A hot Monday morning in Kingston, during Child Month. Wiping the sweat from my brow, I am standing and chatting with a group from the Sunset Optimist Club of Liguanea in front of the offices of Eve for Life, the non-governmental organization that supports and empowers teen mothers living with HIV and AIDS and their children. It’s a beautiful way to start the week, as the Club members, headed by President Lavern Brown, are here to make a donation. For the children. We are very happy.
The children need not only physical and moral support. They are vulnerable children; but they are still children and they want to enjoy their childhood – learning, playing, relating to each other. With this in mind, the idea of a Reading Corner came up – a quieter space for the young ones. The Optimists held a fundraiser, and purchased books, a stack of school bags, a microwave (the children are always hungry of course!) and a fan to keep them cool. We received the gifts gratefully.
The Sunset Optimist Club of Liguanea has as its motto “Friend of Youth.” Thanks for being a friend to our children. And stay in touch. We will invite you back when the Reading Corner is set up!
You can contact Eve for Life at firstname.lastname@example.org. Website: http://www.eveforlife.org. We are on Facebook and Twitter at @EveforLife Tel: 796-2051 (cell); 632-1838. Or visit us at 1a Richmond Park Avenue, Kingston 10.
On April 8, 2013, the Chilean authorities exhumed the body of the revered poet Pablo Neruda at his former seaside home in Isla Negra. Neruda died on September 23, 1973, just twelve days after the overthrow of Salvador Allende‘s socialist regime. Neruda was a close friend of Allende. Both his widow, before her death in 1985, and his driver were convinced that he was murdered by lethal injection in a hospital in Santiago. Was the poet assassinated during those chaotic days of the military coup that brought the much-feared General Augusto Pinochet into power? Or did he die of natural causes (he was believed to be suffering from prostate cancer)? We may not know for quite a while, as the Nobel laureate‘s body undergoes all kinds of tests. We may never know. But coincidentally, the passionate poet is the central figure in a novel that I just finished reading – and enjoyed so much I wished I had not finished.
As its rather plain-vanilla title suggests, this novel involves a mystery too, and an investigation. But the mystery is of the highly personal and romantic variety. The investigation is an adventure, deliciously laced with romantic dalliances and a certain amount of political intrigue and Cold War ideology along the way. The quieter, more subtle and tragic undercurrents are slow and well beneath the surface of the flowing narrative. But the quiet tragedy of the times does emerge in the latter part of the book.
The investigator is Cayetano Brulé, a Cuban who had settled in Valparaíso with his Chilean wife. This is his first case as a private detective, and the ailing poet is his first employer. As the story begins, Cayetano is sitting in a café in the coastal city. The reader spends a lot of time with Cayetano in cafés, restaurants and bars. A great deal of coffee, tortillas, crepes and sandwiches are consumed, as Cayetano considers his next move. So, too, is alcohol in many forms – including lots of whiskey, and a concoction offered him by the poet himself (“Don Pablo”) on their first meeting: “It’s good enough to make you suck on your mustache,” says Neruda. The reader is even introduced to some examples of Latin American cuisine – clams in parsley sauce, for example.
Inspired by the fictional, pipe-smoking Belgian detective Inspector Maigret, Cayetano learns on the job. His assignment is to find a certain Dr. Ángel Bracamonte, a Mexican oncologist – and he must keep his quest a secret. But it’s not as simple as that; before Cayetano has even figured out Don Pablo’s real purpose, he is already involved in an intriguing and complex journey that takes him from Chile to Havana, Cuba, Mexico City, Bolivia and even as far as East Germany. As he goes, he seeks to unravel a story that is like a tangled ball of string, full of knots and occasional loose ends.
Sometimes Cayetano gets distracted, and often these distractions come in female form. A parade of fascinating women float in and out of the narrative – including his estranged wife Ángela, who leaves him to do “political work” in Cuba but has a lingering fondness for Hermès scarves and Coco Chanel perfume. There are the two beguiling German comrades, Valentina and the “emancipated” Margaretchen, and there is Laura, a Chilean student with “deep-set eyes, like those of someone who slept very little because of insomnia or an excess of work or sex.” Like his employer Don Pablo, Cayetano has a deep appreciation of women, and he gets on well with them. Some of them help him along the way; others lead him down cul de sacs.
The women of Pablo Neruda’s past – some living, some dead, most lost – move through the story like ghosts, coming and going. During the interlocking conversations with Cayetano, Don Pablo takes erotic excursions, resurrecting memories of past sexual encounters and passionate love affairs, occasionally with regret. Many of these relationships inspired his poetry.
“The Neruda Case” is more than just a detective story, although it is one to keep you on your toes in the best Agatha Christie tradition. It is a sensual journey through Latin America in the Cold War. It is not only the characters who fascinate (they each have their own interesting story). As he moves from city to city on his quest for the truth, Cayetano moves from the decaying hills of Valparaíso, wreathed in sad sea fogs; to dusty offices in Mexico City; to the vibrant Caribbean island of his birth (where he meets a Jamaican called Sammy); to East Berlin, where much drama ensues; and to La Paz, Bolivia, where he is afflicted with altitude sickness.
“Detectives are like wine like wine, rum, tequila or beer, children of their own land and climate, and anyone who forgot this would inevitably fail.” Cayetano reminds himself of this as he sets off from Chile – grounding himself, so to speak. But many surprises and unexpected occurrences await him. He often finds himself far outside his comfort zone – and never more so than in Santiago at the time of Allende’s fall – a city echoing with gunfire, where the sun glints off soldiers’ helmets, as the military coup gathers pace.
At the core of the novel is the restless and regretful figure of the poet, sitting in his house floating high over the Pacific Ocean, fretting over his past and impatiently waiting for Cayetano to report back to him. During the author’s childhood, the poet was actually his neighbor in real life; while writing the book, he sat in Neruda’s living room, so evocatively described in the novel. The writer has, I believe, succeeded quite well in bringing the Nobel Laureate to life – not as a diplomat, a political figure or a poet, but simply as a human being.
“There are times when I simply tire of being human,” Neruda observes irritably. But I found enormous humanity in this novel. I understand there is a series, and look forward to meeting Cayetano Brulé again in the near future. I could really get to like him.
Roberto Ampuero has published twelve novels in Spanish. “The Neruda Case” (2008) is his first novel published in English. It is translated by Uruguayan-born Carolina De Robertis, herself the author of two novels, including the best-selling “The Invisible Mountain.” Ampuero was born into a middle-class family in Valparaíso, Chile in 1953; he attended a German school there, and then studied Social Anthropology and Latin American Literature at the University of Chile in Santiago. He became a member of the Chilean Communist Youth and received a journalism scholarship to study in East Germany in 1973. He met his first wife there and they moved to Cuba, where Ampuero lived until 1979; he left disillusioned with what he saw as a dictatorship in Cuba and returned to East Germany, where he studied Marxism and enrolled in Humboldt University to do postgraduate studies. He moved to West Germany in 1983, where he published his first two novels in German, and married the Guatemalan Ambassador to Germany. Returning to Chile in 1993, he published his first novel in Spanish, introducing private detective Cayetano Brulé, for which he received the Book Magazine Award of El Mercurio. During a three-year sojourn in Sweden he wrote two more novels, including a harsh criticism of the Cuban regime, “Nuestros Años Verde Olivo” (Our Green Olive Years) He is a graduate of the prestigious International Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, where he currently teaches literature and creative writing. He also serves currently as Chile’s Ambassador to Mexico, sharing his time between Iowa City and Mexico City.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/10/opinion/disturbing-pablo-nerudas-rest.html?_r=0 Disturbing Pablo Neruda’s rest: New York Times
http://blogs.nature.com/news/2013/05/tests-cofirm-pablo-neruda-had-terminal-cancer.html Tests confirm Pablo Neruda had terminal cancer: nature.com
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1971/neruda-bio.html Pablo Neruda biography: NobelPrize.org
http://www.marxists.org/archive/allende/1973/september/11.htm Salvador Allende: Last words to the nation: marxists.org
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jul/20/salvador-allende-committed-suicide-autopsy Salvador Allende committed suicide, autopsy confirms: Guardian UK
Longing with Pablo Neruda (petchary.wordpress.com)
Seretse Small has a face that you cannot forget once you have seen it – rather chubby, with strong brows and large brown eyes. He also has an infectious chuckle, especially when talking about his favorite things.
The Jamaican musician introduced us to some of these at Bookophilia this evening – and his favorites were, essentially, creative people. He began with his mother, Jean Small – educator, linguist, actress, writer, storyteller. Seretse paid an unsentimental tribute to Jean, who was sitting in the front row, speaking of the “international awareness” he grew up with. Seretse studied at the Jamaica School of Music in Kingston and Berklee College in Boston, USA. His musical heroes include, therefore, Bob Marley (almost a cliché, but you cannot ignore the richness of his songs, said Seretse); and Quincy Jones. Seretse has that jazz feel and inserted a refreshing burst of scat into one of the songs. But he also spoke passionately at one point about the comfort and sense of nurturing he feels at home on his island, Jamaica.
Now, what were the components of this evening of pre-Mother’s Day favorites? Firstly, Seretse has teamed up with two other amazing musicians – Wayne Armond and Steve Golding, to form Jakoostik. (Go and buy their CD – it was all recorded in one take, just like that, and is available at Bookophilia). The three put together create astonishingly soulful, delicately structured harmonies through their versions of well-known songs. Beres Hammond‘s “Putting Up Resistance,” slowed down and sung by Armond, takes on an added soulfulness. Golding, who has played with Peter Tosh, Chalice and others, began softly singing a Tosh song – one of quiet resilience, “Pick Myself Up,” which the other two continued. A wisp of sweet nostalgia caught me – and again, as they sang the Heptones classic “Book of Rules” - a simple tune with extraordinary lyrics, sung with passion by Armond (who is, by the way, a wonderful guitarist in his own right). Whatever your Book of Rules is, it is the guiding light you live by.
Words and music go together – and following these powerful songs, Seretse introduced a friend. Jean Lowrie-Chin read from her beautiful little book of poems and writings, “Souldance.” Jean says this book encapsulates a philosophy – the belief that each one of us has many facets – like a shining cut diamond. We are all so rich, aren’t we.
Bringing three poems, Jean focused on the family. She described the joy of her Chinese Jamaican husband dancing “to the riddim of Jah” (smilingly dedicating this poem to Steve Golding). She also read “Pick-up Time” - about the simple pleasure of going to pick up your children from school in the middle of a busy working day. The last lines made many of the working mothers in the audience smile…“Freeze the moment/Stop the clock…I live for pick-up time.” She ended by walking along the road built by her mother, firm and strong and “stadium-lit with love.”
Di Blueprint Band, comprising former students of the Jamaica School of Music, is the winner of the 2012 Global Battle of the Bands (that’s 3,000 bands from around the world, by the way). Three members of the band played for us – just keyboard and voice. Alex Gallimore has a strong, flexible voice with beautiful phrasing. He sang about love – and nothing wrong with that either. Their last song, “Back to Life,” was about vision, determination and “regaining what we have lost,” as Alex put it. I think he has a fine voice for rock music; Wayne Armond thought he had a great reggae voice. Well, both perhaps?
They say love makes the world go round. My grandmother always used to tell me that, and as a small child I used to wonder how exactly that worked. I think I’ve got it, now. Music and poetry certainly helps one towards that belief.
P.S. It’s not too late. “Souldance: Poems and Writings” by Jean Lowrie-Chin would make a beautiful Mother’s Day gift. Or a birthday present, or just a gift for someone you care about. It will enrich their lives, and yours. And pick up Jakoostik’s CD while you’re at it. What a package of sweetness that would be!
This week is Education Week in Jamaica. It means (obviously) that the Minister of Education is exceptionally busy, with a flurry of additional functions and school visits. We have also embarked on Child Month – when much wider issues affecting children are under the microscope. These “issues” are so wide-ranging that they cannot possibly be addressed during a few speeches/seminars during one month. We must keep them at the forefront of all our thoughts and discussions right through the year. In our hearts and minds.
Earlier today – Teachers’ Day – I spent some time at St. Michael’s Primary School, in the inner city area of Rae Town. The occasion was the donation of ten computers to the school by a U.S.-based company, GTECH Corporation (see press release below). The school is tucked away on a narrow lane, in one of the oldest parts of the city, close to the waterfront. There are remnants of old brick walls, broken kerbs and overgrown patches of land. This morning, rows of lilac-colored clouds furrowed the pale morning sky; the early light was soft and a faint humid breeze blew from the harbor. And just beyond the school loomed the red brick, Victorian walls of the “General Penitentiary” – or correctly named, the Tower Street Correctional Centre, spiked with barbed wire. The children must, one assumed, be used to these close quarters, this walled horizon.
The Chairman of the School Board, the Rev. Dr. Alton Tulloch, told me that the original St. Michael’s Anglican Church, where he ministers, was destroyed during the 1907 earthquake. It was close to or on the site of the current school, and was rebuilt further back from the shoreline, on Victoria Street. (The National Library of Jamaica has a wonderful photo album on Flickr, which includes a photo of the old church after the earthquake - little more than a pile of rubble).
The school was busy getting itself in order when we arrived; a few curious students wandered up to the room where we were to peer at the beautifully decorated walls, swathed in blue and yellow. They were shushed away. There was excitement in the air, and the narrow schoolyard was filling up with strange cars. The visitors were arriving…
Monday was Read Across Jamaica Day. Ms. Deika Morrison of Crayons Count visited the Sunrays Educational Centre and read to the young children there. Pelican Publishers’ Latoya West-Blackwood visited the Central Branch Infant School and tweeted, “Don’t know how the teachers do it! So much energy in the room!” The photographs below tell the story of enjoyment and fun. Crayons Count campaigns, and provides materials, in the area of early childhood education – those years when a child’s thoughts awaken. The brain absorbs; the eyes widen and imagination begins to flow.
Albert Einstein said, “If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” I grew up on fairy tales, and I don’t think they did me any harm.
Books, learning and exploring are at the core of the children’s experience at the Trench Town Reading Centre, which will celebrate its twentieth anniversary later this year. Situated in the heart of Kingston 12, just opposite the “Government Yard” where Bob Marley spent his youth, the Centre is bursting with energy and life. It is also a book-centred place of learning. No tablets here, no fancy technology; but so much creativity – hands-on – craft, music, art, gardening, dance, performing arts, and books, books, books.
And learning comes in many packages: whether it’s a tablet, a picture book or a computer such as those GTECH is providing to institutions in Jamaica.
So, wherever you are, and especially to my Jamaican readers… This month and throughout the year please do whatever you can to bring that shining light of discovery into a child’s eyes. The learning experience gives as much pleasure to the teacher and guide as it does to the young recipient. Try it, nuh! And please support organizations such as Trench Town Reading Centre and other places where the love of learning flourishes!
GTECH DONATES COMPUTERS TO ST. MICHAEL’S PRIMARY SCHOOL
Kingston, Jamaica, May 8, 2013 - Global information technology company GTECH today, Teachers’ Day, continued its commitment to fostering educational growth through their After School Advantage Programme with the handover of ten computers to St. Michael’s Primary School in Rae Town, Kingston.
This was their fifth such installation for Jamaican institutions, with two more planned by year-end. The Programme donates computers to non-profit organisations and schools with the aim of bridging the “digital divide” and empowering disadvantaged youth.
At the handover ceremony, Minister of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining Phillip Paulwell, who gave the main address, praised GTECH’s vision. He expressed his enthusiasm for and commitment to the use of information technology in schools, as a tool that will “create inquisitive minds” and encourage innovation and creativity. He recalled an early Jamaica Computer Society programme in rural schools that resulted in “almost immediate improvements” in reading.
“I thought: therein lies the answer,” Minister Paulwell observed. He expressed the belief that, once given access to information technology, Jamaicans could become technology leaders on the global stage.
GTECH Jamaica’s General Manager Debbie Green stressed that the Programme is much more than simply donating computers. “It is about establishing a relationship with the institution,” she noted, that includes continued support and maintenance. As an example of this, St. Michael’s Primary will be GTECH Jamaica’s Labour Day project onMay 23 this year; their staff members will be engaged in painting and refurbishing activities at the school, which houses 235 students.
GTECH’s Regional General Manager/Caribbean, Ann-Dawn Young Sang, quoted Jamaican National Hero Marcus Garvey’s words, “Knowledge is power.” She noted that in this “era of rapid advancement, there should be access to the digital world for every child.” In pursuit of this vision, she noted that GTECH works in over seventy countries worldwide, with over 200 After School Centres established. Emphasizing the importance of early childhood education, Mrs Young Sang sees information technology as a vital component for the region’s competitiveness.
St. Michael’s dedicated Principal, Dave Allen, expressed his gratitude for the computers, which he said would empower his students to “become good citizens of the world.” Noting the presence of veteran educator Verna Duncan, he celebrated the significance of the day – Teachers’ Day – for his school “in our little corner” of the city. Mr. Allen and a lively percussion section accompanied a group of charming students, who performed traditional folk songs for the guests.
Technology Specialist with the USAID/Jamaica Basic Education Project Dr. Melody Williams commended the GTECH family for its focus, pointing to several key benefits of information technology in schools. “If used effectively,” she suggested, “IT enhances the child’s creative skills.” Students must be “good digital citizens,” she added, pointing to the need for responsible use of the Internet.
Since 2006, GTECH Jamaica has provided assistance to a number of schools and institutions, including Lawrence Tavern and Easington Primary Schools, Sylvia Foote Basic School, the University of Technology, Caribbean Maritime Institute, Portmore Community College, Dunrobin Primary School, Holy Trinity High School, the Jamaica Christian Boys’ Home and the SOS Children’s Village. On average, the GTECH-funded programme invests US$15,000 to open and maintain each IT centre over a period of four years.
The GTECH After School Advantage Programme started in the Caribbean in 2005 in Trinidad and Tobago, where it has established twelve centres since 2011. In the U.S. Virgin Islands, GTECH has partnered with the Queen Louise Home for Children in St. Croix. It plans to open a second centre in St. Thomas this year, as well as one in the Dominican Republic.
http://www.usaidjamaicabasiced.com USAID/Jamaica Basic Education Project
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/pages/history/story0017.html Disaster: The Earthquake of 1907
http://www.flickr.com/photos/28320522@N08/ National Library of Jamaica Flickr Photostream
http://dogoodjamaica.org/crayonscount/2013/05/07/open-books-smiling-faces-read-across-jamaica-day-2013/ Open books and smiling faces: Read Across Jamaica Day 2013
http://www.trenchtownreadingcentre.com Trench Town Reading Centre
Jamaicans have an energetic relationship with words. They fling them, they shout them, they play with them, they let them sing. And so it was at a light-hearted, but quietly passionate session of open mic poetry last night at my neighborhood bookstore, Bookophilia. At times we competed with the busy Friday night traffic. But we made our point.
I kicked things off myself, on a very un-Jamaican note, but dipping into my heritage and childhood. After a grim week (not only for Boston and Texas, but for Iraq and Syria, too) I began with the somber “The Second Coming.” W.B. Yeats‘ poem, written in 1919, is suffused with dread. The “rough beast” begins to drag its feet across the desert. It is in no hurry. It will get there. It is Evil. You can find the entire poem on another blog post http://petchary.wordpress.com/2013/03/23/the-second-coming/
As an antidote, I read from probably the first book I ever possessed, “The Jumblies and other Nonsense Verses,” by Edward Lear. I read my favorite poem, “The Owl and the Pussy Cat,” and was surprised to discover that some Jamaicans were actually familiar with it. I received this book from my great-aunt Esmé on my third birthday; the book is now battered and stained, and some tropical insects have taken tentative nibbles at the cover, over the years. But it is still very much intact – and alive, as only books can be…
But the occasion was a very Jamaican one. It was, in fact, the launch of a Word Festival called “Dis Poem” ...a tribute to the “Incient” (in Rastafarian parlance) Mutabaruka. The veteran, barefoot dub poet is acquiring the status of an elder (and I think that feels nice). But thankfully, he has not mellowed much. He has stayed the course. “Dis Poem” is probably his best-known work, from back in 1986 – declamatory, demanding, humorous, contradictory and always enjoyable in a new way. You can find it on YouTube – don’t just read the lyrics. It must be spoken, performed, and has been put to music several times by different artists. Rastakura, our courteous Master of Ceremonies for the evening, gave us a spirited version of the poem itself, as a reminder.
Ann-Margaret Lim read several of her sharply perceptive poems in a soft, but sonorous voice. Her first published book of poetry, “The Festival of Wild Orchid,” received a Special Mention on the Long List for the 2013 OCM Bocas Literary Prize. It is published by Peepal Tree Press. But I especially loved a poem that was not included in that collection, about the sea. I would love to publish it here. You can read the title poem here: http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/10/16/the-festival-of-wild-orchid-a-poem-for-national-heroes-day/
Randy McLaren (the “Creative Activist”) stirred our conscience with his poetry. He touched on a number of social issues – in particular, he mentioned the terrible fire at Armadale, where seven young women who were wards of the state died. And he spoke about sixteen-year-old Vanessa Wint, of whom I have written before, who survived Armadale in 2009, but committed suicide at an adult prison last November.
There is huge potential in dub poetry as a kind of protest art form. Of course, this has always been done. I was (still am) very fond of the work of Linton Kwesi Johnson, the Brixton revolutionary, a British Jamaican who has never lost the fire in his belly. The humanity of young dub poet Mikey Smith always shone through in his poetry (I saw him perform more than once in London; he had a powerful voice, extraordinary presence). I recommend that you look him up on YouTube also. “Mi Cyaan Believe It” is a great poem of his. But poor Mikey died too young; at age 28 he was attacked and killed by political activists in Stony Hill, near Kingston in 1983.
Randy, I want you to walk in the steps of Mikey. But take care of yourself…
Then we had LXS, a two-man dub poetry team (I hear there is actually a third member, who did not perform last night) rooted in Rastafarianism. The two went on a veritable verbal excursion, occasionally leaning together at the mike, nodding in agreement, dancing, interrupting each other and talking in chorus. It was delightful, fluent. I believe there is much potential in this kind of dub-team format.
I had seen History Man perform before. A well-built Rastafarian, he strides onto the stage, closes his eyes and launches into a flowing, detailed account of Black History. There is very little performance element here; you just have to listen to his words, and the information pours out of him like a well-rehearsed, structured dictionary. His first poem was about black inventors; the second was a detailed account of Bob Marley’s life and music, including a discography, dates and all. Marvelous stuff.
Thank you so much to Bookophilia – and to Rastakura, our MC. And to the appreciative audience. It was nice to read, even if the poetry wasn’t mine. I have never written a line of poetry in my life, but I could not live without it. I grew up with its endless riches.
“Dis Poem” Word Festival will take place at Hope Bay Beach, Portland, Jamaica on Sunday, April 28, 2013 from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. Admission $700 pre-sold, $1,000 at the gate. Students $300 (free to students of the College of Agriculture, Science & Education in Portland).
Bookophilia is at 92 Hope Road, Kingston 6. Tel: 978-5248. Opening hours: Mon – Fri: 10:00 – 19:00; Sat: 10:00 – 18:00; Sun: 12:00 – 17:00. They are on Facebook and Twitter (@Bookophilia) and their email is email@example.com. They have comfy chairs, an appealing children’s section, an excellent selection of West Indian literature, and they brew a mean cup of coffee. It’s also well known for its special events – readings, book launches, art exhibits and the like.
A Cup of Tea, and a Poem or Two (petchary.wordpress.com)
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/12/23/the-father-of-dub-poetry-gets-a-fine-award/ The father of dub poetry gets a fine award: petchary.wordpress.com
http://www.57productions.com/article_reader.php?id=36 Mikey Smith, by Mervyn Morris
It has been a while since I went out for tea. Such a quaint English thing, isn’t it; although sadly I don’t think many English people have time for it, these days. And yet, even in the gritty old town of Kingston, Jamaica, there are a few spots where uptown ladies (and a scattering of gentlemen) can still sip tea in tranquility. The Terra Nova Hotel on Thursday afternoons is one such delight. The intimate Tea Tree Creperie in our neighborhood is another little oasis. A bit of free advertising there!
Last Saturday afternoon, I was invited to afternoon tea with a bit of a difference. It was a fund-raising event organized by the Hope United Church, just down the road from the lovely Hope Botanical Gardens. The bright, airy Church Hall was festooned with pastel-colored balloons. The backdrop through the windows showed the effects of the extended drought on our faded hills. Inside, music was playing and a swathe of tables spread out in front of us. Each was set with a pretty linen tablecloth, teacups and saucers and a teapot in the middle. The crockery did not match well – a charming mixture of the traditional, the modern, the chintzy. The Celestial Seasonings teas – a wide variety of flavors -were delicious. I highly recommend the Mandarin Orange Spice Herbal Tea.
But there was more, much more. There was poetry.
Jean Lowrie-Chin has an aura of calm and gentility, mixed with a wry, earthy humor which suited the occasion perfectly. The hall was full by the time she stepped up in front of the stage with a copy of her book of poems and writings, “Souldance,” in her hand. We settled down to listen. Jean told us (poetically) that she was a “Jonkunnu Baby,” born in the Christmas season in rural Hartford, Westmoreland. For those of my readers not familiar with Jonkunnu, this is the Jamaican tradition of dancing, wild music and lively antics performed by a group of odd characters – Pitchy Patchy, Horsehead, Belly Woman among them. As the irreverent, rowdy dancers arrived in the yard that evening, frightening the children, baby Jean was born,“a noisy little exclamation!”
Another dancing poem followed. In “My Chinaman Jumped to the Riddim of Jah,” Jean’s beloved husband Hubie (a Chinese Jamaican) embraces and “jumps” to the reggae rhythm. It is a defiant dance, too, as her husband had been held up by a gunman in a robbery attempt. But he danced. There is a story behind this one; I must find out more. This poem dates back to the seventies.
I especially loved the poem “I Thought That I Was Marking Time.” It is a wistful commentary on the physical signs of growing old; but looking beyond the face of the ticking clock, there is the universal consciousness into which we are still growing. Time is… just time.
Jean’s book is a personal and spiritual journey in words. Divided into three distinct parts, it begins with Jean’s inner journey of discovery – a journey that is mostly joyful and celebratory. On, then, to the yearning poetry and troubled young heart, in the section called “Growing Pains.” The final segment, the “Power of Words,” is a series of short prose essays on some special Jamaican passions, from football to Marcus Garvey. The delicate but vibrant cover features a painting by Jamaican painter Viv Logan from her series “Cherubs Gone Rasta.”
I should drink less coffee. And I should read more poetry. It’s good for a soul.
Thank you, Souldancer!
“Souldance: Poems and Writings” by Jean Lowrie-Chin was first published in 2009 by Ian Randle Publishers (www.ianrandlepublishers.com). It is available at Monarch Pharmacy in Kingston and local bookstores in Jamaica; and from Amazon.com.
There is a sense of unease. I can feel it in the wind. Unable to rest, it throws itself at windows and doors. It tosses down the small green mangoes that have not had a chance to ripen on our trees. The frantic carnival parties continue in the night. At a discussion earlier this week, anxious words and especially the word “But…” followed words of encouragement and promise. A pudgy-faced young man over in the East is telling his robotic marching toy people that war is imminent.
And the rain refuses to fall.
One of my most-loved writers is the German-Swiss novelist and poet Hermann Hesse, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946. I suppose this is a legacy of my “hippy” years; Hesse was enormously influential during the 1960s and early 1970s among young Europeans. Born into a rigid Christian missionary family, Hesse became a spiritual explorer, partly arising from his parents’ work in India. Skeptical of organized religion, he came to develop a view of a universal spirituality that still resonates today. (In fact, I often find strong echoes of my 1960s explorations in today’s world. Coming full circle, as my brother pointed out recently, I am now meditating again, as I did in my early twenties). Hesse was also a pacifist, and his work was reviled by German nationalists during and after the First World War. He became a Swiss citizen in 1923.
Well, I recently retired my forty-year-old hardcover copy of “Siddhartha“ - it had become very battered over the years and was literally collapsing. I bought a new copy, but am not as comfortable with it, yet. It needs a few more re-reads, I think.
Meanwhile, a fellow-blogger posted a quote by Hesse that simply reflected my mood, and the discomfort of this little island I live on, Jamaica. Here it is:
“There is no escape…You say yes to the sunlight and pure fantasies, so you have to say yes to the filth and the nausea. Everything is within you, gold and mud, happiness and pain, the laughter of childhood and the apprehension of death. Say yes to everything, shrink from nothing. Don’t try to lie to yourself. You are not a solid citizen. You are a bird in the storm. Let it storm! Let it drive you!”
http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1946/hesse-autobio.html Hermann Hesse autobiographical sketch: nobelprize.org
http://www.hermann-hesse.de/en Hermann Hesse Portal – this is very revealing and well put together
Bird in the Storm… (jruthkelly.com)
Hermann Hesse (pensaleas.wordpress.com)
Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse – review (guardian.co.uk)
SopranoAscends SINGS! (sopranoascending.wordpress.com)
50 Spiritual Classics: Timeless Wisdom from 50 Great Books of Inner Discovery, Enlightenment & Purpose ~ Tom Butler-Bowdon (evolutionarymystic.wordpress.com)
Last night, the great African writer Chinua Achebe passed away in Boston, Massachusetts, aged 82 years old. Up until his death, he was the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University in the United States.
Chinua Achebe has a special place in Jamaicans’ hearts – largely because of his famous 1958 novel of colonialism, “Things Fall Apart,” which sold eight million copies globally and was translated into fifty languages. The book was prescribed reading in Jamaican high schools (I think it might still be on the book list) and so many are familiar with it.
A certain Jamaican radio talk show host, the late Wilmot “Mutty” Perkins, was also closely associated with this phrase. Mr. Perkins had a jaundiced view of Jamaican society and politics, and regularly indulged in gloomy and pessimistic monologues. He would often preface (or end) these by intoning the words, “Things fall apart…”
Some Jamaicans thought he was quoting Chinua Achebe. In fact, the great novelist took the line from a powerful poem by W.B. Yeats, written in 1919. World War I had just ended, leaving over nine million young men dead, and nations sunk into exhaustion and hopelessness at the futility of it all. Between the two world wars, there was a growing sense of foreboding, of dark clouds gathering. This feeling of dread permeates much of Europe’s literature during this period. JRR Tolkien, author of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit,” actually fought in World War I (in the bloody Battle of the Somme, which claimed the lives of over 1,300,000 men. Yes, 1.3 million). This poem was written in the shadow of the horror that had just ended.
If “Mutty” had the time and inclination during his radio show, he would recite the poem in its chilling entirety. As for me, I have a vivid mental picture of that “rough beast.”
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.
The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
I wrote about Chinua Achebe’s memoirs,There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, published in October of last year. The book reopened some old wounds in Nigeria – the wounds of the Biafran civil war (1967-70). Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie wrote poignantly about Achebe in a fascinating article published in Nigeria’s Vanguard newspaper; both her and Achebe are from Biafra, the home of the mostly Igbo people. Here is the link from my blog: http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/24/african-postman-we-remember-differently/ You can also read my review of one of Adichie’s novels on Biafra among my book reviews at the top of this page.
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/23/world/africa/chinua-achebe-nigerian-writer-dies-at-82.html?pagewanted=1&_r=0 Chinua Achebe, African literary titan, dies at 82: New York Times
http://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/11/11/african-postman-fifty-years-of-the-african-writers-series/ African Postman: Fifty Years of the African Writers Series: petchary.wordpress.com
The Petchary is dipping back into Trench Town - just to tell you a bit more about the Trench Town Reading Centre. Ah, you can now find them on Twitter at TrenchTownRC. (I am not sure why Jamaicans are wary of Twitter...the Petchary loves pottering through tweets, retweeting and finding little nuggets of information and fascinating articles. One can skip through the trivial, occasionally profane comments between individuals...