Kingston Buttercup: Duppies, Families and Yellow Tape

The Kingston Buttercup has a small yellow flower. It grows with determination by the roadside, prickly but ignored.

The soft yellow of the flowers by the side of the harsh red and yellow of the traffic beautifully illustrates the varying tender and fierce tones of the poems within this cover.

Ann-Margaret Lim’s title poem in her second collection of poetry Kingston Buttercup describes a glimpse of this little city flower as a kind of release from the pressure of traffic, winding down from her home in Red Hills. It’s not only the traffic that presses down on you, though; if you live in this city, you will know the sharp edges, like the buttercup’s thorns.

Ann-Margaret Lim, before the start of her book launch today. (My photo)

Today Ms. Lim launched her book at the University of the West Indies (UWI), under the aegis of the Department of Literatures in English. Head of the Department Dr. Michael Bucknor provided a welcome. Poet Laureate Professor Mervyn Morris spoke about the poems, which are divided into two sections. The first part, Spirit Tree, includes many delicate strands of the poet’s personal history, entwined with robust echoes of her island’s past. Her home in Red Hills was also the home of Tainos, and her very first poem reaches for this heritage. Then there is the suffering,  anguish – and rape – of slaves owned by Thomas Thistlewood and described in his diary of 1750 – 1756.  The poet wonders: “Who in Thistlewood’s Diary would I have been?” These are the “duppies of history” as Professor Morris described them – many of them. There are also the family stories, of Lim’s own mixed heritage. We meet her Chinese “Popo” (grandmother) making sticky sweets at the stove; and her mother, who left for Venezuela, and did not send her any amor after that. The poet is musing, drinking alone in a Beijing hotel bar; she is distracted by sudden rainfall in Florida; in a Caracas hotel room, she sees herself as Simón Bolívar in reverse (he penning his famous Jamaica Letter). There is a great deal of loss and longing in these poems.

There was music. Here is Clancy Eccles, singing “Rastaman Chant” along with three drummer/percussionists (that’s master drummer Calvin Mitchell in the background). (My photo)

Those in the second section of the book – “six of them menacing, or obscene” – Professor Morris observes – take a small step back. A distance emerges at times, between the poet and the landscapes, the poet and the people. Just a little distance. We see a gunman (Sandokhan, who was quite notorious in the 1980s) hiding in the hills; we expect to see the yellow tape of a crime scene. A fiercer tone creeps in; I can imagine the poet biting her lip as she writes Cheated or Eve and the Snake, 2012 (in these poems, the distance shortens rapidly again). Then, perhaps there is a sigh on writing Peeny Wally (female peenie wallies do not have wings – they have to borrow them from the males). A certain defiance smothers regret. But I also enjoyed the magical realism of Guinea Hen Weed and the muted threat of Shaker Way. There is vulnerability.

Professor Morris read one of his favourites from the collection: Sea Dirge, a short one. An image of Hellshire Beach – and the darker place it has become – flashes before the reader:

Went to the beach,/searched the horizon,/its blue fading to white;

saw the seagulls,/the ritual of fish and festival;

saw a man/walking on the moss-covered rocks/to disappear into a lean-to on the beach

– blood-soaked shirt peeled,/fresh chop to his chest.

Postscript: Kingston Buttercup was longlisted for the 2017 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. In the poetry section of the Bocas Prize, Ms. Lim kept company with two fellow Jamaicans: Ishion Hutchinson (House of Lords and Commons) and Safiya Sinclair (Cannibal). Ms. Sinclair’s book came through to the shortlist, just today. In the other categories, Jamaican Kei Miller (for his novel Augustown) and the late Trinidadian Angelo Bissessarsingh’s Virtual Glimpses into the Past/A Walk Back in Time: Snapshots of the History of Trinidad and Tobago were chosen in the fiction and non-fiction categories.Out of the three, one book will win the overall prize.

Meanwhile, as Professor Morris said: “Please buy the book!”

In this display from Bookophilia, you may also see a book to the far right, which is “Peelin Orange” – Mervyn Morris’ largest ever collection of poetry. It will be launched at UWI’s Undercroft at 6:30 pm on Thursday, April 20, 2017. (My photo)

Kingston Buttercup is published by Peepal Tree Press. It is available at Bookophilia, 92 Hope Road, Kingston 6.

Professor Mervyn Morris (foreground) and Dr. Michael Bucknor, just behind him, with audience members, are all deep in thought as they listen to the acoustic music at the book launch. (My photo)

9 thoughts on “Kingston Buttercup: Duppies, Families and Yellow Tape

  1. Hi Larry. Hellshire still has the best fish and festival. Sundays are also good days to go to get the music and vibes. yet, Loretta is right about the water creeping in more. there is less beach, but still a great place to eat and chillax.


  2. Wow-beautifully described, Petchary! Many thanks for this post – I’ll see if I can purchase it here in Maryland, USA. One question: Hellshire Beach – “and the darker place it has become” – what do you mean? What has happened to it? I ask as someone who has not yet been able to visit your amazing country, but who has heard of that particular beach…


    1. Thanks so much, Larry! I hope you can purchase it in Maryland. If not in a bookstore, you can definitely find it on Amazon. Hellshire Beach… Well, it is a beach that we all loved so much (and still love) but it has become so badly eroded it has almost disappeared (hard to believe! It was a lovely wide beach in the 1980s). The darker part of it is that there has been rather a lot of crime out there in recent years. Sadly, the beach was never well managed, and allowed to deteriorate. Sorry to say! Having said all that, we do hope that you will come visit us soon – we have many wonderful places to see and enjoy!


    2. Well, the water has crept in so there is basically no beach at all! Also, I am sorry but there is crime and I consider it rather a “rough” place. However, as Ann-Margaret says, the food is still good – famous fish and festival. I have not visited there for years as there are other great places. I have such wonderful memories of what it used to be… before environmental degradation set in!


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