Volume 26, Issue 1/2, 2020
René Ménil, Édouard Glissant, and the Role of Space in Caribbean Poetry
This article offers an unprecedented close reading of the poetic texts created by the Martinican author René Ménil, whose poetry has been almost entirely neglected by scholars to date and who is better known for his philosophical and political writings than for his verse. I pay particular attention to Ménil’s treatment of geographical and cultural spaces in his published poetry from 1932 to 1950, and place that verse in dialogue with a text by another Martinican author at work around this period: Edouard Glissant, and his first poetry collection, Un champ d’îles (1952). Despite their otherwise dissimilar literary approaches, I show how both Ménil and Glissant created verse in these years where landscapes shift unpredictably, where human subjects are often overwhelmed, and where bewildering, vertiginous contact between Europe and the Caribbean is emphasized. This stands in contrast to more descriptive or directly political depictions of local nature created by other Afro-Caribbean poets during the period, and, I argue, underscores the complexities of the unsettling encounters between places and peoples occurring with increasing frequency in these years of rapid change around the Second World War.