Starting in the Shetlands and ending on the Isle of Wight, it looks at the country afresh from a Black and Asian poetic perspective. It’s not only geography that is redrawn. John Agard’s “The Ascent of John Edmonstone” reminds us that Charles Darwin was instructed by a man who began his life as a slave on a Guyanese plantation and who may, crucially, have encouraged his student to one day explore South America.
The Ascent of John Edmonstone
(The freed black slave who taught Darwin taxidermy at Edinburgh – 1826)
My name rings no bell
in the ears of science
but footnotes know me well –
footnotes where history
shows its true colours
and passing reference is flesh
for I am John Edmonstone,
whose name is little known
to evolution’s white ladder.
But Darwin will remember me,
just say the black man who taught him
Egypt’s ancient art of taxidermy.
To think that we should meet
in Edinburgh of all places
few doors apart on Lothian Street.
No mention then of savage races.
In those days we were two bird-stuffers
mounting mortality in feathers.
We were each other’s missing link
colleagues upright on the chain of being
a pair of wingless apes condemned to think.
You can borrow Out of Bounds – British Black and Asian Poets from the Scottish Poetry Library, 5 Crichton’s Close, Edinburgh EH8 8DT. Tel: 0131-557 2876, e-mail [email protected] or see www.spl.org.uk.