February 25, 2006
Greetings and Happy Birthday!
Since my earliest introduction to your work in the memoir, Going Home to Teach, I have been following your writing career by reading back to your first novel, The Painted Canoe, and forward to The Duppy. (I’ve also used your textbook co-authored with Jo Ray McCuen, From Idea to Essay, for as long as I taught freshman composition). In fact, I was elated when The Caribbean Writer asked me to review your latest collection of short stories, The Annihilation of Fish and Other Stories. (As if they had to twist my arm. It was already on my list of books to read). So, given your vast experience in writing in so many genres, plays, novels, memoirs, short stories, and textbooks, I fear you may be tempted to undertake a manual for creative writing. Don’t. Not that I have any doubts that if wouldn’t be excellent, it would merely be redundant. The Annihilation of Fish and Other Stories, as well as your other novels, if read correctly by any would-be writer is more than she will ever need in handling character, plot, setting, tone and theme. And for the readers, sheer delight. For it’s as if you have followed Robert Frost’s idea about poems and applied it to your writing: “A poem should begin with delight and end with wisdom”. And there is a lot of pleasure and perceptivity in this small book that speaks volumes about the Jamaican character about which you write so lovingly while at the same time skewering our deepest foibles and flaws.
From “The Preliminary Report” to the title story, we meet a cast of characters who could only have sprung from the Jamaican soil: Inspector Jordan Hall’s class prejudice and contempt for his own people whom he labels as “Butu”: “I’m aware that Headquarters frowns on the use of “Butu” to indicate a certain lower class of Jamaicans, but this being only a preliminary report, I’ve taken some liberties with vocabulary” (1); Rachel Higgins and her husband’s fear of “unconventionality”; and Fish’s (and indeed many of the other characters) unquestioning acceptance of the side-by-side existence of this world with other dimensions. As I read the stories, I also realized there must be some deep vein of sadism buried in me because I enjoyed the torment you inflicted on these characters (albeit with certain self-consciousness) because I realized that I shared many of their beliefs. Through the deftness of your description, witty dialogue, and truncated exposition, you created characters whose beliefs about the world created their dilemmas and as they acted on these beliefs, the essential absurdity of the climax came so easily that a young writer (because she is laughing so hard—but it’s also nervous laughter) might miss the craft on display.
And then there’s the wisdom in stories such as, “The Story of the Fifth Boy” that uncovers the Jamaican fear of “softness”: “Jamaican boys fear gentleness. When gentleness appears among them, they crush it as they would a cockroach” (15); “The Cultivator Who Lost His Heart” and “The Riddle” unearth the existential crisis that every human faces (similar to Hemingway’s nada) in a Jamaican setting, “dat is better to pretend dat nothing is something dan to believe dat everything is nothing” (105); our fear of success in “The Dog” and what Matthew Arnold would have called “philistinism” in “The Chance”: “Like many Jamaicans, his whole aim in life was to work hard for material betterment” (51). There are, however, two other stories that I enjoyed which have to do with some of my own concerns: “New Banana” and ‘The Interpreter”. In both these stories, the main characters’, Hopeton Munroe Uppinton and Gabriel Yap Sang, attempts at establishing singular identities—naming themselves on their own terms-- are stymied by their antagonists. In Hopeton’s case, crass American tourists and in Gabriel’s, his community. In both these stories, the theme which was captured in the story “Unconventionality” highlights one of the deepest fears of Jamaicans-- being called in the terms of my adolescence, “extra”. This fear of being viewed as uncommon/unusual/different (no doubt born from our collective experience of slavery/ colonialism which during those times would have certainly lead to an early death--but we need to get over it) supplies much of the guilt ridden anxiety of the characters and our people. In order to escape the dilemma, many of us, like Gabriel Yap Sang have rejoined the community, sacrificed our individuality and opted for mediocrity. Hopeton chooses murder.
Of course, I could continue with the themes in the other stories that I loved: the theological dissonance in “The Preliminary Report” that you extended in the novel, The Duppy and the longing to return to Jamaica in “The Absentee Ownership of Cows” which you developed in the play, The Burglary. Perhaps, the only difficulty that I had with the collection was that most of the protagonists were elderly, like the couple in “The Trip to Paris,” and seemed to have wasted their lives (although the were much better off materially than if they had stayed on the island) by living abroad and losing their connection with the land. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.
Even the cover of the book with Fish, his frail hands cupped into an arthritic fist while he sports the uniform of elderly Jamaican men, Banlon shirt and polyester pants, captures the warrior spirit for which we are known. It also depicts the ferocity and the farce of many of our lives. The portrait of this aging, pugilistic Jamaican is apt for this collection, and if I were to rate this collection the way a boxer’s career is judged, then you could retire undefeated, for every story is a knockout.
PS. This letter was first published in The Caribbean Writer. For a review of my favorite Winkler book, The Duppy, follow this link for my review(s) on Amazon: The Duppy
Writing and Poetry
February 24, 2006
7 Things I plan/hope to do/ see before I transition:
- See my family/children centered & happy
- Visit Tibet
- Visit the Grand Canyon
- See Jamaica tranquil enough to be able to retire there
- Visit Japan
- Learn to play the guitar
- See grandchildren
7 Favorite Books
- Another Life by Derek Walcott
- Love in Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
- Shar by Kamau Brathwaite
- The Human Stain by Phillip Roth
- Reel from the Life Movie by Tony McNeill
- The Duppy by Tony Winkler—See Post on 2/25/06
- Miguel Street by VS Naipaul
7 Favorite movies
- Pulp Fiction
- Fight Club
- Young Frankenstein
- A Christmas Story
- Lion in Winter
7 Favorite CDs
- Natty Dread by Bob Marley
- Rapture by Anita Baker
- Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis
- Blackheart Man by Bunny Wailer
- Best of the Spinners
- Best of Marvin Gaye
- Best of Al Green
7 websites/blogs I visit regularly:
- Mad Bull
- Stephen Bess
- Nicolette Bethel’s Blog
7 Places that I have vacationed and liked:
- Neusa, Colombia
- Negril, Jamaica
- Paris, France
- St. Thomas, Virgin Islands
- New York, New York
- Progreso, Mexico
- London, England
7 People who inspired me:
- Dennis Scott
- Derek Walcott
- Kamau Brathwaite
- Bob Marley
- VS Naipaul (arrrrrgh)
- Mervyn Morris
- Jimmy Carnegie
Quinn responded to them by saying, “Don’t worry about me. In ten years, I’ll be writing your checks,” and “Your role model is Snoop Dogg. Mine is Barack Obama”
February 22, 2006
“Yes, I,” said known horticulturalist, Ras Simeon Matthews. “I did think it was the government and the CIA who been listening to I and I conversation. But when I and I check it out, I and I realize that it could not have been done by earthly hands. It had to be the work of the Most High!"
“Still, is criminal what them do,” said his queen, M’keda Samuels. “Is criminal! The poor herb never bother them, and whoever them is, them just come and mash it down," she said cradling a wilted sapling between her hands. "Poor little thing."
“Shhhhhhh,’ said Ras Simeon. “ Don’t say that too loud around here, the government might be listening.”
“Make them listen,” said M’keda. “I know them been listening and spying on we like we is terrorist, and I will say it proudly that I am a terrorist. I am a terrorist to Babylon--to all powers and principalities of the heavens and earth! Woe to Babylon! Woe to the Pope of Rome!”
M’keda then broke into a litany of woes that could not be repeated lest the reporters be accused of aiding and abetting the enemy which could hamper their attempts to have their green cards renewed.
On further examination, the field revealed a pattern( shown here using infra-red photography) that ruled out any kind of human involvement and could have only been done by higher powers.
Unfortunately, the head office has been unable to verify the location of Van Screechy and Van Doolu, whose whereabouts, as far as we can tell by contacts in the CIA, NSA, FBI, and the local lockup in Negril, are unknown since their encounter in the fields of Ras Simeon.
Alien abduction? Stay tuned…
February 21, 2006
Mervyn Morris’ poetry is known for its complexity and wit. He is known for his generosity and readiness to champion the work of younger poets and writers. For example, thirty years ago I attended the first reading of Orlando Wong aka Oku Onoura @ the Tom Redcam Library. The reading was facilitated by Mervyn and PEN—which is why I vowed to become a member of that organization and I have.
Other poets such as Mikey Smith, Claudia Rankine, Malachi Smith, Mutabaruka and I have benefited from his willingness to give our work the exposure that it needed. For example, Mervyn wrote one of the best reviews of my poetry in Is English We Speaking and gave the contextual background for non-Jamaicans to understand the poem, "Dancehall." Mervyn was also instrumental in shaping the Caribbean Writers' Summer Institute which gave many of us a chance to attend poetry workshops and to establish the networks that are essential to writers.
And remember, he didn’t have to do this. He could have pulled up the ladder behind him--as so many others have done.
Younger poets learn from older poets, and I have learned the value of faith in poetry from Mervyn. The first third of hurricane center and Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas would not have existed had it not been for On Holy Week which I read assiduously to understand the craft of poetry. I needed to learn how to remain true to my understanding of faith and my vocation as a poet. Mervyn taught me how. In a time when it is still fashionable to flaunt nihilism—the everlasting no that plagues Black life and literature (e.g. Invisible Man)—Mervyn also taught me that it is possible to say yes to some things. And for this, I give thanks.
February 19, 2006
The poem was published in hurricane center.
February 16, 2006
Give thanks to Jebratt of the Guyana Resource Center for the plug. Glad to hear Kykoveral is also in business:
http://kykoveral.blogspot.com/, and that there are sites livicated to Edgar Mittelholzer:
http://edgarmittelholzer.blogspot.com/ and Martin Carter: http://martincarter.blogspot.com/
February 15, 2006
It was also good to see Adrian Castro whose latest collection, Wise Fish, is now in the bookstores.
A Poem for the Innocents
Como se dice eso?
Adrian Castro, Geoffrey Philp, and Dr. Ana Maria Bradley-Hess
Adrian Castro Reading
I give thanks to Dr. Cindy Miles, Dr. Ana Maria Bradley-Hess, Professor Quakish Williams, Professor Judy Welch, and Professor Maria Vargas-O'neel and the Black History Month Committee for inviting me to read.
Black History Month
February 14, 2006
Jamaica Caribbean, Caribbean writers, poetry blog, Caribbean literature, Jamaican author, Jamaican writers, Jamaican diaspora poetry podcast, podcast
February 11, 2006
First week of March, I will be podcasting and excerpt from Benjamin, My Son.
February 10, 2006
The Guardian has proposed a World Literature Tour to nominate writers and "uncover a selection of the best authors from as many countries as possible, ideally including some who are currently unknown in the UK".
How about writers from the Caribbean? Or should it be limited to particular countries within the Caribbean? What is the Caribbean?
Follow this link to nominate the writers: http://blogs.guardian.co.uk/culturevulture/archives/2006/01/30/pole_stars.html#more
This news is via the virtuos Maud Newton.
February 8, 2006
February 5, 2006
“Bob Marley in the Daycare Center” imagines where a reincarnated Bob Marley would choose to work in his next life. The inspiration came from the "One Love" video of Bob at a birthday party with some children in England. He was clearly having a lot of fun and they were happy to be with him.
"Trench Town Rock" says, "Never let the children cry/ Or you gotta tell Jah-Jah why." If he didn't choose to be a musician the next time around, he would most likely choose a life where he could protect as many children as he could, and being the natural storyteller that he is, working in a day care in a hospital named Mount Sinai would probably work for him.
Happy Earth Day, Bob!
February 4, 2006
First light, the podcast of my poem, "Bob Marley in the Day Care Center" will be up. The poem imagines where a reincarnated Bob Marley would most likely choose to work in his next life.
In the meantime, it's back to work for me--writing my novel, Garvey's Ghost, about a Jah-Merican woman, Kathryn Coleman, who is betrayed by a con man, and she vows never to fall in love again--enter the Rastaman, Jacob Cooper, from Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas. The novel co-stars a hurricane and Kathyrn's ownway daughter, Jasmine.
February 3, 2006
Professor Nettleford has been a leading scholar in articulating Jamaican identity, and his groundbreaking work, Mirror, Mirror: Race, Identity and Protest in Jamaica, highlighted the uneasy relationship that many Jamaicans share regarding race, class, and culture.
The lecture is sponsored by the Jamaican Diaspora Foundation in association with Jamaica Awareness Inc. Admission is free.
February 2, 2006
Thursday, February 9, 2006 7 pm-10pm
February 9 - March 31, 2006
Hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10am - 4pm
Saturday, February 11, 2006 2pm - 4pm
Location: 3938 N. Miami Avenue
Miami Design District
Miami, FL 33137