A Little Jamaican Subversion

A little Jamaican subversion, with the help of my friends…

There was a capacity audience (not a very large space, but it was filled) at Bookland in New Kingston, on Saturday, 22 December, for the Jamaican launch of Subversive Sonnets. Guyanese poet, actress, playwright, puppeteer and educator, Jean Small, and author, philosopher, poet and painter, St Hope Earl McKenzie, were kind enough to join me in reading poems from the book. Although Subversive Sonnets was published by TSAR Publications in 2012 and is still holding its own (at #77) on amazon.ca’s list of books of poetry from the Caribbean and Latin America, no copies exist in bookshops (to the best of my knowledge), nor have ever done. It seemed perverse not to take advantage of being in Jamdown for a family wedding to introduce my latest, bad-behave, two-year-old creation.

As I said to the audience, as one gets older, one realizes that there is little in life that a person accomplishes alone. All of us alive now, together, constitute a community, and it’s groups of us, however large or small, who get things done. In addition, the community of now intersects with another community that threads back through time, by means of our personal and communal histories, and that also engines current events. The terms synchronic and diachronic that I learned long ago when I was studying a little linguistics serve to describe these communities well.

My sister, Dr Elizabeth Wilson and her husband, Dr Donald Wilson, who are both retired professors at UWI, Mona, worked their usual magic and put us in touch with the right people and the right places. Suzanne Lee, principal at Novelty Trading Company was enabling, and the Novtraco staff magnificent. MC for the event was Gillian Morgan, Manager of Novelty Trading Company who, along with the Bookland staff, helped us put the event together in little more than a week – a tribute to them and to poetry lovers in Jamaica.

Jean Small’s reading of the long story-poem, “Great Granny Mac” and St Hope Earl McKenzie’s kind comments on the poems (a bonus) were a treat for me. Earl read “Cockpit Country, a Tasting Tour,” a love poem, after which I read “Thomas Thistlewood and Tom,” a poem that begins, “Shit in my mouth…” and the second of three love poems in the book. (Its shock value is considerable — it claims a space almost anywhere.) I also read, “Counting the Ways and Marrying True Minds,” the last of the three L-poems, and took the liberty of addressing Martin, now and then, as I read it. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before. My sister-in-law Charmaine Mordecai’s sorrel was an especial, gustatory delight. It went quickly!

It was good to encounter old friends whom we had not seen for a long time, like Pat Dunn, Michael Reckord and Jeanne Barnes. It was also good to meet new folks, like the young poets, Millicent Graham, Ann-Margaret Lim and Tanya Shirley, as well as PhD student, Bryan Chitwood of Laney Graduate School at Emory University. As these poets readily acknowledge, their teachers and mentors, especially Poet Laureate, Mervyn Morris, and UWI Public Orator Emeritus, Edward Baugh, have seen to the handing on of the Jamaican poetry tradition in the very best fashion. Bravo!

A special treat was touching base with twitter compadre, cyber activist and vivacious redhead, Emma Lewis. Emma did a wonderful report on the event on gleanerblogs. http://gleanerblogs.com/socialimpact/?p=2373 Thanks, Emma! Big Ups! Respek!

On Red Jacket (1)

9781459729407I’ve only recently finished reading Joseph Boyden’s novels, Three Day Road, Through Black Spruce and The Orenda. They are startling works in many ways but one of the things that most surprised me was that some of his characters manifest almost exactly the same strange behaviours as one of my protagonists in my (first) novel Red Jacket, due out from Thomas Allen Publishers on 28 February, 2015. This weirdness (we’ll call it that for lack of a better word) is not something that I’d encountered in fiction, or in psychological or paranormal literature. I’d made it up, marrying physical and psychological disruptions in a way that interested me. But here it was, or something mighty close, in Joseph Boyden’s books.

In 1995, the now defunct and much lamented, Sister Vision Press published my second collection of poetry, de man: a performance poem. Sister Vision was a small small-press, with limited resources for promotion, and so, despite a couple of excellent reviews, de man pretty much sank without even the tiniest trail of bubbles, or so it

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A Garden from Scratch

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur garden started out as literally scratch: bare, dry, hard-packed earth, given over to the toenails of the dog (a pretty fierce customer, according to our next door neighbour) owned by the previous proprietors of this house. A more good-natured co-landlady of the backyard was their daughter, whose plastic pool had marked out a circle on the earth that it kept empty of everything including weeds, as long as it had been there. Summer after summer, I suppose, for it was a sad O of pinkish dirt.

Our backyard, a pretty big one, is on two levels, the upper one held in place by a wall made of planks of heavy wood. I worry that they may tumble in another wicked winter, but that’s a problem sufficient unto the day. On the higher level, for our road slopes down, is a lawn, or perhaps more accurately, a stretch of grass and dandelions and low intrusive weeds, some of which bear colourful flowers in the spring. The portion formerly co-owned by dog and small girl, is on the lower level. I don’t think it could have been her dog – it was too mean.

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On Writing Poems for Children

Angus ButterflyThe first book (or more correctly, books) I ever published was a collection of 8 individual little books, each with a story poem, called – surprise – Storypoems: a First Collection. It was commissioned by Ginn & Co in the UK as reading support material for their very successful Ginn 360 reading series, appeared in 1987, and was subsequently published in the US in that year by The Wright Group. (If anyone wants to republish them, the rights long ago reverted to me. I am told that they are good poems.) Some have appeared here and there, since. “Grandma’s House” recently found its way into an English schoolbook for use in Malaysia.

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