On Certainty & The Poem

I remember considering the poem a puzzle, a thing to be fitted up and for which I thought I had all the pieces there, scattered about, but there.  I suppose to some degree this is still the case; the poem is always there, somewhere and capable of being its ultimate, but one doesn’t always come to it or come to it when one thinks one should.

This can be frustrating, but is deeply rewarding work, the gathering. Now, the poem is less certain. I do not see all the pieces or know what entirely has been gifted, if it has. I do not see the whole poem. I do not know the story at the first word and the movement is often slower and repeated overtime. This ‘process’ then, the  ‘movements’ and revelations that lead you to say this or that is the last of it, really is what makes it so. The process, the going over, the time. The poem then, is its unveiling.

Sometimes the poem comes from a line you hear in the breeze or a memory you thought irrelevant til now, a thing you’d forgotten was beautiful. Sometimes it takes someone pointing out a thing you never thought could be told, and then you find yourself in the drawing room, cutting and carving, trying to make it, to plant the first word.

Anthony McNeill’s Wind-Change & Jamaica’s Dry-Weather People

 

Funny, how in a place so prone to changing face, to split-second mind-shifts, that people still oppose a change of weather. For days now Jamaica has been experiencing a shift in it’s usual warmth, and the land and it’s people are quivering.

Hard to fathom a Caribbean people who don’t like rain or sun for that matter, poised in shifty conditions as we are. The sun always too hot, the breeze too cold, and where is all this rain coming from?

How we can go from piercing sun melting roofs to hail and downed coconut trees is baffling, so too, what seems our people’s forgetfulness of these conditions, ever surprised, ever disclaiming.

For so the weather moves, so too the people and their moods, shifting subtly, as Anthony McNeill puts it, like trickery.

And you never love your land so ‘til you have to leave it. Never so show off til cold breeze back you up on some quivering street, ‘til an ice-water rain moves right through you.

So here, Anthony McNeill offers comfort for the cool over Kingston. Or not.

Wind-Change

Seasons shift subtly here.
Winter’s a mere wind-change
sensed in air appareled
in flowering sorrel.

Some cyclical sleight-of-hand
conjures a whole new season
out of thin air, which I,
suddenly mountain-rare,
scarcely inhale, for fear
I should cloud, turn vapour.

Anthony McNeill (c)

Anthony McNeill‘s first major collection of poems, Reel from “The Life Movie”, appeared in 1972 and immediately established his reputation in Jamaica alongside his contemporaries Dennis Scott and Mervyn Morris. This was followed by Credences at the Altar of Cloud (1979) and Chinese Lanterns from the Blue Child, published posthumously in 1998.

McNeill was known for his experimental style, influenced by contemporary jazz as well as American poets like Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and E. E. Cummings. He once said, of his first collection, “I don’t think I could write if my first concern wasn’t for the aesthetic.” He also claimed that his greatest ambition was to be a jazz pianist.

He was recognized by his peers as a prodigious talent. Poet and literary scholar Mervyn Morris calls him “one of the finest of our West Indian poets, an extreme talent, recklessly experimental, awesome in commitment to his gift.”

 

 

Three poems on belonging, departure & return.

This idea of home, a somewhere to belong, is resonant for most, whether this place exists for them or not. We love, long and summon up memories of places we have called our own, that have called us theirs, or haven’t. Our narratives may vary, but always, this idea of belonging moves with, anchors or can throw the traveler off balance. Here, Jamaican poets, Edward Baugh, Dennis Scott and Claude McKay muse on this idea from varying angles in their poems, Choices, Exile and Flame-Heart respectively.

Choices
– Edward Baugh

You chose to leave; that’s fine by me.
“One’s country,” John Milton said, “is wherever
it is well with one.” You’re still my friend.
Is true, poor people catching hell
and the middleclass sleeping
with panic button under their pillow;
but when you fly down to visit
and enjoying the old veranda lime
after dinner, don’t spend the time
trying so hard to get me to say
you did right, only a loser would stay.
I wouldn’t say I would never leave,
but if that’s what they calling ambition,
then for now I sticking with love.
River mullet still running in Grandy water,
and the busu soup simmering,
keeping warm ’til you come.

from Black Sand: New & Selected PoemsPeepal Tree Press, 2013.

Edward Baugh is one of the Caribbean’s major poets and a literary critic whose distinguished career has been devoted to West Indian literature.He taught at the University of the West Indies for well over thirty years and lives in Jamaica.

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Exile
– Dennis Scott

There is a kind of loss,
Like coming home
To faces; the doors open in-
Differently; they whisper,
“Who is this, with dust
In his mouth? Who
Is this new traveler?
Tell us of birds,
Migrating the dull sky
Half a world round,
Of Ithaca, and the tiered beast,
Of that foreign city
You sent your pale card from!”

There are patterns to assure us;
At table, familiar spices;
The garden, hardly greener;
But something has changed;
Clothes we left behind;
The old affections hang loosely.
Suddenly, mouth is dumb; eyes
Hurt; surprised, it is we
Who have changed; glad, now,
To have practiced loving
Before that departure. To travel
Is to return
To strangers.

From Uncle Time, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1973.

As a poet, Dennis Scott was regarded among the most significant of those writing in the early post-independence period in Jamaica. His first published collection, Uncle Time (1973), which won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize, is marked by an effective literary use of the vernacular, or “nation language”. His other poetry collections include Dreadwalk: Poems 1970–78 (1982), Strategies (1989) and After-Image (2008) and he has been regarded as one of the main influences for modern Jamaican poetry.

His plays include Terminus (1966), Dog, and An Echo in the Bone (1974); the latter was published, together with a play by Derek Walcott and one by Errol Hill, in Plays for Today (1985), edited by Hill. Scott headed the School of Drama at the Edna Manley College of the Visual & Performing Arts, making significant contributions there, and his dramatic work is also acknowledged as a major influence on the direction of Caribbean

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Flame-Heart
– Claude McKay

SO much have I forgotten in ten years,
So much in ten brief years! I have forgot
What time the purple apples come to juice,
And what month brings the shy forget-me-not.
I have forgot the special, startling season
Of the pimento’s flowering and fruiting;
What time of year the ground doves brown the fields
And fill the noonday with their curious fluting.
I have forgotten much, but still remember
The poinsettia’s red, blood-red in warm December.

I still recall the honey-fever grass,
But cannot recollect the high days when
We rooted them out of the ping-wing path
To stop the mad bees in the rabbit pen.
I often try to think in what sweet month
The languid painted ladies used to dapple
The yellow by-road mazing from the main,
Sweet with the golden threads of the rose-apple.
I have forgotten–strange–but quite remember
The poinsettia’s red, blood-red in warm December.

What weeks, what months, what time of the mild year
We cheated school to have our fling at tops?
What days our wine-thrilled bodies pulsed with joy
Feasting upon blackberries in the copse?
Oh some I know! I have embalmed the days
Even the sacred moments when we played,
All innocent of passion, uncorrupt,
At noon and evening in the flame-heart’s shade.
We were so happy, happy, I remember,
Beneath the poinsettia’s red in warm December.

From Harlem Shadows, Harcourt Brace & Co., 1922.

Claude McKay was a Jamaican-American writer and poet, who was a seminal figure in the Harlem Renaissance. He wrote four novels: Home to Harlem (1928), a best-seller that won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature, Banjo (1929), Banana Bottom (1933). McKay also authored collections of poetry, a collection of short stories, Gingertown (1932), two autobiographical books, A Long Way from Home (1937) and My Green Hills of Jamaica (published posthumously), and a non-fiction, socio-historical treatise entitled Harlem: Negro Metropolis (1940). His 1922 poetry collection, Harlem Shadows, was among the first books published during the Harlem Renaissance. His Selected Poems was published posthumously, in 1953..

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Poetry Society Presents Woman Rising, Features Cherry Natural This Tuesday!

Fire-brand Jamaican poet Cherry Natural is set to headline the Poetry Society of Jamaica’s Monthly Fellowship at the Edna Manley College, 1 Arthur Wint Drive in Kingston on Tuesday, March 31st. The 25 year-old organization will present Woman Rising, in dual-celebration of International Women’s Day and World Poetry Day, both observed earlier in March.

Cherry Natural is known for her high energy performances and deeply political poems rich with a sense of revolution and female empowerment. Natural, whose works are collected in two volumes of poetry, Come Meck We Reason (1989); and Earth Woman (2003), has toured globally and has also produced two poetry albums, the most recent being Intellectual Bad Gal (2012). The dedicated writer, who is noted among Jamaica’s prominent poets, is also a women’s rights activist; motivational speaker; and martial artist who teaches women’s self defense.

The Poetry Society’s March Fellowship will feature Natural as its main offering, and will also include its vibrant Open Mic & Discussion Segment, as well as tributes in line with the night’s theme. Open mic participants are also invited to present tributes, with a special invitation being extended to women writers.

The PSJ’s Fellowships have been ongoing for over two decades and facilitate the sharing and discussion of poetry, in a live workshop format. The fellowships are hosted on the last Tuesday of each month and are open to the public and the participation of serious writers.

PSJ WOMAN RISING

OutSpoken Cast Dubs Poetry, Music Into Morning

The third staging of OutSpoken, dubbed Three The Hard Way on Saturday last, would conjure up revolutionary warrior images, and stretch from World Poetry Day into the wee hours of Sunday – a symbolic movement. The event, hosted at Nanook Enterprises’ Burlington Avenue premises, was a thorough outpouring of poetry, music and the occasional falling mango. Continue reading “OutSpoken Cast Dubs Poetry, Music Into Morning”

UWI Hosts Four-week Fiction Workshop with Dr. Erna Brodber

 

The University of the West Indies, Mona’s Department of Literatures in English, as part of Literatures in English Month, will on March 25th begin a four-week fiction workshop with renowned writer Dr. Erna Brodber.

An acclaimed writer, sociologist and social activist, Dr. Brodber is widely recognized for her academic work in sociology, Jamaican history as well as literature. She has produced numerous scholarly articles, publications and literary works, the latter including The World is a High Hill and Myal.

Brodber has received several noteworthy awards for her work including; the Order of Distinction (Commander) for exemplary public service , The Gold Musgrave Medal for Literature and Orature and in 2014 served as Writer in Residence in the Department of Literatures in English, where she has also served in the Department of Sociology.

The workshop, which will cover all things from the initial draft to the final product, is part of the Department’s ongoing work in developing young and emerging writing talent, and has to date produced good results.

Speaking at Turning Pages, a prose fiction reading held in May 2014 following a workshop facilitated by Dr. Brodber, Head of the Department of Literatures in English, Dr. Michael Bucknor, said of the work produced and presented by the participants, that it was among the best he had seen coming out of the workshops.

The workshop will be hosted in the Graduate Conference Room of the Faculty of Humanities and Education, participation in which requires registration and payment of applicable fees. For further information interested persons may contact the Department of Literatures in English at litsworkshop@gmail.com or (876) 927-2217.

“OutSpoken: Three The Hard Way” for Nanook this Saturday.

Two of the island’s most promising young poets; Abbebe Payne and Samuel Gordon, will this Saturday, take the stage with the father of dub poetry, Oku Onuora for the third staging of the open mic poetry event, OutSpoken, dubbed Three The Hard Way at Nanook Enterprises.

According to organizer, Denile Campbell, the aim of the event is to create a space for poets and musicians to “freely let their creative lights shine.” She said further that the vision is to foster continuous growth in the arts through sharing and exchange with fellow artists.

Specific to the selections of poets for it’s March 21st edition, Campbell said it was geared towards showcasing the work of three “highly influential men of poetry.” She said further that, “these poets have made some serious waves in poetry and are considered some of Jamaica’s top poets,” and that, “given their years of experience and all they have contributed to the growth of poetry, we thought it a perfect fit for OutSpoken.”

Features
The trio, all members of the Poetry Society of Jamaica, make for an interesting mix; each with a distinct dominant style of writing and performance. Onuora is known for his fiery lyrics and presence; often intertwining music and chiefly addressing societal hardships, while advocating for change. Abbebe arrives with his own brand of fire; his work rich with imagery, wordplay and sharp in its tackling of issues. Gordon’s performances on the other hand, are more composed, but his edgy and imaginative use of language in his trek through varied themes make for lively, engaging journeys.

The three will perform alongside Indonesian-born Reggae musician To’ke and the selections of in-house DJ Iset Sankofa.

OutSpoken is a production of Electro-Rock Events and is staged on the third Saturday of each month at 20 Burlington Avenue in Kingston.

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Late Night Lit Ignites Peppers!

Imagine yourself in your usual Thursday night spot; a cool rooftop hideaway, the music of the day busying the air around you. Now imagine that den, turned into a flurry of power-packed words, your senses sent wild with the poetry and prose of a slew of captivating and dynamic writers.

Well, the Peppers posse was literally left with very little to the imagination as such a vibe was theirs Thursday last, when the Jamaica Writers’ Society presented Late Night Lit, a ‘not for the faint of heart,’ “night of searing words,” as part of the Kingston Book Festival Schedule.

The cool Upper Waterloo Road venue, in its new incarnation as a rooftop Lounge & Grill, shifted its usual energy to make way for a mixed throng of new and old faces, out to soak up what would be a night of heat-seeking, diverse offerings.

The night’s featured guests; Kellie Magnus, Kalilah Enriquez, Owen “Blakka” Ellis, Tanya Shirley and Richard “Dingo” Dingwall, each offered a unique lyrical styling and perspective, with moving, sometimes risqué, sometimes biting and amusing qualities throughout. The night would be an adventure and an experiment of sorts; as we rarely see prose showcased in this way and in these venues, and this particular venue, being fresh terrain for both forms. Still the night was to go down well.

Parenthood Unmasked

Publisher and writer, the BIAJ’s Kellie Magnus would be the first to test her hands at setting the night’s fire. A writer of children’s fiction, Late Night Lit would, through Magnus, experience the flipside of the joys of parenthood, in Go De Rass to Sleep, the riotous Jamaican translation of Adam Mansbach’s New York Times Best Seller, Go The Fuck To Sleep. The hilarious critique on the experience of parents in the complex production of putting their children to bed, was full of colourful narratives, that, outside of stimulating laughter, summoned solidarity, as it expressed the honest frustrations of parents, themselves going sleepless.

Dubbed “the bedtime book for parents,” now in 30 languages, and with the children’s version, a tamer, Seriously, Just Go To Sleep, the book was translated into the Jamaican tongue by Magnus and fellow writer Kwame Dawes.

Kalilah Enriquez performs. Photo by Roy Sweetland.
Kalilah Enriquez performs. Photo by Roy Sweetland.

Unfettered

The flames were then to be fanned by Journalist Kalilah Enriquez; the calm, unassuming, Belizian transforming before the audience, reading Exclamation Point. The author of two collections of poems, Enriquez then received much favour for a slate of short, spicy poems; Sonnet of Surrender, Outlines in the Dark and A Moment, among them..

She read next Taste, a piece written in Belizean Creole, from her Shades of Red collection, before venturing into Unfettered territory, reading Ready For This and closing with Like A Woman, to the delight of the swelling crowd.

Owen 'Blakka' Ellis in performance. Photo by Roy Sweetland.
Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis in performance. Photo by Roy Sweetland.

Ellis’ Diverse Verse

Thursday night would see Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis’ third showing in as many days; his lively energy not seeming to have wavered any. Based between Canada and Jamaica, Ellis’ work very heavily reflects his comedic background, sending surges of laughter through the night air regardless of topic. He is however, a very serious man; his concerns and cares spanning family life, manhood, masculinity, and politics to name a few. In Man Talk, Ellis offers insider access to ‘man as a vessel of speech’ and how he functions in this role. In opening he said it was possibly due to women having a culture of talking things out with a circle of friends, that they seemed to handle difficulties better than their male counterparts. Referencing men’s maintenance of posture, refusing to express, he read, “women share, men declare.” Reading, “its hard to open up, to penetrate the plush prison of patriarchy.” closing with, “man talk… me not really going to talk.” A sensitive piece, the poem took a stark look into spaces seldom seen.

Ellis addressed the contrast in the socialization of boys and girls in Binary Bound, saying, “we hold the girl part tight; a pent up emotion, while, “we let the boy half off and loose.” Ironically closing, “then we draw line as contradiction swell, as both parts rebel.”

Small would deal with his stature, relating that to the tendency to belittle or to “small up” others with words. In Tonight, a seemingly emotionally taxed man divulged his cares in a rum bar, having been the ‘victim’ of adultery.

Tony Hendriks reads from Blakka Ellis' At Auntie's Funeral. Photo by Roy Sweetland.
Tony Hendriks reads from Blakka Ellis’ At Auntie’s Funeral. Photo by Roy Sweetland.

Ellis closed by inviting comedian, Tony Hendriks to read At Auntie’s Funeral, a poem of mixed feelings; an aggressive, riotous piece, yet richly solemn and still comedic. By its end, the gathering was at a crossroads between solemn solidarity and boisterous laughter.

Intermission

Following Ellis’ performance, the gathering was given a few minutes to settle back into their natural skins; to recover, if you will. And they would certainly need the ‘settlement’ they would get from the brief intermission to carry them through the heights of what was to follow.

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Tanya Shirley. Photo by Roy Sweetland.

Powers within flesh

Tanya Shirley, the She Who Sleeps With Bones author, was truly all things searing, and in anticipation of this, preceded her reading by stating, “this is not all I do.” She then proceeded to unclothe and uncloak all parts of man/woman interactions; from intimacy, to the makeup and consistency of bodies.

Kill Him Wid It and Don’t Mek Di Fluffy Fool Yuh tackled some concerns of the more curvy woman, in the former saying, “ is not easy to walk with so much power within your flesh.” In the latter she responded to the perception of such a woman being incapable or restricted by her body, stating, “the fat you find here is flexible, this body is not a prison.” Grace placed the lover next to God in somewhat of a confession, “when I remember God only on the cusp of coming…” and “on days when I worship you more than I should, I am glad God is merciful, full of grace.” In Negotiation, Shirley interrogates a potential suitor, shattering his sweet talk, with, “yes, I know I am beautiful, my mother tells me…” but still engaging him in a series of questions with, “do you give to the indigent, do you know what that word means?”

With her second collection, A Merchant of Feathers freshly published, Shirley seems a keen listener, finding much inspiration in a public conversation or outcry, the Jamaican dancehall and voice being significant factors in her work. From there, the UWI, Mona lecturer seems to venture into a territory of details; making of the sounds and statement(s) a new world; an uncharted perspective, wielding even the unsuspecting passer-by into the experience. If nothing else, her work is heavy with a sense of liberation, a thing one can detect in her aura as well as in the bare-faced way she pushes the envelope. That the man/woman experience is not her only dwelling place is true, for we see various layers to the writer; but regardless of the subject; we see a depth of feeling, careful language manipulation and a sensitive, purposeful way of tapping into the content and subjects of her writing.

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Sharon Leach reads. Photo by Roy Sweetland.

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Confessions

Sharon Leach read an excerpt of Confessions of a Whore from her short story collection, detailing the trials and frustrations of a teacher who had, amid hardships, chosen to venture into prostitution. The Journalist, writer presents the teacher as being unwilling to ask for help from seemingly well-off parents and is shocking and dark in her portrayals. The critique on status, the economy, established norms, and family values was lightly amusing, while causing its heaviest impact in the idea of a teacher having to venture into such territories.

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Dingo performs before a rapt audience. Photo by Roy Sweetland.

The Poetic Conscience

The nights closing act, Dingo’s work was humorous and conscience-rich, seeming to be calling for the awakening of the collective consciousness. The writer appears to poke fun when talking politics, inserting humour while himself remaining resolute, serious and his audience bursting out into laughter as he hands out bits of truths, often wrapped in irony, in contradictions. We hear a musicality about the words; rhymes running within lines, but with a neat, purposeful placing. The poet who says he simply throws thoughts together and sometimes, “something happen,” does not convince the keen listener in his claim, for the work seems such a festival of colourful language; that the weaver must certainly be very engaged with the process. He touched on love in Water, “as contagious yet as fleeting as the yawn,” in Burbank Street, relating the courting tactics of the Jamaican man, “who don’t know better,” to much amusement, saying, “if yuh nuh busy likkle more mi woulda like yuh have mi son,” and in Peaches/Blouse & Skirt, he told of the intricacies of an intimate relationship, “Peaches iyah, she did have a blouse & skirt vibe.”

Dingo achieves an effectiveness through his distinct vocal quality, his attention to detail, serious political concerns, his sensitivity and keen eye as well as how he seems to be affected by his and the wider society’s concerns.

In Land, he seems to take the position of land ownership and government being absurd in its contradictions. Suggesting that at different levels, how we interpret land handling is different, he said “when whole heap a people do a ting it different from when one man do a ting,” He goes on to define the occupation of land by many as “civilization” versus the occupation by a single individual with the same ideas of control, but this time being perceived as “squatting.” It is an incredibly amusing piece, but one that, as with most of his work, the hard truths are difficult to swallow. Dingo declares himself not so much a poet as much as one who came-upon the experience with poems and language, saying, “these is not my words, mi get dem pan lease, mi feel like Cinderella” going further, he expresses his curiosity and love for the work, “ sometimes is not the words, is how we use dem,” in plainer terms, concluding, “mi jus like words.”

In Auto Correct he tackles how people handle language. Of the Jamaican accent, he said it, “hard fi cova like boiling saltfish.” While in Shopkeeper he captured in lyrical and amusing fashion, the practice of calling, “Serve!” when attempting to make a purchase in a Jamaican shop. The humorous look at cultural practices as well as hardships, was very musical and moved the audience into full participation, uttering, “serve” when summoned.

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Substance

Journalist and poet, Mel Cooke, the night’s host, in his first outing in that role, performed it effectively; interspersing the night’s readings with humour and scorching selections from his own work.

Cooke said the organizers hoped to stage the event annually before closing with Here We Depart This Place, which spoke to the valuing of the individuals with whom we come into contact, not knowing when next one might engage with them, if at all.

The night; by the end a bit lighter in its crowd, but with still many who stayed to eat of the final offerings, had been an exposé of a range of writing; each hitting home on different levels and causing the crowd to feel; to cry, laugh, crave and hanker for yet more. Of the variety Cooke said, there was, “substance,” that, “one style cyah run whole night.”

Late Night Lit was a presentation of the Jamaica Writers’ Society as part of the 4th staging of the Kingston Book Festival in Kingston Jamaica in March 2015.

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Ellis brothers Ian, Blakka and Aston share lens time following Blakka’s performance with his son Jawara and friend Tony Hendriks. Photo by Roy Sweetland.
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Swept up in the moment. Writer Tanya Shirley here among an amused gathering. Photo by Roy Sweetland.
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Part of the night’s capacity crowd enjoying the works of the night’s presenters. Photo by Roy Sweetland.
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Tickled, a section of the crowd gives full attention to the stage. Photo by Roy Sweetland.

Considering Women in Poetry – An International Women’s Day Feature

It is Sunday, March 8, 2015, a day the United Nations and much of the world recognizes as International Women’s day; a day acknowledging the work and trials of women globally and geared towards gender equality, and women’s empowerment.

Rising out of women’s struggles, upheavals and victories; the symbolic day continues to foster awareness of the invaluable contributions of women globally, as well as to the ills that continue to affect us. All across the world, individuals and groups are celebrating the legacy that is woman; her wide and varied contributions, while also protesting; calling for improvements in every facet her life.

The Woman as Writer

Today we know a vast cadre of women writers; their perspectives on life, their diverse output as well as the sensitivity and power with which they navigate the documentation of life, holding a rich and important place in our literary heritage, and indeed, in how we understand and see the world.

From having to write under male pseudonyms, to freely writing and publishing, to not being content with simply expressing the expected; we continue to see expanded perspectives and increased output from our women writers. Many of these writers have made it their life’s work to, through their writing and performance, empower and uplift fellow women, while exploring writing for its creative allowances.

Today as we celebrate the powerhouse that is woman, we look at the work of some noted female poets. The featured works in some instances cover the writers’ perspectives and concerns on general themes, and in others look at ideas specific to being woman.

Audre Lorde, U.S.A.

audre lorde

Audre Lorde was a poet, teacher and activist. Her poetry, and much of her writing, has been said to, “ring with passion, sincerity, perception, and depth of feeling.”  Regarded highly for her activism, Lorde’s  work has been catalogued in journals, magazines and in her numerous collections of poems, and academic writing.

In For All Of You, one of her most well known poems, Lorde calls the woman out of her skin, sets her free and challenges her to explore the vast territories that exist within her landscape. The piece hits home with its vivid imagery and strong charges.

For All Of You

Be who you are and will be
learn to cherish
that boisterous Black Angel that drives you
up one day and down another
protecting the place where your power rises
running like hot blood
from the same source
as your pain.When you are hungry
learn to eat
whatever sustains you
until morning
but do not be misled by details
simply because you live them.

Do not let your head deny
your hands
any memory of what passes through them
not your eyes
nor your heart
everything can be used
except what is wasteful
(you will need
to remember this when you are accused of destruction.
Even when they are dangerous examine the heart of those machines you hate
before you discard them
and never mourn the lack of their power
lest you be condemned
to relieve them.

If you do not learn to hate
you will never be lonely
enough
to love easily
nor will you always be brave
although it does not grow any easier.Do not pretend to convenient beliefs
even when they are righteous
you will never be able to defend your city
while shouting.

Remember whatever pain you bring back
from your dreaming
but do not look for new gods
in the sea
nor in any part of a rainbow
Each time you love
love as deeply as if it were
forever
only nothing is
eternal.

Speak proudly to your children
where ever you may find them
tell them
you are offspring of slaves
and your mother was
a princess
in darkness.

– Audre Lorde, from Collected Poems of Audre Lorde(1997)
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Cherry Natural, Jamaica

cherrynatural

The author of two collections of poems; Come Meck We Reason, 1989 and Earth Woman, 2003, Cherry Natural has also produced two poetry albums. Known for her rebel energy and lively performances, Natural’s work is richly political, with calls primarily for the upliftment of women. Aside from her work in poetry writing and performance, she is a martial artist, motivational speaker and women’s rights activist.

In I’m Walking Out of Your Jail Tonight, Natural comes face to face with physical and mental oppressors; taking a firm stand in her liberation, and encouraging others to do the same.

I’m Walking Out of Your Jail Tonight

Take a good look at me, make a mental picture.
Capture all the details and put them on your computer.
I’m walking out of you jail tonight.
Yes, I’m walking out of your jail tonight.
I’m gonna break those bars and set myself free.
Hire all the security you can,
Give them you weapon of destruction
That wont stop me
I’m walking of your jail tonight
Yes, I’m walking out of your jail tonight.
You’ve had your time and that’s enough.
I’m giving you back your colonial attitudes
I’m giving you back your man-made rules
Take your laws out of my life,
Your standards are not mine,
If it’s the last thing I be I’m gonna be me,
This spirit of mine must be free
So I’m walking out of your jail tonight
Yes, I’m walking out of your jail tonight
I’m leaving the things you used to control my mind behind
You use me with your greed, your hate
Your guns, your drugs, and your jealousy
Making me into the people’s enemy
I will take no more, no more
I’m walking out of your jail tonight
Yes, I’m walking out of your jail tonight
No amount of money can stop me
True wealth goes beyond possession
Call me insane, this time I won’t complain
Madness has a way of freeing the soul
One more black woman is gonna be free
I’m walking out of your jail tonight
Tonight!
Tonight!

– Cherry Natural © from Earth Woman, 2003

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Gwendolyn Brooks, U.S.A.

gwendolyn brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks was a highly recognized poet, and the first black author to win the Pulitzer Prize. Many of her works engender a political consciousness, particularly those from the 1960s onwards, with numerous pieces documenting the civil rights work of the period. She has published 16 books, among them; poetry, children’s verse, writing manuals, one novel and an autobiography, and is said to have, ” bridged the gap between the academic poets of her generation in the 1940s and the young black militant writers of the 1960s.”

Brooks, as in much of her work, seeks to lift up the woman in To Black Women. It calls in quick, clear lines, for women to surpass and “prevail” in spite of life’s challenges and persistent oppressors.

To Black Women

Sisters,
where there is cold silence–
no hallelujahs, no burrahs at all, no handshakes,
no neon red or blue, no smiling faces,
prevail.

Prevail across the editors of the world
who are obsessed, self-honeying and self-crowned
in the seduced arena.

It has been a
hard trudge, with fainting, bandaging and death.
There have been startling confrontations.
There have been tramplings. Tramplings

of monarchs and of other men.
But there remain large countries in your eyes.
Shrewd sun.
The civil balance.
The listening secrets.
And you create and trail your flowers still.

– Gwendolyn Brooks (c), from Blacks, 1987

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Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Jamaica

Jean-Binta-Breeze

Said to be the first female dub poet, Jamaican writer Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze has had a rich and vibrant career of writing, performance and teaching, serving also in the capacities of choreographer, and theatre director. She has performed and taught globally and is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including; Ryddim Ravings and other poems, 1988, The Fifth Figure, 2006 and Third World Girl: Selected Poems , 2011. Producing seven poetry albums, Breeze has been called, “one of the most important, influential performance poets of recent years.”

In the poem Natural High, Breeze in very short lines, paints a crisp, clear picture of her mother and the intricate details; the important elements and habits of her life.

Natural High

My mother is a
red
woman
she
gets high
on clean children
grows
common sense
injects
tales
with heroines
fumes
over dirty habits
hits the sky
on bad lines
my mother
gets red
with the sun.

– Jean “Binta” Breeze (c), from Heinmann Book of Caribbean Poetry, 1992

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Lorna Goodison, Jamaica

Lorna

Among the most recognized of Caribbean poets, and with vast global impact, Jamaican Lorna Goodison was first painter before venturing into writing and teaching. Now, her catalog of publications is a weighty offering of poetry, including Tamarind Season (1980), Heartease (1988), Goldengrove (2006) prose-fiction, among them; Fool-fool-Rose Is Leaving Labour In Vain Savannah (2005), , as well as, From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her People (2007), a memoir. The Hanover-born writer captures the rich dynamics of rural life, the sensitivities and cares of women, while also maintaining the crafty humour for which Jamaicans are known. Her work has a truly healing quality, and we get a sense of closeness between the writer and her varying subjects, so much so, that the reader also becomes interwoven and impacted by the work themselves.

Goodison channels the Caribbean/Jamaican/ancestral woman in Where I Come From, cementing her as healer, woman of mystery and mystical power.

Where I Come From
Where I come from,
old women bind living words
across their flat chests,
inscribe them on their foreheads,
and in the palms of their hands.
If you don’t have the eye
to you they just look like
third world women with nothing much.

Under their clothes
on white calico belly bands,
they have transcribed ancient texts
which soak into their stretched loins;
and when they seek cures for you,
their whitlow fingers braille-read
medicine words
from the base of their bellies.

– Lorna Goodison(c) , from Goldengrove: New and Selected Poems (2006)

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Louise Bennett Coverley, Jamaica

louise-bennett-coverley

The mother of Jamaican folklore, Louise Bennett Coverley, affectionately known as Miss Lou, is a household name. Known for her vibrant spirit and work in broadcasting, theatre and poetry, Bennett Coverley, has authored several collections of poetry, including Jamaica Labrish (1966), and Selected Poems (1982). She has produced several records and cassettes, among them, Yes M’Dear and Miss Lou’s Views, and is known best for chronicling Jamaican culture in the nation’s native tongue, being somewhat of a pioneer in that regard.

Jamaica Oman, presents, in true Miss Lou and Jamaican style, the state of Jamaican women’s liberation, proposing, somewhat in jest, how men have been allowed to think women not liberated. Presented in Jamaican patois, the piece calls women ‘cunny’ (or cunnin.g) for ‘allowing’ this to take place, but does so not in a damning way, but rather with some playfulness, solidifying the woman as awake and present in her power.

Jamaica Oman

Jamaica oman cunny, sah!
Is how dem jinnal so?
Look how long dem liberated
An de man dem never know!
Look how long Jamaica oman
— Modder, sister, wife, sweetheart —
Outa road an eena yard deh pon
A dominate her part!
From Maroon Nanny teck her body
Bounce bullet back pon man,
To when nowadays gal-pickney tun
Spellin-Bee champion.
From de grass root to de hill-top,
In profession, skill an trade,
Jamaica oman teck her time
Dah mount an meck de grade.
Some backa man a push, some side-a
Man a hole him han,
Some a lick sense eena man head,
Some a guide him pon him plan!
Neck an neck an foot an foot wid man
She buckle hole her own;
While man a call her “so-so rib’
Oman a tun backbone!
An long before Oman Lib bruck out
Over foreign lan
Jamaica female wasa work
Her liberated plan!
Jamaica oman know she strong,
She know she tallawah,
But she no want her pickney-dem
Fi start call her ‘Puppa’.
So de cunny Jamma oman
 Gwan like pants-suit is a style,
An Jamaica man no know she wear
De trousiz all de while!
So Jamaica oman coaxin
Fambly budget from explode
A so Jamaica man a sing
‘Oman a heaby load!’
But de cunny Jamma oman
Ban her  belly, bite her tongue,
Ketch water, put pot pon fire
An jus dig her toe a grung.
For ‘Oman luck deh a dungle’,
Some rooted more dan some,
But as long as fowl a scratch dungle heap
Oman luck mus come!
Lickle by lickle man start praise her,
Day by day de praise a grow;
So him praise her, so it sweet her,
For she wonder if him know.
– Louise Bennett, fromHeinmann Book of Caribbean Poetry (1992)
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Maya Angelou, U.S.A.
maya angelou
Known for her work in women’s empowerment, American teacher, activist and poet Maya Angelou’s distinct voice still resonates throughout her poems. She is known best for poems such as Phenomenal Woman and Still I Rise, and is author of the bestselling books, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, Gather Together in My Name, and The Heart of a Woman, as well as several collections of poetry. Renowned globally, Angelou has touched many with her distinct, subtle, yet potent calls to action, remaining a personal hero to many.
Much like Phenomenal Woman, Woman Me is a detailed tracing of the physical and non-physical traits of the woman. An empowering piece to its end; Angelou achieves effectiveness from a perceptive eye, a keen understanding and appreciation for the sacred role of the woman, embodying that sacredness in the language used.
Woman me
Your smile, delicate
rumor of peace.
Deafening revolutions nestle in the
cleavage of
you breasts.
Beggar-Kings and red-ringed Priests
seek glory at the meeting
of your thighs.
A grasp of Lions. A lap of Lambs.
Your tears, jeweled
strewn a diadem
caused Pharaohs to ride
deep in the bosom of the
Nile. Southern spas lash fast
their doors upon the night when
winds of death blow down your name
A bride of hurricane. A swarm of summer wind.
Your laughter, pealing tall
above the bells of ruined cathedrals.
Children reach between you teeth
for charts to live heir lives.
A stomp of feet. A bevy of swift hands.
– Maya Angelou, from The Complete Works of Maya Angelou (1994)
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Velma Pollard, Jamaica
velmapollardbookophilia
Velma Pollard is a Jamaican poet, writer and academic. In addition to her academic works, she has published several collections of poetry including Crown Point: And Other Poems (1988), Shame Trees Don’t Grow Here (1991), The Best Philosophers I Know Can’t Read or Write (2001) and Leaving Traces (2007). She has two collections of short stories: Karl and Other Stories (1993) and Considering Woman (1989). The novella, Karl, later collected in Karl and Other Stories, won the 1992 Casa de las Americas prize. She has also published a novel: Homestretch (1994).
In Sea Wall, part one of the three part poem, Belize Suite, Pollard occupies the role of ;seer woman’. In a perceptive negotiation with mortality and the passage of time, she summons solidarity in vivid images.
Belize Suite
I – Sea Wall
Only a gentle swish
Where waves would touch the land
no wind no turbulence
along this wall arranged by man
dividing land from sea
No cruise-ships light this harbour end to end
only that cluster
where the army lights
ride there at achor…
cool darkness and deluding calm
houses sit silent near the water’s edge
their calm precarious like our peace
hoisted on stilts
like mokojumbies in the carnival
listening the ocean’s gentle r murmur
hearing its angry wail
what seems like decades now
when death rode loud and furious
on the hissing waves
From storm and earthquake Lord
deliver us
and us
and us
– Velma Pollard, from Heinmann Book of Caribbean Poetry (1992)
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We see in the work of these writers, and in the written work of women generally; layered experiences, a penchant for tapping into the heart of things, as well as for taking on rebel roles. We witness a diversity of feeling, a range of concerns; a binding to family and home and still an innate inkling for telling their respective truths and for seeing unity and improvements globally.
The woman is as much rebel as nurturer, her stories and voice as relevant today as ever.