“[If] politics is a part of life, we shall become involved in politics; if death is a part of life we shall become involved with death, like the butterfly who is not afraid to be ephemeral.” – Martin Carter
Martin Carter was born on June 7, 1927 in what was British Guiana and in what is today the independent province of Guyana. Throughout his life, Carter was immensely involved in the social movements that ultimately yielded the liberation of his birthplace. Accordingly, he gained international recognition through the publication of his politically charged poetry, which commemorated the transformative nature of his personal and social ideals.
In 1950, Carter joined the People’s Progressive Party (PPP), a political faction which supported the independence of Guyana as a socialist entity. When affiliated with the PPP, the poet published The Hill of Fire Glows Red (1951), The Kind Eagle (1952), and Returning (1953), all of which vocalized his fierce hunger and hope for the liberation of his country. Though Carter’s adamant opposition to British colonialism was made apparent through both his allegiance to this group and his poetic works, the writer ironically worked in bureaucracies throughout much of his life; the first job he acquired was at the local post office, then proceeded to work as a secretary for the superintendent of prisons.
In 1953, Carter was imprisoned by the British Colonial Administration for protesting British dismantlement of the PPP’s elected government. He was sentenced to three months’ jail time, during which he wrote Poems of Resistance from British Guiana, published in 1954, his most recognized and celebrated work of poetry.
Racism inherent in the PPP caused the party’s split in 1955. Carter – of African, Indian, and European heritage – chose to support the emergent People’s National Congress (PNC), which had an African leader (rather than the PPP, which had an Indian leader). Understanding that neither the PPP nor this new, opposing political party exactly aligned with his so-called “ultra-Leftist” ideals, Carter ended his affiliation with the PNC roughly a year after joining it.
However, he remained politically active, acting as a delegate for his colony at the Guyana Constitutional Conference in London in 1965. Soon thereafter, Guyana successfully won its liberation from Britain and the PNC commandeered control of the government through winning the country’s first democratic elections. Though Carter represented Guyana in the United Nations and later acted as its Minister of Information, his poetry reflected his disillusionment with the effectivity and legitimacy of his country’s politics and government.
Yet Carter refused to completely dissociate himself from the political realm, in 1977 joining the Working People’s Alliance, which denounced the corrupt authoritarian PNC government; at one point, while he was out in the streets protesting the regime, he was beaten by PNC supporters.
Carter died in December of 1997. He was buried in a cemetery known as the “Place of Heroes,” which, prior to his burial, was reserved for heads of state.
Koma, Tia, Zerrena St.Clair, and Murphy Brown. “Martin Carter Biography.” JRank Articles. Net Industries, 2016. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
“Martin (Wylde) Carter.” Contemporary Authors Online. Detroit: Gale, 2001. Literature Resource Center. Web. 22 Sept. 2016.
Robinson, Gemma. ““If freedom writes no happier alphabet”: Martin Carter and Poetic Silence.” Small Axe 8.1 (2004): 43-62. Project MUSE. Web. 22 Sep. 2016.