Book Pages: 128 Illustrations: Published: November 1999

Literature and Literary Studies > Poetry, Postcolonial and Colonial Studies

In Castaway Yvette Christiansë presents an epic yet fragmented poetic story set off the coast of Africa on the island of St. Helena: Napoleon Bonaparte’s final place of exile, a port of call for the slave trade, and birthplace of the poet’s grandmother. Amid echoes of racialized identity and issues of displacement, the poems in Castaway speak with a multiplicity of voices—from Ferñao Lopez (the island’s first exile) and Napoleon to that of a contemporary black woman. Castaway is simultaneously a song of discovery, an anthem of conquest, and a tortured lamentation of exiles and slaves.
Instead of offering a linear narrative, Christiansë renders the poems as if they were emerging from the pages of imaginary books, documents now disrupted and scattered. An emperor’s point of view is juxtaposed with the perspectives of various explorers, sailors, and unknown slaves until finally they all open upon the book’s “castaway,” the authorial female voice that negotiates a way to write about love and desire after centuries of oppression and exploitation.
Daring and sophisticated, Castaway challenges and captivates the reader with not only its lyrical richness and conceptual depth but also its implicit and haunting reflections on diaspora and postcolonialism. It will be highly regarded by readers and writers of poetry and will appeal to those engaged with issues of race, gender, exile, multiculturalism, colonialism, and history.


“Christiansë approaches epic dimensions of classical poetry. While she draws from a repertoire of forms, it is language that serves her sense of composition. Seamlessly, craft yields a lyricism that lifts individuals into view. . . . Her criteria for poetics—a language luscious, yet bittersweet—bring wondrous decorum to Castaway.” — Zoë Anglesey , Multicultural Review

“Christiansë gives us not nature’s or history’s ‘glut of facts,’ but the desire to comprehend various histories—to make history real, to feel history—and the realization of what an impossible desire this may be. . . . [T]he book makes clear that lyricism and narrativity are not opposites; the ways in which they can be related are multiple, complicated, sometimes suspect, but necessary for a sense of human community and . . . for poetry.” — Lisa M. Steinman , Women's Review of Books

“A remarkable book. It’s a delight to discover a poet who makes use of all the techniques that have been too readily ceded to fiction: character development, a complex use of place and time, an interweaving of historical fact and writerly imagination, while deploying the compression and verbal legerdemain that are the particular province of the poet.” — Marilyn Hacker

“Yvette Christiansë’s Castaway has a personal and historical trajectory that embraces the emotional velocity of this fine, urgent collection of poems. It conjures silence and great distance, emotionally and physically, but the poems are excursions through language and subject matter aimed at connecting the reader to the unimaginable by a finely-tuned and far-reaching imagination.” — Yusef Komunyakaa


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Yvette Christianse was born and raised in South Africa. In her late teens her family moved to Australia to escape aparteid. She now lives in New York where she is an Assistant Professor of English at Fordham University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
The Name of the Island 1

The Island Sings Its Name 5

And All Things Come to Pass 10

On Being Restless 11

Letter to General D'Albuquerque- On the Pleasures of Taste 12

Letter to General D'Albuquerque- On the Pleasures of Touch 14

Letter to General D'Albuquerque- On Desire 16

Letter to General D'Albuquerque- On Solitude 17

Letter to General D'Albuquerque- On Forgiveness 19

For the Devout Mouth 21

For the Rrecord 23

Sleigh Ride 27

The Enemies of Progress 29

Necessary Things 31

The Emperor Considers the Fate of His Book 32

Last Battles 33

A Very Sick Man 34

One More Mile, One More Town 35

Face to Face 36

Brotherhood 38

ANd What of Africa? 39

Another Strange Night 41

For the Arrival of a Serious Enemy 43

Gold 45

Sunday School 47

The Sleeper 48

Blow the WInd Southerly 49

And Bring Him to Me 51

Courtship 52

Fire on Board 53

Man in a Room 55

What the Girl who was a Cabin Boy Hears of Said- Which is not Clear 56

Geography Lesson 57

On Hearing of the Exiled Prophet 59

In the Hull 61

Under the Feet of Angels 62

When All else Fails 63

Felony 64

Contagion 65

The Englightenment Sees Its Face in a Different Light 66

Even when the Smile they Smolder 68

Sometimes the Surface of Water, Sometimes a Mirror- the Horror 69

Nightwatch 70

A Dictionary of Survival 71

Memorial 72

Floating 73

Middle Passage 74

She Feels the Vanishing Sickness Move behind Her Navel 75

The Face of the Deep 76

Eclipse 77

Adrift 78

In the Maw 79

In the Wake 81

An Easter Confession, of Sorts 85

For Strength in the Face of a Powerful Enemy 86

Desire 87

Devilry 88

Aubade 89

For a Lover Who Keeps to Another Hemipshere 90

Sweeter and Dearer 91

Is It Not Sweet? 92

Southerly, Southerly 93

Moon 94

Now That She is a Woman Herself 95

With the Art of Birds 96

She Observes the Blue Bird 97

A Riddle to Save Face 98

The Cabin Girl Sees on All SIdes Evidence of the Dream 99

She Looks up and Points 100

The Beautiful Flood 101

What Is Out there? 102

Some of the Women 103

Behind my Back 104

She Confesses 105

Land Ahead 107

Headwind 108

The Cabin Girl Sings, of Love, Reluctantly and into an Empty Sky 109

And When I Write the Muscles in My Chest Move as if in Flight 110

The Voyage Out 111

St. Helena-- Time Line 113

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2421-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2386-0
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