December 19, 2005

Reading @ The Diaspora Vibe Gallery

The reading at the Diaspora Vibe Gallery was a great way to end the year--as far as solo readings are concerned. I'll be part of the annual Christmas Eve celebrations at St. John's on the Lake and other smaller events.

Rosie Gordon-Wallace (shown here in uproarious laughter--which is not uncommon for her) was gracious in offering the space and it was a pleasure to work with her.

My family, friends, and a few new faces were there and as my daughter would say, "It was all good".

I'll be signing off this blog space for the rest of the year to enjoy the season with my family and friends and to catch up on reading, writing and planning some new work with The Artist Initiative. In the meantime, JamaicansRus will be publishing "A Jamaican Christmas Story" sometime this week and "A Fable for the New Year" in two installments on 1/1/2006 and 1/8/2006 (if all goes as planned).

Give thanks to all who have supported me throughout the year(s) & take care of yourselves over the holidays.

Here are a few more pictures from the event:

Dub Poet Malachi Smith with Iyanna, Nerissa Street (back to the camera) and Eric Lichtman.

Reading from "A Story for Christmas".

Walk good and as always...Blessings,


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December 16, 2005

Voices of the Jamaican Diaspora

One of the most perplexing problems facing a writer is the credibility of a voice in a poem, short story or novel. The problem is exacerbated for writers from Jamaica because there are so many voices (flavored by race, class, ethnicity, and technology--see I used English (U.S.) of Microsoft Word for this) in our lives. In my own case, the language continuum runs from the very British English I had to use in my father's presence (I’d be boxed over the ears if I didn't use it!) and the Jamaican patois of my childhood peers (or Kamau Brathwaite's nation language) to the emergence of Rasta-speak in my adolescence and Americanisms that have crept into my vocabulary over the years. Added to this problem of capturing the credibility of voice is the yearly migration of Jamaicans to Miami, New York, Montreal, and London--the Jamaican Diaspora--that brings new words and phrases into the language of Jamaicans at home and abroad. These factors make for an increasingly complex view of word choice and theme in the creation of a poem, short story or novel.

In the four books of poetry that I've written, Exodus and Other Poems, Florida Bound, hurricane center, and xango music, the word choice and the nerve to write in Jamaican patois was difficult because there is no fixed orthography. So, a choice in saying "I-man” in Rasta-speak may also be rendered as "Eye-man" as Velma Pollard does in her poetry. True, this is part of poetic license (Damn you, Word!), but still there are no fixed forms of the language itself, so it sometimes seems as if we are all making it up (which is true to a certain extent). 

And when it comes to the denotative and connotative aspects, fuggedaboutit! For example in the poem, "Dancehall" (which is discussed in detail in Is English we Speaking by Mervyn Morris), I use the word, shub. Denotatively, the word may be translated into Standard English as a shove, but as any Jamaican will tell you, there is world of difference between a shub and a "shove". And if you disagree with me, I may just come over and shub you until you feel the difference. And for good measure, throw in a few juks and licks. A lick is not what you are thinking. You would never want me to "lick" you. (Get your mind out of the gutter. I don’t mean that. Or maybe I do?) Anyway, the essence of a shub can only be appreciated by someone who is intimate with Jamaican patois and this necessary intimacy sometimes can limit audience/readership. In other words, voice also influences one's ability to make a living as a writer.

Nowhere was this made clearer to me than in the editing of my novel, Benjamin, My Son. (And you should see the fights I'm having with the French translator over the words, bumbo, raas, and gingy fly.) In this novel, the main character, Jason Lumley, used the word “soccer” for a game that everyone in the world knows as football. Jason is a Jamaican living in Miami, Florida, and he is part of the wave of Jamaicans who left the island between the years 1972-1986. Jason Lumley, who works as a telemarketer in Miami, speaks Standard English, Brooklynese, Jamaican patois, and Rasta-speak. However, in trying to show his linguistic confusion, I lost some readers during a book signing at my alma mater, Jamaica College, who felt that the use of the word "soccer" instead of football, made Jason less credible--anathema to writer's ears. Ah, you win some, you lose some.

As I've grown older in this craft, I've discovered a new generation of Jah-Mericans (my children are included in this), who are equally at home with the music of Bob Marley or Marilyn Manson and whose linguistic choices are now influenced by Miami’s Spanglish and Haitian Kreyol. Depending on the context, they use Wazup, Sak Pase, Como estas? or Respec'. I've tried to capture some of their life and linguistic choices in my latest unfinished novel, Garvey's Ghost. 

In some ways their dilemmas resemble a Hemingwayesque, "lost generation" because they have grown up caught between cultures and ethnicities and face far more complexities in life and language than I have confronted.

December 15, 2005

Dreads in Outer Space by Jim Screechy and Van Doolu

In a recent article by Olivier Stephenson entitled A Jamaican at NASA, a serious omission was made with regard to two Jamaican astronauts who have been working at the agency for the past ten years. Investigative reporters, Jim Screechy and Van Doolu, acting on anonymous tips that reach into the lowest levels of NASA uncovered a conspiracy to conceal the existence of this highly secretive program.

According to unconfirmed sources within NASA, a husband and wife team has been exploring the space-time continuum with stunning results that could upset current understanding of physics, astronomy, and mathematics. They have also accomplished these amazing feats without the use of rockets, shuttles, or vehicles that could endanger human life.

“Yes, I,” said senior astronaut, Hezekiah O’Boyle (Jamaica/USA). “I-man been exploring the outer edges of the I-niverse and I and I am proud to report that life does exist on other planets.”

“True, dat,” confirmed his co-pilot, Nefertiti Israel. “The dread and I even plant a nice little plant on an outer planet of the Andromeda system.”

When questioned about the nature of the plant and their mode of travel, Queen Nefertiti, as she prefers to be called, remained silent. She would only say that they would be returning to the planet by “first light” to reap the harvest of the dread’s labor.

In a time of budget cutbacks and when NASA is facing a possible shutdown of its shuttle fleet, Ras Hezekiah, as he prefers to be called, insisted that his space travel was completely safe.

“I and I don’t have to worry about no falling foam or debris,” said Ras Hezekiah. “I and I travel through black holes and I and I can tell you that the basic nature of the I-niverse is not what them tell you in a book. String theory is all wrong. Is not a string of energy. It more look like elastic from me mada…” and then he made a reference to a piece of clothing that a polite, family-oriented e-zine like this would not mention. Needless to say, Ras Hezekiah’s statements were taken with the utmost seriousness by the NASA official who was in charge of the experiments and whose funding remains highly secretive. He would only speak to JamaicansRUs if he could go by the name of “Scotty” and we agreed.

“Ras Hezekiah, Queen Nefertiti, my wife and I are all scientists of the highest order.”

“Highest is right,” said Ras Hezekiah, but he would not explain any further.

“We have been experimenting for about ten years now in the back lots of the Space Center because this is where we get the best trajectory, and we only have to worry about the summer thunderstorm before we launch.”

“Outer space!” exclaimed Queen Nefertiti and clapped her hands together.

The unnamed scientists also claimed that all of their experiments were 100 percent verifiable.

“And no falling foam!” said Hezekiah.

“Only exploding seeds,” said Queen Nefertiti in a moment of rare candor. When pressed for an explanation, she would not divulge the true nature of her quixotic statement.

One thing is clear, however, Jamaicans have been on the forefront of travel,—whether it’s across the Atlantic or to the far reaches of outer space.

In fact, as the reporters left the back room on the NASA compound, Ras Hezekiah was heard calling out as he blasted off for another space trip,” Beam me up, Scotty. Light me up!”

First published in

Hurricane Files: Jim Screechy and Van Doolu

"Rasta Force field" Saves Jamaica and Spares South Florida
Hurricane Ivan Threatens "No Problem" Island
By Jim Screechy and Ban Doolu

Miami, Florida, September 12, 2004--In what Brian Norcross of NBC-TV has described as a "mysterious and miraculous meteorological event", the eye of Hurricane Ivan narrowly missed Kingston, the capital of Jamaica by one degree.

Meteorologists are still baffled by the movement away from Kingston that virtually all computer models had predicted would impact the city. But it is no mystery to Prophet Zephaniah, who with twelve other prophets and a mysterious thirteenth figure, descended from Wareika Hills to conduct a news conference.

"This is the Rastaman force field" said Prophet Ivan, who added, "no relation."

He explained that it was Rasta that had saved Jamaica and Miami.

"I and I been chanting against Ivan all night. I and I brethren climb to the top of the mountaintop and chant, "Blow, Ivan, blow. Blow all you wind and rain/ you will never overcome I, never again/ I and I will turn the eye away from I home/ Send you back to Babylon, back to the Pope in Rome."

And so Kingston was saved. With the turn away from Jamaica, Miami has also been spared because the new track takes Ivan into the Gulf of Mexico.

President Bush, who was in Florida for relief work due to Hurricane Frances, was genuinely baffled by the report and when he could not find Jamaica on the map, gave up in disgust. Vice President Cheney when questioned about all the events told this reporter to "Go f**k himself." He then added he was glad he said it. Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld in a news conference Q&A exclaimed, "If they’re so god- damned small on a map that you can’t see to bomb em, why worry?" Secretary of State, Colin Powell, a proud son of Jamaican descent, could not be reached for comment.

Only Democratic contender, John Kerry, seemed to be moved by the situation. Long faced and teary eyed, he said he would vote for emergency funds for the island, but then changed his mind.

The island is barley recovering from the storm that has pelted the island. Police, who have been going door to door in August Town, comforted a Ms. Darlene Smith.
"Missis Simith, we have good news and bad news."
"Tell me the bad news first," she said.
"The hurricane killed your husband."
"Lawd, Gad," she said.
"Then what is the good news?"
"Him never get shot," said the policeman.

The Prime Minister, PJ Patterson, regretted the incident and vowed that as long as he was in power it would never happen again. Former leader of the JLP, Edward Seaga, briefly commented, "I am not saying anything, anymore. I have my own hurricane in my back yard."

Many Jamaicans, however, seemed genuinely relieved by the miraculous turn of events. But as prophet Zephaniah said, "Once more, I and I save this island, and still I and I never get the praise. When will I and I get the praise I and I deserve?"

When indeed.


Jim Screechy: So, Van, why you say that Wilma was a Jamaican hurricane?
Van Doolu: Because them say we only catch the backside of the hurricane in Miami.
Jim Screechy: And?
Van Doolu: That was one helluva backside!

December 14, 2005

And Now My Fish Has Diabetes

It all started when my two friends, Jim Screechy and Van Doolu, noted how water my fighter fish, Pixie, (we are trying reverse psychology on him, but it’s not working and he reacts violently when we call him that) was drinking and kept bumping into the glass of the fish tank.

“I tell you it must be diabetes,” said Van Doolu.

Jim Screechy agreed.

So we took Pixie, who was still in a bad mood, to see our resident fish doctor, nicknamed by Jim, Dr. Icky. We’ve been going to Dr. Icky for five years, and it seems like we’ve been buying more drugs from this one company ever since they replaced the former drug rep (a three hundred pound German brunette whose dress used to sweep along the floor of the office) with a sexy, Texan blonde with big breasts and mini skirts up to her navel.

Van Doolu says it’s a coincidence with the new drugs and the new rep, but I beg to differ.

Anyway, Dr. Icky examined Pixie and concluded as Van Doolu had suggested that Pixie had diabetes. He gave us some samples to drop in the water, but when he told us the regular price (they weren’t generic) I was wondering if I could keep up or just let Pixie die. Van said that I was heartless, and only a Jamaican man, who won't allow dogs to lick him in his face or eat from his plate, would do something like that.

"Dog is dog. Man is man. And fish is fish," said Jim.

I agreed, but Van said we were being insenstive to the rights of fish and dogs, and if we hadn't come from a Third World country, we would have been more enlightened.

"What enlightened about dog licking you in your face? You going make dog lick you in you face after him just done..."

I cut Jim off and asked Dr Icky why the drugs were so expensive, and he told me it was because of the research that had to be done to develop the pills.

Jim said it was research on the Texan. Van boxed him over the head.

Anyway, I told Dr. Icky that if it weren’t for my kids who had grown attached to Pixie, despite his evil ways, that I would have let Pixie die because the pills were worth more than the fish. I told him I was thinking of getting the pills from Canada or I was going to move to Canada. Dr Icky said that according to the FDA, the pills from Canada were not safe and that he could not guarantee their effectiveness.

“But they are made by the same company, Dr. Icky," I protested.

“But they are Canadians, and you can’t trust these foreigners," he countered.

“But you are from Jamaica, Dr. Icky!”

“Yes, but these Canadians have long wanted to take over North America. Me, I only want to work here.”

He had a point.

I tried to reason some more with Dr. Icky, but he wouldn’t listen any more. The fifteen minutes that he was going to charge my HMO for the full hour was coming to a close.

“The whole thing is a scandal,” said Van Doolu, who knew a lot about scandals. “I think them playing with these numbers and saying that we have things that we don’t even have yet. But because we are so afraid, we go along with it.”

“No way,” said Jim.

“It comes from watching too much television,” said Dr. Icky, sounding very scientific. “In the past, the fish in his natural habitat would have been fit. He would have been hunting for food or running around so he wouldn’t be someone’s else’s food. Out there in nature, it’s a dog eat dog world.”

I wanted to tell him that it was a mixed metaphor, and ask him how did we get back to the dog argument, but he cut me off this time.

“Now, all the fish does is sit in the fish tank and watch television.”

“Or watch you Googling old girlfriends,” said Van.

“Or himself,” said Jim.

I told Jim that was very rude, and Jim asked me which was ruder: Googling old girlfriends or yourself?

It depends, I told him.

“Anyway, I can assure you," said Dr. Icky, trying to get us back on track, "that everything is on the up and up. And we’re not playing with the numbers."

I still have my doubts.

The good thing is that Pixie’s health has greatly improved and is drinking less water and not bumping into the side of the fish tank. He does, however, suffer from anal leakage (a side effect of the drugs) and may be impotent. We know this because we put a female in the tank with him and all he did was attack her.

Jim had a different theory.

“What day and time did you put the female in with him?”

“Friday night.”

“See, you should know better. A true Jamaican male, fish or man, always beat his female on Friday night,” said Jim.

He may be right. Or he may just be protecting his bottle of Viagra that Van said we should give to Pixie and see if it will work.

If I really had my way, I would do like my neighbors and dump Pixie in a canal so he can end up in the Everglades with the piranha and other flesh eating fish. That would cure his diabetes, for he would now be fit and he would now have a steady diet of protein instead of the high carb diet of fish food we giving him every morning.

‘The whole setup sound fishy to me,” said Jim.

I couldn’t have said it better.

December 13, 2005

Why Do I Continue to Write?

I continue to write because I am from a marginalized race/culture and I work in an even more marginalized discipline/craft. I say this not to claim any sort of victim status (to which I am thoroughly opposed) but merely as a statement of fact--as a backdrop to my actions.

You see, I once had a life changing experience through a work of art. I've written about it elsewhere, but in a nutshell, it was around 1974 when I was still living in Jamaica. I was walking through my old stomping grounds, Mona Heights, Kingston 6, Jamaica, West Indies, when it seemed as if every radio in my neighborhood was playing Bob Marley's "Natty Dread.” I was transfixed. And then, it seemed, I was also walking up my own, "First Street, Second Street, Third Street... I've got to reach Seventh Street".

I had a sense of belonging within the song and at the same time in the real world--simultaneously inhabiting the world of the artist and my world at the same time. It was exhilarating. Marley had chosen the landscape as the subject of his art form. This was revolutionary because we are still arguing about the "proper subjects" of art in the Caribbean. The oak or the mango? This has all the hallmarks of colonialism and the diminished sense of self that imperialism, by its very nature, inculcates into the subjects of empire: "I will never be good enough. Nothing that I do will ever be good enough. Nothing that surrounds me will ever be good enough for anything."

"Natty Dread" and "Trench Town Rock" put an end to that for me.

It's sad, however, that many of my brothers and sisters still carry around that POV.

That's why we're always jumping up and down in the background when the cameras come into our neighborhoods to investigate the latest murder or scandal and the "real" people are in front of the camera.

We'll never get the chance to be real because we aren't important to ourselves or other people except as victims and statistics of crime and poverty.

Get real.

So, I continue to write about my people, my landscape because I think they are important, real and the proper subjects of art (Annie Paul).

Here are some of the subjects that I intend to cover in the blogs:

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