December 13, 2007

Holiday Break

Happy New Year

Another year has come to an end, so I'm signing off until January 14, 2008. It's been a wonderful year and I want to thank all the readers who have blessed these pages with their interest, the authors who have shared their journeys with me, the bloggers who have linked to this site, and those who have supported my online book store.

Take care of yourselves, have a great holiday, and an even brighter New Year!


Look out for "In My Own Words: Nicolette Bethel" on Wednesday, January 16, 2008.

December 12, 2007

Beauty Will Find A Way

Mexican petuniasWhile I was busy with holiday shopping, bureaucratic activities and teaching, little did I know that my Mexican petunia had been secretly planning to embarrass me. She had jumped from the garden, planted her feet on a crossbar in the fence, and then, squeezed herself between the crevices to show her petals shamelessly to passersby and for any errant bee to pollinate.

So, on Saturday when I caught a glimpse of her poking her head through the fence, my first thought was to chop off her stems and petals, pull her out by the root, and feed her to my next door neighbor's pet rabbit. After I had placed her in good soil with lots of sunlight and water, this was how she repaid me? Ungrateful wench!

But then, I went behind the fence and saw her persistence to escape the shadow of her more stately sisters, roses and azaleas, I realized that I needed to cherish and to capture, however momentarily, her beauty.


Give thanks to Dave Lucas for inviting me to write a guest post over at his site and to Jamaican Dawta for publishing one of my poems that was awarded a medal by the JCDC, "Warner Woman (For Edward Baugh).


Also check out "Honey Dripper" by Duane Francis (Rootzpoet) and while you're at it read Doris Lessing's, "A Hunger for Books." Thanks, Maud!

December 10, 2007

Jamaican Athletics: A Model for the World

Under the distinguished patronage of the Consul General of Jamaica, Hon. C.P. Ricardo Allicock, the Consulate General of Jamaica will host a book signing for Judge Patrick Robinson of the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, on January 4, 2008, from 6:30 pm to 9:30 pm at the Lexington Hotel, Downtown Orlando, 304 W. Colonial Drive, Orlando, Florida.

Judge Robinson’s book, Jamaican Athletics - A Model for the World, analyzes the phenomenon of Jamaica’s achievements in global athletics and suggests models for further successes. Five dollars from the sale of each book will be donated to the Arthur Wint Basic School in Lucea, Jamaica.

“This small treasure of a book by distinguished jurist Patrick Robinson is a feast for any fan who’d like to know more or be refreshed about Jamaican track and field: its history, the structure---including the national federation, the secondary schools sports association, the junior levels, and CHAMPS (national HS championships)”--Coach Stephen Francis, junior and senior national records, international competition.

For information please contact Sandy Isaacs @ 407-272-7522 or e-mail Lewis Buchanan @


December 9, 2007

Christmas Night II

The cool December breeze

wanders through the town,

aimless as shooting stars

over a pasture where a heifer

breaks the glass of a pond

and splashes toward a clear

opening, for even the goats

have come down off the stony

hillside to rest by the roots

of the allamanda--it's time;

time to wash away

the smoke of the year's turmoil,

to put aside profits, gains, losses--

the familiar ache that brings

tears in the bathroom mirror--it’s time;

time to listen to the wind's

chorus of the children's carols,

time to untie the knots in the old

men's arms, loosen the cords

around the old women's hips, crown

with poinsettias the young girls' hair,

garland the young men's shoulders--its time;

time to smooth the lines,

dampen the fires in the wrists, knees, elbows,

and pour the balm of aloe over the new

skin that we are becoming

with every flicker of candles

reflected in the circle of faces

of those here, gone, and to come,

whose only promise is joy.


From Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas.

December 7, 2007

An Interview With Mervyn Morris

Mervyn Morris was born in Jamaica in 1937 and studied at the University College of the West Indies and St Edmund Hall, Oxford. In 1992 he was a UK Arts Council Visiting Writer-in-Residence at the South Bank Centre. His previous collections include The Pond, Shadowboxing, Examination Centre and On Holy Week; he also edited The Faber Book of Contemporary Caribbean Short Stories and published 'Is English We Speaking' and other essays. He lives in Kingston, Jamaica, where he is Professor Emeritus of Creative Writing & West Indian Literature.

When did you first realize that you wanted to be a writer?
In my teens, I think. At first I wrote short stories. I also wrote light verse.

Was there a moment of doubt? Did you ever say, “What am I getting myself into?”
Not really. I kept my day job.

Did you have any mentors? If so, who were they?
In a general sense, my English teachers.

Poetic influences?
A major influence, I suspect, was the fact that in sixth form at Munro College our English master chose The Age of Johnson for our Special Paper (at a time when many other schools were choosing The Romantics or Early Twentieth Century). So at a formative age I was studying poetry which seemed to say, whatever its rhythmic and tonal subtleties, that it wished, at some of its frequencies, to be immediately understood. At school early in the 1950s I was also reading in English journals some of the Movement poets who valued a cunning plainness, in reaction against grand rhetorical gestures they often deemed bogus.

Like other poets colonially educated, I’ve been influenced by English Literature in general, and by bits and pieces of it, especially Shakespeare. At the University of the West Indies, I was introduced to some of the Metaphysical poets (John Donne, George Herbert, Andrew Marvell), and learned to appreciate ambiguity (a recurrent feature in Shakespeare also, of course). I have been teaching West Indian Literature since the 1970s and have been influenced by it, especially from studying the major poets. But I tend to be influenced not so much by the entire oeuvre of anyone as by particular poems or passages I have admired—poems by Hardy, Yeats, Eliot, Graves, R.S. Thomas, Larkin, Frost, Roethke, Stevie Smith, Langston Hughes, Louise Bennett, Walcott, Brathwaite, Martin Carter, Lorna Goodison and many others.

In your early career, how did Dennis Scott, Tony McNeill, and Wayne Brown figure in your development?

I was Warden of Taylor Hall (UWI, Mona) from 1966 until 1970 (when I joined the Department of English). Dennis, Tony and/or Wayne often dropped in at the Warden’s house. Tony was working for the Jamaica Information Service, I think. Dennis and Wayne were students on campus. We would often show each other poems we were working on or thought we had finished. The friendship was mutually supportive, I believe. I think I was strengthened by access to the responses of Dennis, Tony and Wayne. Approval from Tony was greatly valued, but he did not often say much about what he didn’t like. Dennis was very good at pointing to a line or a phrase and asking, “Can you get away with that?” Wayne was often brutally challenging, and for that reason very useful (even when I believed him to be mistaken). He would question the very basis of what you were trying to do. At that time, he was demanding visceral commitment.

What were some of the challenges you had to overcome with the publication of The Pond?

None that are unusual. I had some rejections before I found a publisher. (Looking back, I am glad that some of the earlier collections I was peddling were rejected.)

How has your work changed from The Pond to I been there, sort of?
I think it is tighter. It is certainly less expansive.

What has been the greatest challenge in your career?
Each time, the challenge to get the next collection published.


Related posts:

December 5, 2007

A Conversation with Peter Schmitt

Peter SchmittPeter Schmitt is the author of four collections of poems: Renewing the Vows, from David Robert Books (August 2007); Hazard Duty and Country Airport (Copper Beech Press); and a chapbook, To Disappear, from Pudding House. He has received The Lavan Award from The Academy of American Poets; The “Discovery”/The Nation Prize; and grants from the Florida Arts Council (twice) and The Ingram Merrill Foundation. His poems have been featured on National Public Radio’s Writers Almanac (read by Garrison Keillor), and his poem, “Packing Plant,” won The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival open competition in Farmington, Connecticut, in 2001, chosen out of 632 entries. His poems have appeared in many leading publications, including The Hudson Review, The Nation, The Paris Review, Poetry, and The Southern Review, and have been widely anthologized. He has also reviewed poetry for The Miami Herald and The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. A native Miamian and graduate with honors from Amherst College, where he studied with Richard Wilbur, and from the University of Iowa, where his teachers included Donald Justice, Peter Schmitt has taught creative writing and literature at the University of Miami since 1986.

Where were you born? Describe current family life.

I was born in Miami, and to my surprise, am still living here. My local family consists of my mother, who lives in Bay Harbor. I’m single, and share my residence with Chelsey, a highly intelligent and mischievous 17-year-old cat.

What do you do for a living? Why did you choose this vocation?

I have taught creative writing (poetry and fiction) and literature at The University of Miami since 1986. As a student at Amherst College, I was considerably influenced by certain teachers (like Richard Wilbur, Barry and Lorrie Goldensohn, and David Sofield), whose balanced careers of teaching and writing seemed a highly attractive model to emulate. By about 20, to write and to teach at the college level was what I wanted to do with my life, and I’ve been fortunate to have achieved that goal.

Who are your favorite writers? Why?

It’s very difficult to narrow the list to only three, but I would cite these poets: Elizabeth Bishop, from whom I learned that “quiet” and “understated” need not mean “minor;” Robert Frost, who brought home to me the centrality of metaphor, who for all his association with the natural world, with only one or two exceptions never wrote a poem without a person in it; and Donald Justice, also born in Miami, and one of my own teachers [at the Iowa Writers Workshop], whose dedication to art and to the craft of poetry provided an example that I will always hold before me, if never match. As with Bishop and Frost, Justice epitomizes clarity and reveals an emotional power made keener by restraint.

What was the first book you fell in love with and how have your reading habits changed over the years?

My mother claims I began to read at two, but as I don’t remember, I also can’t recall what must have been the first book I loved, though surely there was a first and have been many. I will say that I’m quite a slow reader—having read so much poetry over the years that I’ve become an ear-reader rather than an eye-reader. I wish I had more time for reading—reading of all things, especially novels. Significant gaps loom in my reading I’m embarrassed to admit to.

What are you reading now?

Just at the moment, I am as usual in the middle (slowly) of several books: poetry collections by Jim Daniels, Elise Partridge, Alison Townsend , and Natasha Trethewey; story collections by Max Apple (which I hope to review) and William Trevor; a novel by Brock Clarke, An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in NewEngland (good title); a history of Florida hurricanes, by Jay Barnes; and several magazines and literary journals (Atlantic, New Yorker, Paste, Hudson Review). Over the coming break I hope to make some headway in Robert B. Shaw’s Blank Verse, a form I teach in my poetry writing classes.

On Friday (12/7/2007) I will be featuring an interview with Mervyn Morris.

December 3, 2007

My Jamaica: Part Two

JamaicaMona had changed. It was not the manicured lawns of my childhood nor was it the world that I'd described in some of my stories that I'd published in Uncle Obadiah and the Alien in which my friends, Paul, David, Pat, Bruce, and Norman appeared in my thinly disguised fictions about growing up in Jamaica.

In fact, I didn't see any children playing cricket or football as we had done at Top Park, Bottom Park, and the community center, or in front of our homes. It was a symptom of the exodus that began in the late seventies when I and many of my friends left for London, New York, Ontario, Atlanta, and Miami. This saddened me a bit because it was in Mona Heights that I developed my sense of community and learned how to foster many of the relationships that have played an important part in my life.

I walked through the streets like a ghost, unknown and not knowing anyone, until I reached the gates of my aunt who had lived in London, Ontario, and New York. I didn't expect her to be home because the process of moving her possessions from all the previous places where she had lived had been slow, and at her advanced age, she is often in transit between continents and the island.

I knocked on the gate and one of my cousins, Paul, peered up from behind his car. This was a sure sign that she was home because Paul has been charged by my uncle (her brother) with taking care of my aunt whenever she is in Jamaica. He opened the gates and went around the back to tell my aunt that she had a surprise: I was home.

Paul and I chatted for a while and he told me that his brother, Hew, had moved to Canada and that everyone in the family had seen the review of Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories in the Jamaica Observer. We continued talking until my aunt came outside to the verandah and greeted me. She was as feisty as ever and chided me (only as she could) about not calling beforehand. I accepted the mild reprimand as we sat and she asked about my family and work. We talked about my mother and she told me that she was proud of me. I accepted the blessing.

Then, she asked me where I was staying and she offered to give me a ride to the hotel. I told her that I wanted to visit my old school and she understood. I said goodbye and as I walked through the gates, I looked back at the woman who I admired for being one of the most independent of my grandfather's children. She had never got married, never had any children, never took any crap from any man, and never compromised on anything. And now she was being helped into a car by my cousin.

I crossed Daisy Avenue and then, over to Hope Road to Jamaica College where I was confronted by a security guard. (So many sentries have been appearing in my life!) I told him that I was a former student and he allowed me into the school to take a few pictures, yet he watched my every move.

As I walked by St. Dunstan's, past the names of the JC Old Boys who had died in World War I, I saw behind an open window, the eager faces of young men behind desks in what was once One Chambers. I used to be one of them. I snapped a few pictures of the school and felt vaguely nostalgic about the place that been the setting for my semi-autobiographical novel, Benjamin, my son. Of course, I had to take pictures of "Holy Ground," and the Assembly Hall, and then, went back to Mona on a hunch, a feeling that Paul Smith, one of my childhood friends was back in Jamaica.

I was right. The hunch paid off. Paul wasn't home, but his helper gave me his address and synchronicity! His business, Reggae Vacations, was right beside my hotel in the heart of New Kingston. I practically ran back to Hope Road, jumped in a mini-bus that now played music videos instead of CDs, and headed off for Half-Way-Tree.

From Half-Way-Tree, I walked over to Reggae Vacations and went up to Paul's office. I knocked on the door. No answer. I knocked gain. Still no answer. I went down stairs and talked with a receptionist who insisted that Paul had not left the building.

I want upstairs and knocked again. Nothing. Then, I heard a voice that I was certain was Paul's coming from an adjacent office. I knocked on the door. Silence. A voice said, "Come in." It wasn't Paul's. I backed away from the door. A moment of hesitation. The door opened and my Idren, Paul, was startled. He laughed. He immediately introduced me to his friend, and we were off to eat at one of his favorite East Indian restaurants in Liguanea.

It was if we'd never had a break in seeing each other. We picked up the conversation since he told me about three years ago that he was leaving for Dominica. During that time, we'd exchanged a few e-mails, but nothing big. We bragged about our kids and families. Paul said that he was surprised to see me because I hadn’t mentioned the trip on my blog. I knew he had subscribed, but I thought he was still in Dominica working with their tourist board. After a few laughs and Red Stripes, he told me about his work with the cruise industry and about another of our friends, Norman Pennycooke.

Paul, Norman, and I go way, way back. Our friendships started at Mona Primary. Norman's mother was our teacher in sixth grade and we were the three kings in our annual Christmas play. I was Gaspar ("Gold"); Norman was Melchior ("Frankincense"), and Paul was Balthazar ("Myrrh"). When we graduated from Mona Primary, we went to Jamaica College where our friendships deepened and was tempered by competition and cooperation.

Norman, as it turns out, was doing well in Dominica and that was expected. We'd attended the best high school in Jamaica (take that Kingston College and St. Georges!). In between clients for his reggae themed vacations, I teased Paul that he'd never capitalized on his music lessons, but he told me in some ways that had paid off. A few years ago, he was the leader of a reggae band, MLC (Mid Life Crisis) and they'd played a few gigs around the island.

We started calling friends around the island and I learned that Bruce was now a successful dentist in May Pen. I asked about Errol McDonald (Macky D) who given me the name, "Herbert Spliffington." He said Errol was in Ghana touring with a reggae band. For the most part, most of our friends were doing well, but then the dread catalog began: those who had been killed or became killers; those who had died from natural causes or had become invisible in America; those who were on the FBI's "Most Wanted List," and those who had suffered from an extreme case of "lead poisoning" to use one of Jimmy Carnegie's favorite euphemisms.

By the time we had caught up with everybody and everything, it was dark and we decided to go to the Top Park in Mona Heights. There we saw old friends like Larry Smith, Boothes, and Peter Moses. Peter teased me about gaining the extra weight since my Manning Cup Football days, and then, he went off to play with the "old timers." Men my age or a few years older.

As we were about to leave, Paul's sister, Gail, came by and we sat down and ate barbequed chicken (Okay, Peter, I hear you!) and talked some more until nine o'clock We reminisced about the annual Christmas fair at the community center where many of us smoked our first cigarette or kissed or first girlfriend. Or got caught doing both. Sometimes on the same day and by different parents.

We finished the chicken and our beers at about ten thirty and followed Gail back to her house. Paul drove me back to the hotel and promised me he would pick me up the next day and take me to the airport.
I slept well that night and got up the next day, ready to go back to Miami and to read at the Miami Book Fair International.

As I waited for Paul on a bench near the reception area of the hotel, I looked up at the hills how much I had missed waking up every morning as Paul, Norman, Bruce and I walked to Jamaica College. I was glad that I hadn't given into my fears and that I'd seen Kingston on foot and by taxi, bus, and mini-bus. I remembered Minto's comment about me becoming Americanized and yet in some ways how I had remained stubbornly Jamaican.

I opened Kendel Hippolyte's Night Vision with the haunting phrase, "our first generation of unmeaning," and I became conscious of how much I had changed and my connection with the generations that had grown up since I had left in 1979 was tenuous at best. My impending mortality in the face of my aunt (I turn fifty next year), and that my football friends were now called "old timers" stayed with me.

Listening to the hotel workers going back and forth as they did their duties, I realized that Jamaicans laugh at the sheer pleasure of being alive. No matter how hard the times, how dread the circumstances, we laugh. A lot.

I glanced across the front of the hotel. The two guards that I'd talked with the day before were outside smoking cigarettes and I told them about my adventures. One said that I was brave and one hinted that I had been very foolish to go out on my own like that. But that's Jamaica for you. Put two Jamaicans in a room and you'll have three different opinions. And all of them are right!

I sat back on the bench and looked at the hills once again. I closed my eyes and gave thanks for the good time, however brief, that I'd had on my return.

When I opened my eyes, my Idren, Paul, had pulled into the driveway to take me to the airport and back to Miami.
For photos of the trip, please follow this link: My Jamaica.
On Wednesday (12/5/2007), I will be posting"A Conversation With Peter Schmitt," and on Friday (12/7/2007), I will be featuring an interview with Mervyn Morris.