December 16, 2006

Happy Birthday, Dennis Scott

Dennis ScottI first met Dennis when I was in first form at Jamaica College. He taught drama and I can still remember the long walk from 1 Murray up to Hardy House where we were greeted by this shorn, impressive man who had a voice like —what Kamau Brathwaite would call an “organ voice.” We were all intimidated and I think we all behaved ourselves in his class for the rest of the year.

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.

Give thanks.

From Peepal Tree Press:

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.



Anonymous said...

Dennis was a lovely person, and a good friend. The world is a poorer place for his not being in it.

Anonymous said...

This morning I sat down to do some research on Dennis. As I search the internet I found several articles on him, for example the review of Uncle Time by Mary Hanna, August 20, 2006 and a review of a production of Othello at Yale in which Charles Dutton played the lead.

As I read these articles I recalled a few moments spent with Dennis, while I was one of his students at the Jamaica School of Drama. As a young father and student my son’s mothers migrate to the cooler “climes” USA to be exact, and I was left with the job of raising my son. It was a cool gig. I would from time to time feel the stress of this sudden life experience and the need to call her for advice or just to keep her a breast of activities. I was, like most of us in the class of 84, broke and needy. Dennis noticed the changes in me, ask me about it and I told him about my plight. He noticed that I was still “in love” and patiently, kindly, reassuringly offered me several choices. He would then provide me the opportunity to make that one call for just a few minutes. I really appreciated that.

I have never forgotten the first time I was criticized in his fist year acting class at the Drama School. I took it personal and Dennis intervened. From that day on my sensitivity faded. It made me a better person, a better theater professional.

In the afore mentioned review of the Yale production the NY Times reviewer spoke of the scant scenery. That brought back memories and I can recall Dennis’s use of space and the imposition of himself into space. He walks into the room and it was full. He commanded the space and wanted us, his students to do the same. It is exactly how I remembered Scott; asking his class, students, actors to fill space with their body, their presence. It is that presence that is also illuminating in his writing and was evident the 1980’s production of Dog by the Graduate Theatre Company of the Jamaica School of Drama.
Followers of Scott such as Carol Lawes and the capable Rawle Gibbons also made sure that the legacy of Scott was transferred to some of us in the class of 84. Any follower or admirer of Scott can recall his catlike movement, dancer-trained body and well “educated” posture.

As I continue my research on his life and read and reread his work I am forming a more vivid picture of the man I knew and admired for so long. I am also learning more about this man. For several years his name and voice has been ringing in my ear. I waste no time whenever I announce to people, “remember that baldhead man that use to be on the Cosby show? Lester Thibodaux, he was a teacher of mine.” and taught us he did.

He was more than that to me. As I proceed with this project I will attempt to look at things in a different way. The way D. Scott would have wanted me to look. It is an honor to write this, but cannot end without endearing all to revisit his work and in so doing explore, Morris, Hill, Baugh and Brown. Much love to Uncle Time.

Mikey Jiggs
Owings Mills, MD