Poet of Honour: Cyril Dabydeen

Poet of Honour is a series of Ars Notoria and Word Masala Foundation’s celebration of some of the best contemporary poets who have become iconic and a major inspiration.

Cyril Dabydeen’s sense of displacement and a search for his identity in the collage of Canadian ‘mosaic’ or the ‘salad bowl’ multiculturalism through his poems are more an examination than any bitter outpouring. The old shoe has a character. And he tries to make it apparent to us no matter how much ‘the Empire’ of sun tries to blind us. Guyanese with Indian ancestry, and ever since winning Sandbach Parker Gold Medal before he was twenty, in 1964, Cyril has won critical acclaims and awards, including becoming the Poet Laureate of Ottawa, between 1984 and 1987. Few poets succeed as novelists as well. Recognised with the country’s most coveted awards, the Guyana Prize for Fiction, Cyril has proven he is also a great novelist. Here is a poet who has also fought for the freedom of his country, Guyana. Currently, he is also a judge for the Word Masala Foundation. We are very thrilled to honour Cyril with this much sought after citation our Poet of Honour.

-Yogesh Patel MBE

goat on rough walkway near unrecognizable tailor in old building
Photo by Mehmet Turgut Kirkgoz on Pexels.com

Three Poems by Cyril Dabydeen


Moments in the sun when all is perplexity–
the same ochreous shape with variation of tones
or determination with an old shoe, leather
being more than an affectation in the breeze.

The clouds somersault, and the bewildered goat
is without a sense of oblivion: on grass, sawdust,
empty shells, rotten boards, shingles as I contemplate
an old shoe with a personality all its own.

The goat quickly moves forward, hooves scuffing
the sun without the sky’s imprint as I also cherish
hibiscus, broken petals on glass, leaves on the ground,
and imagine Noah at the crossroads all at once.

A semblance of rutted soil, my now being held
to one spot and about to start speaking in tongues
with a derelict stove, porcelain, potsherd, orchids
forming on buttressed roots setting the world afire!

A burning bush really when I’m thrust among
animals locking horns amidst the Hebrew flood;
the goat ruts hard from high ground, and
I look up with a sturdy glare, mesmerized

by the power an old shoe can muster. The goat
swaggers on blamelessly with a tufted beard,
amazed as I am at what else is transformed—
images down through the ages, not far away.


Inca’s forbidden history

Meeting you eye to eye
as nothing else matters but
the ocean: a dreamer’s maze
with more than ruins; and
where else do I go? Now
who’s asking, not telling?

Cowering…because the Andes
mountains rise higher, what
keeps raising its head as time
no longer matters in Peru, or
some place else, and I will
keep asking: Who am I?

Not where do you go, or come from
because of conquest of tribes unknown;
helmeted Pizarro with silver
and gold becoming burdensome
more than before, what he will
now acknowledge.

What Atahualpa never bore alone;
so the story goes about the Emperor
of Inca-land, a never-ending tale
of woe told in the Spanish court
far from where rivers run
and mountains rise up.

Clouds coming down to the centre
of the earth, which neither
Ptolemy nor Copernicus saw
as men rode on horses before
a naked Inca girl, indeed what
the signs never foretold.


She comes to me with pranam,
clasping her hands together–
acknowledging who I am, and
where I might have come from
with ancestry at the crossroads.

My being from the subcontinent
no less she says with confidence;
and before I could reply she talks
about music, Irish only. Harmony
between Gaelic and Indian peoples,

what I now contend with, but know
little about with ragas, and musical
strains coming my way: melodies
of yesteryear, you see. What else
must I convince her about

with a rhythm my own, she will
insist upon as I take a familiar bow,
telling her who I really am, or now
intend being, like what she already
knew, her voice becoming a lilt

from bygone days with a choir
her own from Westminster Abbey
as she bids me farewell, and
I am left with a gesture only
of years gone by.

<strong>Cyril Dabydeen</strong>
Cyril Dabydeen

Cyril Dabydeen–renowned poet, short story writer, novelist, anthologist, and book critic. He has written/edited twenty books. His work has appeared in over 60 literary magazines and anthologies, e.g. Poetry/Chicago, The Critical Quarterly, Prairie Schooner, Canadian Literature, and in the Oxford, Penguin, and Heinemann Books of Caribbean Poetry and Fiction. He has read from his books internationally–across Canada, the US, UK and Europe, the Caribbean and Asia. He was the poet laureate of Ottawa (1984-87). He taught Writing at the University of Ottawa for many years.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Unique background and stellar writing.
-Fred D’Aguiar, Director of Creative Writing, Virginia Tech University, US

a mature and established voice…a fascinating writer to explore.
-British Journal of Canadian Studies

I know it’s like all your work, astute in politics and artful in poetics.
George Elliot Clarke, Parliamentary Poet Laureate of Canada

To read poets honoured previously here is a roll call; please click on the name.

George Szirtes

Steven O’Brien

Nick Makoha

Fiona Sampson

Mimi Khalvati

Vijay Seshadri

Pascale Petit

Imtiaz Dharker

Vidyan Ravinthiran

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