr Minister-
I en nuh Smitty nuh mo’, get dah clear!
But I know my cue, I’s become one o’ you
Durin’ a election year (60)!
The minister is talking to be overheard as well as heard. He is talking out from the stage to the audience at the performance, in a linguistic performance by Layne-Clark that satirises politicians, in a voice that Barbadians would use to satirise politicians but she gives that voice to the minister himself.
In this wicked portrayal, Layne-Clark accomplishes two acts.  She not only lays bare the real, recognisable and in Barbados often remarked-on performance in which many politicians excel: They bask in the luminosity of political privilege.  She also cynically refuses to allow the ‘people’ the easy demonising of politicians and the automatic ‘angelicising’ of themselves in contrast.
She says in essence, ‘wunnah can’t call back the Minister from his journey up the Nile of political privilege, because look how wunnah is participate in the dirty game of politics wunnaself!’  In other words, she shows the onderlings and yard fowls (and perhaps the audience) to be equally good at this corruption that too often marks national politics. 
In the piece, Corn Beef An’ Biscuits Comin, Layne Clark emphases the critique of the politician and the electorate.  She castigates political candidates who seek to buy votes with handouts of corn beef and biscuits.  This is the traditional appeal at election time in Barbados that some say plays on ‘Barbadian’ gluttony.  In this poem, Layne-Clark presents the now-wealthier (or more canny) low-income voter demanding a more appropriate and expensive buy-out!  The politician is to be castigated, but as this poem suggests, so too can be the voters.
But leh dem mek mocksport to get we support . . .
An’ leh dem listen ‘cause I talkin’ plain
We en want nuh dam corn beef an’ biscuits dis time…
Duh got to come wid caviar an’ champagne (54)!
The voters talking here conclude after analysis that the politicians are playing them for fools, making mocksport at them.  This awareness suggests that people do not passively let their votes be bought.  They sell them, or at least, pretend to sell them.  They also thereby buy jobs for themselves and their family members, paved roads in their districts, and scholarships for their children.  In other words, people are really not just eating for a bellyful.  They are making the most they can by adopting roles to their political advantage. 
In a corrupt bourgeois society where privilege is the currency for allocation of resources, this is a premeditated, doubling and clever strategy that limits one’s losses.  It is also a strategy that abounds with irreverent laughter at the dominant system.  Through this apparent vote-selling, voters can access more of the resources and goods which capitalism holds out before them as necessities of the good life, but withholds for lack of cash. 
Layne-Clark could certainly be critiquing the folk for their collusion with a system that oppresses them in the above and many other sketches.   One ought indeed to be able to produce a more viable and dignified (and moral) response to systems of oppression or indeed, to governance.  But this is the ultimate question for all Barbadians that the work leaves. 
After the laughter, what?