I first encountered "Whylah Falls" in my first year college English class. It has since, never left my bedside. It has since, never left my own mind as I continue to develop my own style. I was fortunate enough to attend a seminar that Clarke, and had the chance to pose a few questions. I asked him "How is it possible to maintain such intense expressive inspiration over 153 pages?" He replied that for him, the inspiration has never left him when writing the book, and remains with him everyday. And its true. George Elliot Clarke is Atlantic Canada's most inspired writer today. And this book is the beginning his era.
The story surrounds the Clemence family living in the fictional village of Whylah Falls, Nova Scotia, on the not quite fictional Sixhiboux River (see the actual Nova Scotian River The Sissiboo). The return of the wayward poet X to Whylah Falls triggers events the move the family and the village folk from poetic lust (Selah), romance (Pablo and Amarantha) and tragedy (the Death of Othello). A tragedy, I might add, of Sophoclean and Shakespearean proportions but without Sophoclean or Shakespearean pretentions-- which are lost within the sincere context of the character's simple and sweet rural maritime lives.
I especially enjoy "The River Pilgrim: A Letter" which is Clarke's ode to his own influences-- Ezra Pound and his bluesy rendering of Li Po's "The River-Merchant's Wife". And Clarke is able to create literary snap shots of the surrounding landscape, religious spirituals and love in pieces like "Each Moment in Magnificent", "solitude", "A Perspective of Saul", "Revelations" and "To Pablo".
Clarke tells the story through inspired poetry and prose which is bluesy, bold, and as intoxicating and compelling as the dark rum drank by he Othello. His writing speaks with a tongue that can only be understood with the heart and history of a maritimer. But for those non-Atlantic Canadians, this book puts Clarke's own past into words. He puts the frozen history of African-Canadian experience in Nova Scotia in motion for everyone to experience and know, if only for a short while.
His characters, speak not for themselves, but for the ages-- times lost in the rural life for Atlantic Canadians.