Although Arthur James Seymour will be far better known than many of the writers featured in this A-Z, it seems important to remember the extent of his literary achievements, networks and organising energies.
Born in Georgetown, Guyana and educated at the prestigious Queen’s College, Seymour took a number of civil service roles and worked in Puerto Rico for some time but always had a keen commitment to the arts and became a leading figure in the movement to foster a regional literary sensibility as well as national one.
Seymour published volumes of his poetry in Guyana decades before the West Indian novel boomed from its metropolitan capital of London, including his third volume Over Guiana, Clouds (1944) and his notable fourth Suns In My Blood (1945) with the frequently anthologised Sun Is a Shapely Fire (1973) and The Legend of Kaieteur (1972).
It was also in 1945 that Seymour founded the now legendary little magazine Kyk-Over-Al which continued until 1961 and was revived in the mid-1980s jointly with Ian MacDonald. Although the first issue of Kyk had a clear cultural nationalist agenda—”an instrument to help forge a Guianese people, and to make them conscious of their intellectual and spiritual possibilities,” the magazine was circulated across the region and became an important gathering point in print for West Indian literary voices. It also generated early anthologies: An Anthology of Guianese Poetry (1954); The Kyk-Over-Al Anthology of West Indian Poetry (1952; revised ed. 1958); and a series of pamphlets called the Miniature Poets Series (1951–53), which published works by Martin Carter, Frank Collymore, Wilson Harris, Ivan Van Sertima, Philip Sherlock and Harold Telemaque.
Seymour continued his own poetic career with Leaves from the Tree (1951), Selected Poems (1965), Patterns (1970), and Selected Poems (1983). Indeed, he selected 15 poems representing the “The Essential Seymour” in a tribute volume AJS at 70 (1984), edited by Ian McDonald. He also continued his work as an editor of both Guyanese and West Indian writing with My Lovely Native Land: An Anthology of Guyana (197, co-edited with Elma Seymour), New Writing in the Caribbean (1972) and A Treasury of Guyanese Poetry (1980). He also wrote his memoir in five volumes from the 1970s.
As was not uncommon for Caribbean writers of his generation, Seymour combined creative talent with a critical eye and his scholarly works helped to initiate critical discussions and agendas that were sensitive to the region’s writings and appreciative of their distinctiveness. These include Edgar Mittelholzer: The Man and His Work (1967), Introduction to Guyanese Writing (1971) and The Making of Guyanese Literature (1980), as well as A Survey of West Indian Literature (1950) and Studies in West Indian Poetry (1981).
The fact that the bibliography of his works complied by the National Library of Guyana for his 60th birthday ran to a magnificent 110 pages speaks of the monumental contribution that A. J. Seymour made to Guyanese and West Indian Literature. Seymour’s extensive professional archive is now housed at the University of Guyana, along with his impressive library.
In addition to the substantive printed legacy of Seymour’s career, his active role in cultural organisations deserves recognition. Not only was he the Literary Coordinator of the first CARIFESTA in 1972, but he was Deputy Chairman of the Guyana National Trust (1974–75), and President of British Guiana’s International P.E.N., among other roles.
A short programme made by Seymour’s grandson catches personal memories of two of his children and mentions the Thursday poetry evenings when Guyanese poets would gather.
More about the author
Arthur James Seymour’s Wikipedia article highlights his various careers and his legacy.
A short programme made by Seymour’s grandson includes his children’s memories and mentions the Thursday poetry evenings when Guyanese poets would gather.
The magazine Kyk-Over-Al is available online through the Digital Library of the Caribbean, including editorials and other writings by Seymour.
Ras Michael reads Seymour’s I, Anancy and explains how he discovered Seymour’s poetry.