Claude McKay's “Cudjoe Fresh from de Lecture” first saw print in his 1912 volume Songs of Jamaica. Its speaker, whose voice appears in a densely patterned representation of Jamaican Creole, meditates on biological variation and colonial history. Setting the poem against discourses of race and poetics in contemporaneous Kingston print culture (and other intertexts, from Paul Laurence Dunbar's “When Malindy Sings” to Erving Goffman's “The Lecture”), this essay links the thematic concerns of “Fresh from de Lecture” with its medium: McKay, it argues, uses the principle of accident to explore the intersection of evolution, history, and poetic performance. In many accounts of McKay's early work, scholars have read “Fresh from de Lecture” as evidence of McKay's youthful internalization of imperialist apologism and formal conservatism. Conversely, this essay highlights the poem's political intractability—its ironization of social evolutionism, its allusions to insurrection, its emphasis on the counterfactual—and suggests that it offers a surprising view of dialect poetry, one that foregrounds the potentially radical mutations involved in the act of reading aloud.

You do not currently have access to this content.