Happy Birthday, Dennis Scott
Then, he disappeared.
It wasn’t until I was in fifth from that Dennis reappeared in our lives, and he was still intimidating. He taught drama and literature, and when I was in lower sixth, he talked me into playing Antonio in a production of Shakespeare’s, Twelfth Night that he was directing.
When I was in upper sixth, Dennis taught “A” level literature and he had four students: Nadi Edwards, Paul Green, Paul Brown, and me. Dennis taught us Joyce, Shakespeare, Frost and DH Lawrence, and when we finished the official curriculum in four months, Dennis invited some his friends (Rex Nettleford, Lorna Goodison, and Christopher Gonzalez) to come to Jamaica College or we visited their homes to learn about their work.
After I graduated from Jamaica College, Dennis continued to be my friend and mentor. He helped me to publish my first poem, “Eve (for E.M.)” in the Daily Gleaner. Through that experience, I learned what it meant to be ruthless in editing. Dennis helped me to cut all the unnecessary words, so that each word sparkled with its associative meanings. He also taught me how to read poetry and fiction. I learned from his insistence on metaphor as the language of poetry and how the body could be used as a vehicle. More than anything, however, Dennis taught me that Jamaica was a place to be loved and that there are many faces to love.
And once I got past my own fears, I realized that he was a warm, generous man. Dennis had a way of making everyone feel special, and whenever he spoke with me, he assumed that I understood everything he said. Little did he know that even the most casual conversation that I had with him would send me scurrying to encyclopedias for weeks and moths. Even now, I still don’t understand some of the things that he said. But I am learning, Dennis.
Dennis Scott was born in Jamaica in 1939. He had a distinguished career as a poet, playwright, actor (he was Lester Tibideaux in the Cosby Show), dancer in the Jamaican National Dance Theatre, an editor of Caribbean Quarterly and teacher. His first collection, Uncle Time (1973) was one of the first to establish the absolutely serious use of nation language in lyric poetry. His other poetry collections include Dreadwalk (1982) and Strategies (1989). His plays include Terminus, Dog, Echo in the Bone, and Scott’s work is acknowledged as one of the major influences on the direction of Caribbean theatre. He died at the early age of fifty-one in 1991.