Bim, the literary journal of the Caribbean, may sink if it's not bailed out soon

May 10, 1992|By Thomas Swick | Thomas Swick,Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

Since cruise ships don't have the equivalent of an in-flight magazine, here's a suggestion for forward-thinking captains: Put copy of Bim in every cabin.

It makes perfect sense. Most ships visit the Caribbean, and Bim is the literary journal of the Caribbean. It provides infinitely more stimulating reading than Danielle Steel. And this year it is celebrating its golden anniversary.

Barely. The journal that began in Barbados in 1942 is hurting financially and today often opens with an apology for the time that has elapsed between issues. "We acknowledge our debt," a recent issue began with characteristic courtesy, "to the patience of our faithful subscribers and contributors."

Those contributors have included such luminaries as the novelist and travel writer V. S. Naipaul (born in Trinidad) and the poet Derek Walcott (born in St. Lucia).

"Derek's first poems were published in Bim," editor John Wickham recalls. "It became a welcoming haven for young writers. And it saw the need to nurture.

"Frank Collymore was editor then. And Colly -- everybody called him Colly -- recognized Walcott at 18. He stuck his neck out and said, 'Here is a poet.' And that wasn't like Colly." He pauses. "But, of course, he was right."

In addition to being editor of Bim, Mr. Wickham is a short story writer and a columnist for the Nation, the daily paper of Barbados. It is from a windowless warren in the newspaper's offices in Bridgetown that he presides over his literary domain.

He is a tall, courtly, bespectacled man surrounded by books, papers and the musty smell of aging periodicals. He wears a bushy mustache tinged with gray and a mildly weary regard that is transformed into exquisite tenderness by the recounting of a beloved anecdote.

"Bim," he explains, "was a Barbadian term of endearment for plantation owners. When the magazine began, it was more local. But after only four issues, it lost its Barbadian character and became West Indian.

Mr. Wickham speaks with undying affection for his predecessor and mentor, Frank Collymore. And you can't help but form an image in your mind of these two gentlemen sitting on the porch of a chattel house on a summer's evening discussing poetry. And you can't help but wonder if there will be anyone to reminisce so fondly about John Wickham.

"A publication has to have a heart and soul and that heart and soul comes from the man who runs it. I can sense that the material coming in now is a little more strident and angry than Colly would have liked.

"They hate Naipaul, and they don't like me because I defend him. Naipaul has said things about the Caribbean that have angered people. He has said history is the record of achievement and the Caribbean has achieved nothing so it has no history. He says many things that are true. And there's something about the truth that offends.

"But it shouldn't blind people to his genius. Or his humor. He's a wickedly funny man who can laugh at himself. He tells the story of coming down to London from Oxford and calling a woman about a room. On hearing his name, the woman asked if he was colored. And Naipaul replied, 'Hopelessly.' "

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