October 30, 2006

In My Own Words: Donna Weir-Soley

Donna Weir SoleyI come from a family of teachers, preachers, and storytellers, and they all told different types of stories. My father’s side of the family, farmers, teachers, and storytellers, told such scary ghost stories that after listening to them, I often wanted to make my bed right where I was sitting rather than risk walking home on a dark country night and running into rolling calf or some other bad duppy.

My mother’s side of the family, healers, entrepreneurs, and storytellers, told stories that would surely fall into the category Audre Lourde calls biomythography. This isn’t because my mother’s stories are fictional, but because her “true” stories are so incredible, the natural inclination is to think she’s making them up. My mother’s stories blended dreams and reality so seamlessly that often, as a child, I could not distinguish between what happened in my dreams and my waking life. Both were aspects of reality to which I had to pay close attention or risk losing important “messages” or life lessons that were important to my future path. My destiny was mapped out in dreams, omens, and signs.

My ancestors, long passed-on, were as important to my life as my living kin, and could appear in dreams or to some kinfolk who had the ability to see spirits, not just to warn me, but to stage intervention when necessary. So, I guess, you could say I come by storytelling quite naturally, and that is really how I think of my writing. Whether in poems, short fiction, memoir writing, even essays, I am always trying to find the true way to tell the story. Sometimes it is my story. Sometimes it is a combination of myth, legends, facts, fiction, and somebody else’s story, but always it is my truth, the way I understand it.

First Rain , my first book, is a collection of poems that blends myth, dreams, and family history with social and political commentary. Mostly, I hope that my love for my people and my roots shines throughout the work. And my roots are as much in rural St. Catherine, Jamaica, as they are in inner-city New York where I became a woman, and where my brothers went through trial-by-gunfire coming into black manhood in Cambria Heights, Queens. And I say love, not to be naïve or uncritical, but to let it be known that there is no shame in my game. I am a product of all of it, good, bad, indifferent.

My high school, Andrew Jackson, had as many metal detectors as Rikers Island prison. It was the first place I heard the term coke, short for cocaine. I was fresh out of St. Catherine bush and someone offered it to me in the girl’s bathroom. My answer was “Why are you selling coke (thinking Coca Cola) in the bathroom?” Who knows, perhaps my naiveté saved my life.

After I left Andrew Jackson, the school got progressively worse. Some of the most notorious drug lords of New York came out, excuse me, were kicked out of Andrew Jackson. The city closed it down a few years after I graduated, leaving most of the student population with no zone school. The neighborhood kids were only too happy to oblige by becoming high school drop-outs, courtesy of the city of New York. One thing I know for sure everything that I have been through has led me to this place. I don’t believe in luck, but I believe in God because I know I have been blessed, protected and highly favored. Sometimes, the writing goes down smooth like a cool Red Stripe on a sweltering day. Other times, it is jagged like broken glass bottles edging the high walled homes of the wealthy, keeping out prowlers, keeping in the rank smell of fear. Ragged or fluent, my writing represents my reality, and I respectfully submit that I have a right to write, to tell these stories (with my story woven into the tapestry) the best way I know how, and I won’t give up till I get them right. Until such time…


Donna Weir-Soley was born and grew up in Jamaica. She currently teaches at Florida International University. She is a poet and critic and has been widely published in journals such as Macomere, Caribbean Writer, Sage, The Carrier-Pidgin, Frontiers and in the anthology, Moving Beyond Boundaries. She was recently awarded a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship for career enhancement.

This Wednesday (11/1/2006): Results of Poll/Survey on Bob Marley and Rastafari.

Friday (11/3/2006) Five Questions With Sandra Castillo, author of My Father Sings to my Embarassment.

Monday (11/6/2006) In My Own Words: Shara McCallum, author of Song of Thieves.

Filed under give thanks and praises: The vivacious Maud Newton for linking to Marlon James' interview and expanding on it, and the gracious Georgia Popplewell for continuing to spread the word. Of course, there are many, many people to thank and they are listed in the links. The most recent addition is Cherryl Floyd Miller who has been compiling an impressive list of African American literary sites. BTW, for the most up-to-date information on African American/Caribbean/Black literary information, check out Kalamu ya Salaam's e-drum: http://lists.topica.com/lists/e-drum and subscribe to it. Kalamu, despite the tragedy in New Orleans, has remained undaunted. To all, Rispec'.


Caribbean , Americas , poetry blog, Jamaican author, Jamaican writers, Caribbean writers, Miami , Miami Dade College, Miami Book Fair International, Caribbean authors, Caribbean literature, Books, Poetry, South Florida writers, Jamaica,

October 27, 2006

Five Questions With Marlon James

Marlon James was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1970. His debut novel, John Crow's Devil, was an Editor's Choice in the New York Times Book Review and a finalist for both the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. He lives in Kingston.

1. On your blog you've written about the books you read while writing John Crow's Devil. Which recording artists were you listening to while writing the novel?

What a great question! I actually scribble the names of albums I am listening to in the in the upper left corner of my manuscripts. More than anything else I was listening to Secret South, from this extremely Gothic country-rock band called Sixteen Horsepower. I've never heard anything like it in my life. Not just the pre and post rock sounds coming from the record, (think O Brother Where art Thou) but the way in which the singer was both so hopelessly attracted yet horribly repelled by the Old Testament God he was singing about. It reminded me that even in the midst of Christian dogma there was an awful lot of magic. I had to track the band down to use their lyrics in the book. The line at the beginning of Chapter Three: “You say you say it coming yea, But still you did not flee" comes from that album. Who else was I listening to:

Captain Beefheart
I was also listening to Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask Replica. My book's first quote: 'Three Little Children with doves on their shoulders/ They're counting out the devil with three fingers on their hands" comes from that album. Trout Mask Replica sounds like the ramblings of a deranged, defrocked Southern Baptist preacher and the band sounds like lunatics all making their own record at the same time. Not for the fainthearted, of course, but probably one of only two times I thought rock music genuinely approached poetry, which leads to...

Patti Smith: Horses. I throw this record away every year. Every time I listen to it I can hear her saying "I'm at 10 and you're still at 4, so step up," to which I shrivel up in cowardice and throw the record away. But then I always buy it back with two months. The rest: Bjork: Homogenic, Prince, Sign O' the Times, John Coltrane, Blue Train, Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain

2. How did you come up with the name Gibbeah?
My friend, Pastor Ché Cowan gave it to me.

3. In a review of John Crow's Devil in the Caribbean Review of Books , Lisa Allen-Agostini states: "Unlike Scott, who celebrates sexuality as a tender, joyful, sacred gift, James casts it as sinful." Is this a fair assessment? 
In the context of the book, yes. Sexuality occupies a curious space in Jamaican life and when religion is added to the mix, the results can be devastating. It's such a strange thing. Our expletives are all tied to female body function and the first name that children give to sex is "nastiness," at least when I was a child. And yet we go to the other extreme as well, casting sexuality as something we cannot control and find all sorts of kinky outlets for it. We are an extreme version of Victorian morality couched in hypocrisy, which is why fornicators can call homosexuals perverts. We also couch sexuality in shame and secrecy and as a result, things that function best in secrecy, abuse, incest, bestiality thrive. I'm surprised we have not produced a Jack the Ripper yet, or perhaps he's only killing poor women. We do look at sexuality in all its forms except marriage as sinful and yet we revel in the version of sex that we particularly enjoy. This is why deacons can molest students and 9 year old boys can molest 6 year old girls, resting in the security that everybody will keep it hidden. I wonder where all this will lead?

4. John Crow's Devil has an unusual construction--it begins at the end.What were the reasons behind this aesthetic choice?

Because we naturally wait for hindsight to make sense of stuff. At least I think so. I try not to, but it happens. I always liked the beginning of Sunset Boulevard. I also like how in the Greek tragedies the fact that we know the fate of the character doesn't help our anxiety one bit. It's the road to ruin that fascinates me, the journey if you will. Destinations are beside the point. That said I did not think the book was as abstract as people think. I still consider myself a Victorian, actually, I'm just bored with the linear. Hopefully one day I can write something like Cortazar's Hopscotch.

5. What does the term "magical realism" mean to you and what role does it play in your work?

Magical Realism. It means freedom. Quick explanation. I've always considered myself a realist and the very first thing I wrote revelled in the dirt and grime and body fluids (OK so I haven't exorcised that one yet) of the real world. I even finished a novel in that style. But then I read Salman Rushdie's Shame, about the sisters Chunni Munnee and Bunnie who live by themselves in a sort-of castle in the land of Q. I'm sure I have the details wrong, but the point is, here was a novel unconcerned about time or place, that rebuilt itself when it wanted to, killed characters off by first warning that it was about to do so and making a mess of everything that I thought was good fiction. I can't remember when I was so appalled by a book. Or when I was so convinced that this was what I wanted to write. I think the reason why so many writers of the diaspora whether African or Latino ( Marquez considers himself a Caribbean writer by the way) write about the magical is because we took those original Gods with us even if we no longer recognise them by name. A spirit world exists whether we acknowledge it or not and 400 years of Christian indoctrination will never change that. I just never dreamed that magical realism was going to be my ticket to literary freedom. To live in the Caribbean is to believe the unbelievable. It also means to retreat into the fantastical to live with reality ( we all daydream too much don't we?)

I don't know if I'll write every book that way, but I do find something sublime in the ridiculous.

6. What makes you laugh?
Old uptown upper middle class women who are horrified! horrified I tell you that I wrote such a filthy book

Next Monday. In My Own Words: Donna Weir-Soley, author of First Rain.

Next Week Friday. Five Questions With Sandra Castillo, author of My Father Sings to my Embarassment.

Over the next few weeks, I'll also be posting at Caribbean Beat Blog with Nicholas Laughlin, Georgia Popplewell, Tracy Assing, Jeremy Taylor, and Nola Powers. So look for me over there, nuh?

Links: Marlon James


October 26, 2006

Caribbean and African-American Authors @ Miami Book Fair International

MiamiThe 23rd Annual Miami Book Fair International will host a rich assembly of African-American and Caribbean authors between Sunday, Nov. 12 and Sunday, Nov. 19 at the Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, 300 NE 2nd Ave. in downtown Miami.

McArthur fellow and Pulitzer Prize winner Edward P. Jones will to take to the stage to headline An Evening with Edward P. Jones on Tuesday, Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m. in the Chapman Auditorium, located on the second floor of building three. Jones, who won the Pulitzer for his novel, The Known World, portrays ordinary citizens caught between the old ways of the South and the temptations of the North in his new short story collection, All Aunt Hagar's Children.

This year’s Book Fair will also host U.S. Senator Barack Obama, author of the bestselling memoir, Dreams from My Father, who will read from his new book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream.

Also on stage at the Book Fair is Elizabeth Nunez, PEN American Open Book committee Chair and celebrated author of Prospero’s Daughter, a postcolonial interpretation of Shakespeare’s The Tempest and the fall selection for One Book, One Community.

Over the weekend on Nov. 18 and 19, the Street Fair will feature several noted Afro-Caribbean authors covering a variety of topics. New York Times bestselling author Pearl Cleage will weave a story of family, friendship and love. Cultural critic Paul Robeson, Jr., son of the legendary Paul Robeson, will speak about freedom, and Erik Calonius will reveal a little-known tale of a Civil War slave ship. Former Miami television news reporter Mel Taylor will talk murder and Quincy Troupe will discuss poetic language.

The Caribbean Voices Program will feature Kamau Brathwaite, Ramabai Espinet, Lorna Goodison, Deborah Jack, Shara McCallum, Pamela Mordecai, Dawad Phillip, Lawrence Scott, Donna Weir-Soley and Mervyn Taylor. Christine Ho will moderate a panel on Globalization, Diaspora and Caribbean and popular culture featuring Mike Alleyne and Keith Nurse.

This year’s Miami Book Fair celebrates the classics and commemorates the universal artistry of Shakespeare and Mozart, among others, while it honors the talent of minority voices and emerging African-American and Caribbean talent. Here’s a complete list of scheduled African-American and Caribbean authors presenting at this year’s fair.

Raymond Arsenault, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Justice
Phyllis Baker
, African-American Spirituality, Thought and Culture

L.A.Banks, The Forsaken

Timothy S. Brothers, The Caribbean From Above: An Interpretive Atlas
Erik Calonius, The Wanderer: The Last American Slave Ship and the Conspiracy That Set Its Sails
Colin Channer, Iron Balloons: Hit Fiction from Jamaica’s Calabash Writers Workshop
Pearl Cleage, Baby Brother’s Blues
Michael Erik Dyson, Come Hell or High Water: Hurricane Katrina and the Color of Disaster
Christopher John Farley, Before the Legend: The Rise of Bob Marley
Anthony Georges-Pierre, Les Partis Politiques Dans l’Histoire d’Haiti
Tom Graham, Getting Open: The Unknown Story of Bill Garrett and the Integration of College Basketball
Melissa Fay Greene, There Is No Me Without You
Roselyn Howard, Black Seminoles in the Bahamas
Uzodinma Iweala, Beasts of No Nation
Edwardo Jackson, I Do?
Marlon James, Iron Balloons: Hit Fiction from Jamaica’s Calabash Writers Workshop
Marie-Elena John, Unburnable
Lisa Jones Johnson, A Dead Man Speaks: A Novel
Edward P. Jones, All Aunt Hagar’s Children: Stories
Jane Landers, Black Society in Spanish Florida
Lyah Beth Leflore, Cosmopolitan Girl
Haki Madhubuti, Yellow Black
Annette McCollough Myers, The Shrinking Sands of an African-American Beach
Elizabeth Nunez, Prospero’s Daughter
Geoffrey Philp, Iron Balloons: Hit Fiction from Jamaica’s Calabash Writers Workshop
Roy G. Phillips, Exodus From The Door of No Return: Journey of An American Family
Leonard Pitts, Jr. Becoming Dad, Black Men and The Journey To Fatherhood
Gene Roberts, Hank Klibanoff, The Race Beat: The Press, the Civil Rights Struggle, and the Awakening of a Nation
Paul Robeson, Jr., A Black Way of Seeing: From “Liberty “ to Freedom
Kimberla Lawson Roby, Changing Faces
Katheryn Russell-Brown, Protecting Our Own: Race, Crime & African Americans
Vickie M. Stringer, Dirty Red
Mel Taylor, Murder by Deadline
Sasha Su-Ling Welland, A Thousand Miles of Dreams: The Journeys of Two Chinese Sisters, Rowman and Littlefield

Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus, Nov. 12 – 19, 2006


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October 25, 2006

Poem: "Confession"


The police bring me in for questioning,

so I won’t be leaving this lockdown alive.

You see, it went this way. The old man came

into my grandfather’s shop, and I ignored him

when he sat on the barrels of mackerel,

the air heavy with cheese and salt.

“You’re too young to remember,

but I going tell you about a Jamaica

that never existed, yet I was there.

A place where man and man lived

side by side, yet hated each other;

where you could poke seeds

in the ground and in two-twos,

there would be trees with the sweetest fruit,

yet people were hungry; a place of fresh water

streams, springs bubbling out of the ever

giving earth, yet people were thirsty;

a time and a place of pastries and puddings

and every earthly delight, yet people

had no joy.” That’s when I told him to stop,

but he wouldn’t. "All who can’t hear must feel,”

is what my father always said.

“Why you torturing me with these fantasies?”

“Because you must know.”

That’s when I hit the bugger. I beat him.

I beat him and I beat him until he was cold,

so he wouldn’t tell anymore lies. And on my life,

Officer, every word I tell you is true.

I didn't want to weigh the blog down with any more information, so added a photostream of the Caribbean authors who will be appearing at this year's Miami Book Fair International on my old trusty website with the new and improved book store .

October 23, 2006

In My Own Words: Pam Mordecai

Pam MordecaiThe Freedom Recipe

Over the years Martin (husband, who writes also) and I have talked about whether writing, all writing, was a unitary act. Is it the same thing to write a speech, a textbook, a critical article, a newspaper editorial, a reference work, a short story, a novel, a play, a poem, a tale for children, a rhyme for toddlers, a letter, a contract? For a long time, I didn’t see how it could possibly be. Now, having done all of these kinds of writing, I’m changing my mind, and I’m being persuaded for a whole bunch of reasons – “of which I’ll share with you”, as the Hon. Bob Nesta Marley says.

For one thing, what the writer wants from the reader, regardless of what is being written, is his or her attention, isn’t it? So whatever the form of writing that the writer is using to capture the reader, the intention is the same. The writer wants somebody to listen, to read, to keep on reading. The other side of the need to have the reader listen up, cric-crac, is the writer’s need to speak, to say something, something important, a thing that insists on being “said”, whether in the plain text or, if the writing must be subversive, in between the lines.

Two grounds, right there, notwithstanding what we write.

And I don’t know how it is for other writers, but when I write, regardless of what I’m writing, or how I approach the writing task, I’ve got this image or shape or feeling inside me somewhere, a sort of embroidery pattern, a sort of magic-pencil outline, a sort of distant melody, that knows how what I’m writing should look, that senses its right shape and sound, somehow. And I know that I have to have faith in this weird process, and that it’s best not to mind other people too much. Take their advice, yes, but not mind them too much.

Also, especially after writing my second book of poetry, de Man –a long performance poem about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that is entirely in Jamaican Creole and that happened in an almost mystic way– the sound that I hear when I’m writing, no mind what I’m writing, is the sound of Jamaica Talk. The rhythms and word play of this language, its verbal sound clash, its shrill or low Anansi keh-keh laughing, this is the noise that drives my tap-tap-tapping on the keyboard. Some poems are out and out completely in this language, like “Last Lines” in Journey Poem, or “Jus a Likl Lovin” in Certifiable.

Some poems, like “My sister red” and “Elsie,” are conversations between English and Jamaica Talk. Some come right out and address the language issue, as in this excerpt from “Me de Man Munro” in The True Blue of Islands:

We control this
supposed English
language employ it
for our rites

our narratives
our sweet civilities

use it for celebration
for love for argument ­–

persuasion for we know
the cost of war.

When Martin and I were writing Culture and Customs of Jamaica, a reference work published by Greenwood Press in the USA in 2000, we argued strongly for a chapter on Jamaican language. I have always thought of Jamaican Creole as the first new thing that all the slaves made together in the island place to which they had been forcibly relocated. The chapter on language became a selling point for the book.

My collection of short stories, Pink Icing, which has just been published in Canada, came a cropper with one publisher in the US because many of the stories were in Jamaican dialect. And that’s too bad. Some other reason would have been okay, but not that one. It’s too bad in this age of languages crisscrossing each other, flying over borders and boundaries, because people will find ways to talk to one another, yes, bredren and sistren, they will. Which is another reason why all writing is the same –because it’s all part of a gigantic written-spoken conversation about everything in the world that people everywhere in the world are determined to have.

Uno, the number one pig, in my play “El Numero Uno or the Pig from Lopinot:” sings:

Compère Lapin, Compère Lapin

Depêche toi, depêche toi!
Uno need the recipe

Or he never going be free
Run like Donovan Bailey!
Run like Donovan Bailey!

The recipe Uno needs is one that will undo a spell cast on two giants: it will turn them back into themselves. There’s a way in which we all need that recipe. One way to arrive at it is by using and delighting in our heart language, the language of home, the language that slides easily onto our tongues and that will find a way to communicate with other languages of heart and home. In this pleading song, our hero, Uno, he of the Spanish name, talks in three languages, French and English and Jamaica Talk, to his friend, Rabbit. And Rabbit understands and goes hopping off to find the freedom recipe which Uno needs.

The late Hon. Louise Bennett Coverley showed us better than anyone how to relish our heart language (a relishing that applies whatever language we speak), how to use if for our rites, our narratives, our civilities, our argument, in other words, how to celebrate it as the language of our lives. All writing is one for that reason too, because we write to affirm the value of our lives, to require that that value be recognized, to insist on all that follows from that recognition.

Even those who write to deny it, avow liberty. Writing is unitary because we write, always, our recipe for freedom.


Pamela Mordecai , author of Pink Icing, was born in Jamaica and wrote her first poem at the age of nine. She has published over thirty books, including textbooks, anthologies of Caribbean writing, children's books, four collections of poetry, and has co-authored a reference work on Jamaica. She has a special interest in the writing of Caribbean women. She lives in Toronto with her husband, Martin.


Next week Monday: In My Own Words: Donna Weir-Soley, author of First Rain.

This week Friday: Five Questions with Marlon James, author of John Crow's Devil.


October 20, 2006

Five Questions With Barbra Nightingale

Barbra NightingaleBarbra Nightingale has had over 200 poems published in various journals, anthologies, and webzines, including, MiPo, Tertulia, The Georgetown Review, Barrow Street, MacGuffin, Kalliope, Calyx, Tigertail, Florida in Poetry, and many others. She has a doctoral degree in Higher Education, and is a senior professor of literature and creative writing at Broward Community College in South Florida. She lives in Hollywood, Florida.

1. Which author and/or book has most influenced you?

The Source byJames Michener, Henderson, the Rain King by Saul Bellow and Sylvia Plath's Ariel probably influenced me the most.

2. How has living and working in South Florida shaped your work?

I am very aware of my natural surroundings in Florida; the heat, the heavy air, the closeness of the moon, the song of the stars. And clouds. Clouds here seem to figure in my work a lot, along with the sea. Also, my best friends in Florida are all poets and the community here has inspired me like nowhere else.

3. Why did you choose the name "Miranda" for your poetic alter ego?

Miranda is a name that came to me in 1981. I have no idea why. It just popped into my head. I liked the syllabic sound of it, but there was really no consciousness in choosing the name. After about 30 or 40 Miranda poems, though, I did start thinking about the connections between Miranda Rights (the right to remain silent--or NOT--) seemed to have special significance.

4. "Love takes off masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within"-- James Baldwin. How does this relate to your poetry?

Because I love what I do (work with words), I use poetry in that same way, as a way to take off the masks, allow the REAL emotions or truths, mostly emotional truths whether the situation is fictional or not, to shine through.

5. What role does myth play in your poetry?

I think that my knowledge of myth and fairy tale has always fed into my poetry, even in the most oblique ways; just in the story telling and suspense and layers of meaning if nothing else.

6. What makes you laugh?

MYSELF. All my silly little foibles, insecurities, mistakes. Life. Love. Everyone.


Next Week

Monday. In My Own Words: Pam Mordecai, author of Pink Icing

Friday. Five Questions With Marlon James.

October 19, 2006

Happy Birthday, OR Dathorne

O R DathorneOscar Ronald Dathorne (1934-2007) was a Guyanese born and bred author who has taught in England, Africa, and the United States. Among others, he has taught at the University of Ibadan and the University of Port Harcourt in Nigeria, Yale, Howard University, the University of Wisconsin, S.U.N.Y.-Brockport, and the University of the District of Columbia. He helped direct the Black Studies program at the University of Ohio, also directed the program of Caribbean, African, and African-American Studies (C.A.A.S.) at the University of Miami, Florida. Now, he is a professor of English at the University of Kentucky. He has published over one hundred learned articles, short stories, poems, plays, and other items of scholarly work. He also founded and is the director of the Association of Caribbean studies.

October 18, 2006

"Calabash Poem" & Canopic Jar

“Calabash Poem” has been published in Canopic Jar #17 which features poetry by Rethabile Masilo and these contributors: Ruth Mark, Tom Conoboy, Poetry, James Owens, Krystal Guo, Corey Mesler, Jeff Crouch, Lorna Goodman, Peter Roberts, Tom Sheehan, Don Moyer, Clifford K. Watkins, Michael Ray Fitzgerald, Hugh Foxy, Gary Beck, and Ed Higgins

And while you’re wandering the aisles, check out the bookstore.


Meanwhile, the countdown to finish "Who's Your Daddy?" and Other Stories continues...

October 17, 2006

Lip Service @ Books & Books, Miami

Lip Service
Direct from L.A. to Miami at Books and Books
265 Aragon Avenue, Coral Gables

Thursday, November 2, 2006 @ 6:00 pm

Lip Service is true stories, read out loud.
It’s raw, moving, sad, honest, intimate, bold, funny.

Featuring Stories by

Rachael Aranoff
Andrea Askowitz

Susan Coppola

Goldie Kossow

Lisa Merritt
Geoffrey Philp

Patrick Quirk
Laura Wides-Munoz

Wayne Willison

Tickets are free and open to the public
Come early, seats go fast.

Produced by Andrea Askowitz and Goldie Kossow

By Sutze Daniel

On Thursday November 2, I attended Lip Service at Books and Books in Coral Gables. It was phenomenal and this type of event provides a corridor for writers who want to mingle with fellow writers and maybe meet publishers and agents. It was the first time that I ever participated in such an event and I found it really..."refreshing." At least for my soul.

Around 50 people attended the event and nine writers, Patrick Quirk, Susan Coppola, Lisa Merritt, Wayne Willison, Rachael Aronoff, Geoffrey Philp, Goldie Kossow, Laura Wides-Munoz, and Andrea Askowitz, read their heartfelt stories. True stories read outloud. They were sad, happy, funny, and outrageously shocking. All the stories were great, but the one that really stood out for me was “Chicken Soup and My Family,” by Geoffrey Philp. The story was basically about a time when Philp and his family were coming down with a severe flu, and Philp explained in this story how his homemade chicken soup cured not only the flu, but the spirit and the soul of his family.

“The soup may not have cured our colds, but it gave us a chance to sit down together and have a hearty meal with equally wholesome company,” as it is said at the end of the story. He drew from his past and how his mother taught him how to perform house chores and not to be a “worthless man.”

Early in his chilhood, Philp knew he wanted to be a writer, and he was blessed with the presence of his mother who continually encouraged him to pursue his dreams. As Philp described it, his mother was “a lover of the words,” and she taught him everything he now cherishes.

“She made me realize that reading and writing involve the most sacred faculty of a human being—the imagination. My mother gave me the space to grow and to develop my talents as a writer and to expand my love for my craft—the rapture, excitement, and discovery that comes with writing.”

Philp was born and raised in Jamaica, and his coming to the United States made him re-evaluate his principles and his beliefs. In his quest to answer the questions to which he could not find answers (when he was a child), Philp found inspiration in his Jamaican roots, especially Bob Marley and raggae.

“Reggae, and especially Wailers flavored reggae, became the means by which I interpreted the world,” he says.

Although Philp acknowledged and was grateful for the works of authors like Oku Onoura, Mikey Smith, Linton Kwesi Johnson, or Mutabaruka, he thought that they “interpreted the world in a socialist point of view, sometimes Marxist point of view.” The way Philp saw the world had a crucial impact on his writing, and although he shared those writers’ visions, Philp wanted his community to see past the anger and celebrate life, celebrate joy. He wants the black community to draw strength from their past, while building a new life through self-acceptance.

“When would we write stories that liberated us from such a narrow vision of our past and ourselves? When would we write stories that portrayed us as shapers of our future and not merely passive agents in our own existence?” is what Philp asks.

As a fatherless boy, Philp had many questions, and they remained, for the most part, unanswered. He had several mentors and role models, but none of them could fullfill the role of a father.

“My story really begins with me trying to write poems to a girl with whom I was head over heels in love and she was tiring of my fake Khalil Gibran poems. I had to look for inspiration elsewhere. At that time Bob Marley’s music was everywhere, and Dennis Scott had resumed teaching at my alma mater, Jamaica College. I began reading Uncle Time, then The Pond by Mervyn Morris, Reel from the ‘Life Movie’ by Tony McNeill, The Arrivants by Kamau Brathwaite and Another Life by Derek Walcott. I now wanted to write poems with the vision of Marley, the intelligence of Scott, the wit of Morris, the lyricism of McNeill, the experimentation and afro-centrism of Brathwaite, and the imagery of Walcott while maintaining the integrity of my own voice.”

As for many immigrants, Philp’s new life in Miami didn’t start out smoothly. I personally relate to the fact that he gave first proiority to work instead of his education because he wanted to support his mother and family back in Jamaica. Many Haitians do the same. But one day, through all the struggles he encoutered as a bag boy at Publix, Philp decided it was time to go back to school. Enrolling at Miami Dade Community College was by far the best choice he had made, for that helped him win the Fred Shaw Poetry Prize Award (at the North Campus) for his poem "The Lady Awaits the Sting," and from that point, “things were looking up.”

When asked about the greatest challenges he has faced in his career, Philp says it is finding a publisher who understands his vision of Jamaica and the Caribbean. “A publisher who believes in the worth of the region and is willing to go beyond stereotypes.” Although Philp is facing all these issues, he still refuses to compromise his beliefs just to sell more copies. And on being an independent writer, here is what Philp has to say:

“If a publisher wants to exploit stereotypes or wants something contrary to my beliefs, then they've got the wrong writer. This is why I've taught and done other things to support myself and my family because my writing is one of the purest things in my life. I will not compromise it for anything.”

Attending the Lip Service was a privilege for Philp. It was the first time he had read an autobiographical piece in front of an audience and he says it was intimidating because it was his life, not the life of a made up character.

When I asked him how it felt to read his story out loud and whether or not he would read on the next Lip Service –on February 24, 2007- he said: “My life was on the line. Would people like it? I never felt so naked in my life. I want to do it again!”

October 16, 2006

Which Six Bloggers Would You Like to Meet?

I’m borrowing and modifying a post by Darren Rowse, “Which Bloggers would You like to Meet?” He listed the first five that came to his head, but I’m going to do him one better by listing six. Take that, Darren!

The choice of the six was done quickly (with pen and paper) and then I worked on the post. So don’t feel no way if I didn’t list you here. My links really do show all the people whose blogs I’ve come across and found interesting. It’s a private blog, so I don’t have to put anyone in my links who I don’t like and you know who you are. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, there are a few bloggers I’ve already met such as, Nalo, Nicolette, Fragano, Marlon, Opal and Richard. I’m leaving some off the list because I’m not a great typist.

The MC for any blogger meeting would have to be Mad Bull --he’s done one before. He’s a kind of person who seems easy to get along with and have a few drinks. And watch the ladies. Of course, both of us are happily married, so we’d just have to look at them and lust in our hearts-the way Jimmy Carter did

Stephen Bess’s posts reveal a fascination with things and the people around him. And when that’s not enough, he goes out and finds more stuff. Stephen has a genuine curiosity about literature, music and history. And he loves food. All four are great with me.

Rethabile is passionate about his country and his posts demonstrate a devotion to place that I wish we all could emulate. He is also a fine poet and patriot. I wish him well in all his endeavors. Khotso, my brother.

Georgia Popplewell is one of those people who seem to be juggling 1,000, 001 things all at once and pulling it off. Whether she’s posting at Caribbean Beat or Caribbean Free Radio, she looks like she still knows how to have good, clean fun.

I really think eemanee is crazy, but I get along well with crazy women. If our Links and Favorites give a snapshot of our mind, then eemanee is crazy about literature and Barbados. 1 Love, sister.

Speaking of crazy women, Guyana Gyal is the Queen of crazy women. I mean that in the nicest way. Her stories about the ups and down of life are not only amusing, but reveal a sense of wonder about the world and along the way, she reveals a little wisdom.

I don’t know what these choices say about me, except that I like good company with a few drinks and talk about literature, life and some music. But you already knew that.

So tell me, who would you like to meet from your experience of blogging?


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October 13, 2006

Five Questions With Michael Hettich

Michael Hettich has published a dozen chapbooks and books of poetry, most recently Swimmer Dreams (Turning Point, 2005) and Flock and Shadow: New and Selected Poems (New Rivers Press, 2005). His honors include two Florida Individual Artist Fellowships and the Tales Prize (for Swimmer Dreams). Flock and Shadow was selected as a national Book Sense Spring 2006 Top Ten Poetry Book and he received the Tales Prize for Swimmer Dreams in 2005. Hettich holds a Ph.D. in literature from the University of Miami. He teaches English and Creative Writing at the Wolfson campus of Miami Dade College and lives with his family in Miami, Florida.

1. Which author or book has most influenced you?

For me, this is a nearly impossible question to answer, since so many writers have been important to me at various stages of my life. I don’t think I could honestly say that any one writer has influenced me most. Looking back on my life, though, I can see a number of moments in which poetry came alive to me in ways that felt fresh and new and fashioned (re-fashioned) my whole conception of things in general and poetry in particular.

When I was still small enough to cuddle beside him, my father sat me down and read poems to me. These were intimate, magical, extremely resonant times for me. I can vividly remember the smell of his whiskey and the sonorous way he sang those poems out to me. Two particular favorites of his were Frost’s “Once by the Pacific” and Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” Of course I understood the Frost only vaguely and the Eliot not at all. But that didn’t matter. What mattered was sitting next to my father, listening to that music not understanding—but realizing that understanding was beside the point.

Later, when I started to write myself, Neruda was extremely important—despite the fact that I read him in English—as well as W.S. Merwin and all those whom Robert Bly labeled as “deep image” poets. And then a little later, at Anselm Hollo’s suggestion, I read O’Hara, Creeley, Olson, and the Objectivist poets—Reznikoff, Zukofsky, Oppen, etc.

It wasn’t until I moved to Denver for graduate school that I first read the Romantics. Wordsworth, particularly “Tintern Abbey,” was a huge influence on how I conceived and approached poetry. Whitman, too, became important to me then as well—though never with the power Wordsworth had over me. At the same time, Gary Snyder was becoming more and more important to my thinking and approach to life and writing.

I also like Robert Sund’s work a great deal….

As I said, it’s very hard to answer that question. I keep feeling as though I’m leaving someone out…

2. How has living in South Florida influenced you?

That’s an interesting question. I moved here from Vermont, and before that I’d lived in Colorado—and I grew up in New York. So my sensibility was very northern, and my internal landscape was filled with mountains and rivers, cold and snow. Moving to Florida was a wondrous experience for me. I remember wading with my wife, that first year, out into the ocean off Key Biscayne at dusk, in winter, marveling at the color of the water, at the fish and birds, at the sky. For all its frustrations, South Florida has remained a place of wonder for me, in large part, I think, because it is so full of plants and flowers and birds and trees I didn’t know, growing up. I am constantly amazed here in ways I don’t think I am in Colorado or New York where the landscape seems so much a part of me I don’t even see it. That amazement has been a great source for my poetry.

3. The poet Marianne Moore speaks about “imaginary gardens with real toads in them.” Does this apply to your poetry?

Marianne Moore speaks of “imaginary gardens with real toads in them,” which is a wonderful conception of one of the ways poetry works. For me, at least in my more recent poems, the statement might better read: “real gardens with imaginary toads in them.” More and more often I find myself imagining a location or setting from my past and them imagining some human interaction in that “real” place. Many of my more recent poems are set in my garden, for example, or in the Everglades, or in northern marshes—real places—and they are peopled by characters who are similar to (maybe) people I actually know, who are doing things I imagine. So, the setting is “real” and the characters and events are imagined. This allows me both freedom and necessary grounding—and a means to dig into things in a way that yields useful material for me.

I like the idea—the practice—of remembering an actual place, a place I know about well enough to move about freely in my imagination of it, and peopling that real place with figures I imagine, who may be like people I’ve known but are not them—and not even that much lie them, either. Thus, real gardens w/ imaginary toads in them.

4. Why is the theme of fatherhood so important to you?

I guess the experience of being a father has enlarged my sense of being in ways that have opened out into joys and griefs that are both more vivid and more painful than they would have been had I not had children. As a father I have become more than merely myself; and how can I speak of that larger self except through poetry? It’s that mixture of joy and wonder, play and affection mixed with (always mixed with) that grief and fear we know from experience. I don’t know whether I can answer this question clearly, other than to say that being a father has been at the center of my being, in that part of myself I go to for poetry as well as that place that needs poetry. Though the subject matter of my poems may not seem to bear this out, I feel as though the poems I’ve written in this vein are attempts to create charms or magic potions to protect them, to keep them content and protected. I don’t know for certain. I do know it’s about love.

The intimacy of fatherhood is realized in the physical and intellectual-emotional-spiritual realms. Maybe poetry allows me to bring these things together, in some brief and fleeting way.

In writing as a father I feel that I get closer to the source of real poetry than I do when writing about anything else.

And as I think about it I also realize that you, Geoffrey, are one of my few brother-poets in this regard, and that you write from the same center of your being.

5. This may be similar to Question 3, but the world of dream also plays an important role in your poetics. Why are you fascinated by these almost surreal landscapes?

Well, to follow up from the last question, I don’t think the poems I write as a father have much of this quality at all, though I’d have to check on that to be sure. I think that a certain surreal—or dream—or folktale or mythic—quality has at times allowed me to distance myself a little bit from the literal fact-truth of things and get closer to the more urgent, more resonant (for me) truth that lies somewhere else. It may be that when I’m writing about “personal” stuff, I don’t feel comfortable with the overtly documentary and thus find my way through other means. I’m not sure. I don know that I enjoy making up stories that can develop outside the parameters of our actual physical experiences, that I’ve always felt that stories/poems like these get at “the unsayable” in ways that excite and intrigue me.

When I was first starting to write, one of my professors gave me the Bly/Wright translations of Neruda and Vallejo. They blew the top of my head off and I set out at that moment to be a poet. It seemed then that I could say anything I wanted and say it safely from the standpoint of the kind of grounded surreality they used, the surreality Bly called the “deep image.”

I also love fairy tales and myths, particularly Grimm’s Fairytales and Native American myths and tales. Also Ovid’s Metamorphosis. I love the idea of changing shape and thus changing my/our relationship to all-that-is. There’s something true there that can’t be gotten otherwise—something visionary, mythic, primal, and rich.

6. What makes you laugh?

A tack stuck into someone’s pompous ass. Watching pomposity embarrassed. Too many things to mention!


Next week: Barbra Nightingale, author of Singing in the Key of L.


At least for today, I'm a featured beekeeper.

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October 11, 2006

In My Own Words: Mervyn Taylor

For someone who started out with ambitions of writing fiction, I've remained loyal to poetry for a long time. I think I began looking at verse as a serious enterprise during my undergraduate days at Howard University. I had left Trinidad in 1964 and landed here in those hectic days when the “Black Power” slogan had begun to rage in American cities. It was my fortune to have the great folk poet Sterling Brown (Southern Road) as one of my teachers. In the same year Professor John Lovell taught an intense course on the poetry of Walt Whitman. For a young man who loved the English language, but only knew it as sternly taught at St. Mary’s, this was a double dose: poetry as instrument for political change and as celebration of ordinary life. Many years later, the tutelage of two poets from very different parts of the globe, Derek Walcott and Joseph Brodsky, would crystallize this schema into actual lines.

Meanwhile, as is the nature of poetry, it began to take a shape of its own, influenced by day-to-day experiences in America, my interaction with natives and with other “foreigners.” In New York through various workshops, I came into personal contact with such writers as Amiri Baraka, and the African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, both of whom had some influence on my own work: Baraka’s for the pure nerve and music of it; Willie’s (since no one could pronounce his name) for the absolute freedom to sing in any language. Out of such meetings, grew my membership in a group called Bud Jones Poets, which boasted among members the late, incredible Fatisha and Wesley Brown, he of the wry wit and unshakeable commitment to the just cause. My own reading led me to the experimental fields of the Beats, through the remarkable retreats of Auden and Roethke and the clear-eyed imagery of Bishop and Olds.

All through this, I listened for my own voice. I wrote many poems, some good, some bad, many mediocre, reaching for an expression that would include a true idiom, its own “native tongue,” as Brathwaite would say, one that would go past the easy slang, the nostalgic geography of the place in the mind. I walked backward to be present at the death of those whose lives I’d missed. I put on the costume and took part in the Carnival, witnessing how hard it is to write with a bear claw, or half drunk in the town. I saw the fraud emerge at times and let him cry on my shoulder. I cried on her shoulder when love tapped me, and showed me her poem, the possibility of it, shining, outdone.

From it I’ve managed to winnow three books, An Island of His Own, The Goat, Gone Away, and a CD, Road Clear, done in collaboration with bassist David Williams. In them are poems that go back and forth between the big city and the island, that note the human condition and effort in war and in peace time, that seek to find the part of the bell that resounds most sincerely, that move toward the kind of forgiveness that asks only, in the words of my father, that we try “not to let it happen again.”

Mervyn Taylor was born in Trinidad. He is the author of three books of poetry: An Island of His Own (1992), The Goat (1999), and Gone Away (2006), and a CD, Road Clear (2004), done in collaboration with bassist David Williams. About the poems in his latest collection Debbie Jacob wrote in her column in the Trinidad Guardian, "Lost in the cold and unable to return home to the tropics, the West Indians of Taylor's poems reach as far as they can: Florida." Mervyn Taylor lives in Brooklyn, New York.

October 10, 2006

Countdown for "Who's Your Daddy?" and Other Stories

Who's Your Daddy CountdownThe countdown for the completion of my collection of short stories, “Who’s Your Daddy?” and Other Stories has begun!


I’m beginning a series, “In My Own Words,” to promote Caribbean writers who will be reading at the Miami Book Fair International. Mervyn Taylor, author of Gone Away, kicks off the series tomorrow.

Finally, the poll on Bob Marley and Rastafari is going well, but I really want to hear from the Africans. Yes, Marco, I know we are all Africans, but I want to hear from the real-real Africans from Nigeria, Lesotho, Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Ghana...

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October 9, 2006

You Never Can Tell: Autumn Poem

The Internet and life continue to amaze me. Simple things become huge and the sure bets wither. It’s always been that way and will, I guess, continue.

Let me explain.

On Friday, September 22, 2006, I got up at 6:00 am to begin working on my collection of short stories tentatively titled, “Who’s your Daddy?” and Other Stories. My usual ritual before writing is to surf the net to free up my mind and to get the brain cells going. I popped over at Stephen Bess to see what was going on over at his place. As I was reading the comments from the usual suspects (ToastedSuzy, Sumeeta , Stunuh Jay, urban butterfly and Guyana-Gyal ), I noticed that Rethabile had posted this: “Challenge: It is a nice picture indeed. The challenge is to complete the following sentence: "It is Autumn, and this road..." A sentence, not a poem. Anyone? Friday, September 22, 2006 6:22:48 AM

So, I got to work writing the poem. Honestly, I was just looking at the picture (it reminded me of a park in South Florida) and thinking about the time when a girlfriend of mine (she’s now my wife) were on the verge of breaking up. I remembered how I felt at the time-- that it was all over and that I was happy just to have spent the brief life and times with her. Everybody had said our relationship wasn’t going to last and I figured, they were right. I wrote the poem in that mood, and then turned my attention to trying to figure out the next thing that of one my characters was going to do. You see, I have to ask my characters. If they don’t feel like talking that morning, they won’t. Some of them who are Tricksters in true Anancy fashion will lead me down a path of 1000 words or more, only to leave me high and dry, so the next morning I have to begin at the crossroads where on the morning before they’d left me. The next morning, some of them hide when they see me; some pretend as if nothing happened. Some try to kiss me and tell me they won’t do it again (I pretend to believe some of them and with others I really do believe). And some, especially the women, walk up brazen-faced with their calico dresses, flopping in the wind and sit down beside me: “Is everything all right, Geoff? What’s botherin’ you, hon? Tell me. If is that Guyana-Gyal again, I will go down there and cut her you know. I will cut her!” And I have to say, “No, it’s all right, darling. It’s all’s all right.”

Some just laugh and say, “Fooled you!”

After writing the poem, I didn’t think anything else and went about my business. However, this morning as I was checking out my statistics on 103bees that was mentioned in Darren Rowse’s, Problogger (which I recommend for tips about blogging), I noticed this amazing statistic:

103bees Search Term Analytics: Top landing pages

Webpages with most search engine hits - last 7 days
  1. /2006/09/autumn-poem.html : 124 hits
  2. /2006/04/bob-marley-and-seven-chakras.htm..:40 hits
  3. http://geoffreyphilp.blogspot.com: 32 hits
  4. /2006/05/meanings-of-bob-marleys-songs_03...: 28 hits
  5. /2006/02/happy-birthday-mervyn-morris.htm...: 26 Hits
  6. /2006/07/fable-of-freedom-i-shot-sheriff....: 23 hits
  7. /2006/06/happy-birthday-martin-carter.htm..: 18 hits.
  8. /2006/05/how-will-our-stories-be-told.htm..: 15 hits
  9. /2006/02/happy-birthday-tony-winkler.html: 14 Hits
  10. /2006/08/reggae-rastafari-and-aesthetics....: 12 hits

I’ve only listed the top ten and the tables (not supported by Blogger) are much more user-friendly. 103bees has a whole list of other services that have sometimes helped me figure out my next post, especially when my characters are sulking and wanting to go their own way.

I guess my point is you never can tell what will grow and flourish and what will wither. Posts that I spent hours writing have do not have as many hits as “Autumn Poem,” which I wrote in less than an hour.

I know, I know, it’s a seasonal thing, so this, too, will pass. And, no, I don’t have any conscious plans to write winter or spring poems.

One thing I do know is, win or lose, I will continue to be as honest as I can be in all my writing (blogs, short stories, plays, novels, and poems), and continue to wish I had the time to devote the maximum time to write about all the characters/ideas that are in my head.

Now, the big challenge will be to find a publisher or an agent for “Who’s your Daddy?” and Other Stories.

What do you think?