Jamaica celebrated World Poetry Day last week. As last year, the atmosphere was warm and friendly despite the competitive element – the presentation of poetry prizes (the hopefuls sat together in an eager group). We were ready to enjoy the flow of words. And flow they did.
Two women (supported by other players, of course) can take a lot of credit for this delightful morning event, which started and ended on time – most refreshingly. They are our Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison and our National Librarian, Beverley Lashley. Both are down to earth and blessed with good Jamaican humor. They also believe deeply in their work and know how to go about it in the proper manner, and often in tandem.
Oh, Abigail Henry, Director of Special Programmes at the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ), is pretty great too. And did I mention the poet Ann-Margaret Lim, who again brought together a lovely group of diplomats to read poetry from their own country’s archives? Then State Minister for Foreign Affairs (he has been moved since to the Office of the Prime Minister) Pearnel Charles Jr. read a patois poem, very well. Then there was another poet, Lecturer in the Department of Literatures in English at the University of the West Indies, Tanya Shirley, who wept as two of her students won prizes.
The Jamaica Library Service (JLS) had a simply marvelous display, including a framed photograph of Ms. Goodison and lots to browse. The JLS is currently involved in the National Reading Competition, its flagship programme which aims to encourage reading skills among all age groups. Yes, there is an over-21 age group! Registration continues until April 30, 2019, and you can register online or at your local public library. Spread the word, on this…and consider entering yourself.
So, on the fortieth anniversary of the NLJ, we celebrated what was called an “expression of common humanity.” We also gave a shoutout to two overseas-based Jamaican poets, Kwame Dawes, and Ishion Hutchinson, who had just been announced as winners of the Windham-Campbell Prize for Poetry.
Ms. Goodison observed wryly that, when she was growing up, she thought of all poets as white, English, and male. Well, all that has thankfully changed of course. Although I do love my Keats.
And now, as they say at numerous award shows, for the winners:
The Helen Zell and Poet Laureate Young Writer’s Prize for Poetry – KHADIJAH CHIN
The Louise Bennett-Coverley Prize for Poetry – CHRISTOPER ALLEN & SADÉ YOUNG
The Edward Baugh Prize for Poetry – DELROY McGREGOR
The Michael Cooke Prize for Poetry – KALEB D’AGUILAR
Then there were the girls, graduates of Ms. Goodison’s summer school last year. The Poet Laureate partnered with fellow poet Cherry Natural for an unusual combination – poetry and martial arts – under the name All Flowers are Roses. With admonitions (“Remember what I told you”) and hugs, Ms. Goodison encouraged the girls as they nervously took the stage.
The morning was rich. Besides all of the above, there was Dahlia Harris, again the great MC and a lover and practitioner of the arts; and the readings of the diplomats. The American Acting Consul General chose a particularly poignant poem by Langston Hughes: Let America Be America Again. She read it slowly, with pauses, and it’s quite a long poem – a lament, hopeless and hopeful at the same time, written at the time of the Great Depression when everything seemed rotten and dying. How apt it seemed…and I felt strangely emotional to hear it.
O, I say it plain
America never was America to me
And yet I swear this oath–
America will be!
By the way, if you love literature, add the Talking Trees Literary Fiesta to your calendar: Saturday, May 25, 2019, at the Two Seasons Guest House in Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth. Winners Ms. Chin and Mr. McGregor will be among the writers and poets to appear. The following day, our Poet Laureate will conduct a Poetry Workshop (cost: J$5,500). This is organized by the Department of Literatures in English at the UWI and the Gloria Lyn Memorial Fund.
The NLJ will continue to celebrate its anniversary all year, of course. Follow them on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter (@natlibja) or email them at email@example.com
Or go visit this wonderful institution at 12 East Street in downtown Kingston, next to the Institute of Jamaica.