LU News Archive

LU’s Griffith captures visions of folklore, life in new book

 Paul Griffith

Lamar University educator and writer Paul Griffith explores the visionary realm of folklore in a new book inspired by stories that intrigued him as a child growing up in Barbados.

The result is “Wha’ Sweeten Goat Mout’: Short Caribbean Tales,” recently released by PublishAmerica. An associate professor of English and a Lamar faculty member since 1997, Griffith teaches courses in African-American and other ethnic literature, including Native American and Hispanic literature.

“As teachers of English, we find ourselves intrigued by, even disciples of, the power and thrill of words,” Griffith said. “Teaching becomes a matter of not simply getting ‘it’ right, but taking delight in words. It is this pleasure that was and still is observed in cultures that retain a significant degree of oral emphasis.

“It is this thrill reflected in the narratives of people who were careful and imaginative observers of the world about them and who recorded the humorous and pathetic paradoxes of human life in so doing that I have sought to archive in this publication.”

While Griffith’s previous book, “Afro-Cuban Poetry and Ritual,” researches and analyzes residues of African rituals in the New World, this collection of tales probes the visionary realm of folklore – media through which people keep the past alive.

The new book’s title, Griffith said, is a snippet from a Barbadian saying. “The full remark (a nugget of wisdom and warning) is ‘What sweeten goat mout will bun its tail.’ In more familiar English: ‘What sweetens a goat’s mouth will burn his tail.’ Translated: ‘The pleasure one seeks can have a painful consequences.’ Not only Sigmund Freud had his finger in the pulse of life’s pleasure-pain principle.”

Griffith earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of the West Indies in Barbados and his doctorate at Penn State University. He created the project “to preserve a dying art and tradition, to entertain and reveal to students of the language the degree to which we can have fun observing and recording those observations for our own gratification and for posterity.”

The author added: “We see the extent to which Hollywood has been able to amuse us concerning our struggles, foibles, failures, heroic successes, etc. It takes time to do so, but we all have the capacity to use the resources at our fingertips to capture and project the life dramas that swirl around us. Authoring texts also has the potential to keep inspiring ourselves and others (especially the students we teach) to enjoy writing, to enjoy looking at the world creatively.”

As a young boy, Griffith would gather with other children at an older neighbor’s home in the evenings to listen to tales passed down from one storyteller to another for generations. When he was in his 20s, Griffith wrote down those stories to make sure they did not slip from his memory.

Now, they play a central role in his primary research area: the similarities in African, Afro-Caribbean and African-American oral literature. He has found some tales from his childhood resurface practically verbatim in the southern United States, leading to conclusions about their migration from a central source in Africa and about the power of language in oral cultures. Those conclusions form the basis for the new book.

“For cultural anthropologists today, these folk narratives have come to represent registers of human adjustments to the realities of time and space,” Griffith wrote in his introduction. “They provide useful chronicles of who we are as human beings and details on how the minds and spirits of our ancestors sought to cope as they strove (making mistakes and growing as they did) to reach coveted ideals of life, liberty and happiness.”

“The folk imagination is often conceived of human beings struggling to find material and spiritual resources to survive in elemental settings,” said Shawn Street, PublishAmerica public relations director.“This is an intriguing collection of individuals’ social and personal adventures under the sway of powerful cosmic agencies. The reactions to these influences result sometimes in pathos, sometimes in humor, but, essentially, the tales’ entertaining value lies in their impression of men and women involved in primal tussles with the disabling forces that dog human life and that aim to frustrate individuals’ dreams and pursuits of happiness.”

PublishAmerica is the home of 50,000 authors, a publishing house whose goal is to encourage and promote the works of new, previously undiscovered writers, said Street. “It has been an extreme pleasure to work with this talented and dedicated author.”