On a slightly chilly and damp evening – no moon tonight, we noted – my neighborhood bookstore Bookophilia hosted the second in a miniseries of three, organized by our beloved Poet Laureate, Professor Mervyn Morris. The first was in Port Antonio, and the third will be in Mandeville (Thursday, November 27, 5:30 – 7:30 pm, Cecil Charlton Auditorium, Mandeville – with Earl McKenzie and Jean Goulbourne).
Yes, Professor Morris is determined to take poetry “out of town” and across the island. In measured tones, he introduced two Jamaican women poets, Ann-Margaret Lim and Millicent Graham.
For such events, we sit outside, with the whirr and occasional roar of the main road for accompaniment. Somehow, though, the sound recedes into the background. We enjoy city poetry as the traffic rolls by.
Ann-Margaret Lim is a passionate reader. She told several stories of her multi-cultural family, lingering over the ends of words. A poem about her mother, called “Blue You,” was especially poignant; she said she was “not sure if it was complete.” The line, “I tripped this morning on a piece of you” – yes, I have done that with my own parents. A sad nostalgia hung over her reading; Lim referred to the death of a schoolmate, too.
Lim always acknowledges her influences. Introducing her angry commentary on the current, destructive wave of the chikungunya virus in Jamaica, she referred to the Peruvian poet César Vallejo, whose “Los Nueve Monstruous” (The Nine Monsters) describes the growing pain in the world (it even includes the line: Mr. Minister of Health: what to do? ) She also paid tribute to the Poet Laureate, drawing his students into a “pool of Caribbean poetry” in a classroom; and to another Jamaican poet, Professor Edward Baugh, who greatly influenced her. A poem about Christmas was inspired by Joni Mitchell’s “River” from her album “Blue” (“I wish I had a river/I could skate away on.”)
Millicent Graham had a Christmas poem too, from her second and very recent book of poetry, “The Way Home” (home has always been, for her, Kingston’s Cassia Park. She’s a city girl). In a sense Graham’s reading nurtured a nostalgia, too, for homely things and family. She does it differently from the poet who preceded her – not so much a sense of loss and longing. Interspersing her readings with deep sighs, Graham spun her childhood memories. I loved her poem about the distress she shared with her siblings during power cuts after dark, with a “daddy long legs” hiding in the corner, and a flickering candle creating more fearful shadows. “Please let the morning find us here,” was the children’s prayer.
During the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow this summer Graham was involved in the Empire Café project, which explored the connections between Scotland and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. It was clearly a rich experience for her, resulting in a vibrant anthology of Caribbean poets. During her research into that special commodity called sugar, Graham discovered the technical term “ratoon” (a rather beautiful word). In her poem Graham observes soberly, “We know what we have buried here.”
By the way, Professor Morris would like to receive invitations from schools for poetry readings – not large groups, but if a class is interested in having a reading and discussion, they should contact him. He would really like to spread the love and appreciation of poetry. And who knows how many young poets-in-waiting are out there, waiting to blossom out.
The “Poet Laureate Presents” program is co-sponsored by the National Library of Jamaica and the Ministry of Tourism. Kudos to the Ministry, which also supported the Drawing Room Project’s Poetry Workshop in Highgate, St. Mary earlier this year (which I participated in). This is great support for Jamaican culture and creativity. You can read a little more about our Poet Laureate here: http://www.nlj.gov.jm/poetlaureate/current_poet_laureate.htm