December 19, 2008

"Christmas Evening" by Geoffrey Philp

Geoffrey PhilpTwelve Poems and A Story for Christmas describes the journey of a newlywed couple, Mary and Joseph, to their ancestral homeland where they are to be registered in a census decreed by a tyrant.

Mary is pregnant and Joseph knows that the child she is carrying is not his. As they travel through the harsh landscape, they are joined by strangers who have been summoned by dreams, visions, and supernatural events to bear witness to a child whose birth they are told is destined to change the course of human history.

Christmas Evening

Joseph still couldn’t understand
what the mystery was all about.
He’d been there when the contractions
shook her small frame, when she wailed,
and dug her fingers into his arm—called out
his name, then her water broke.
He slept beside her on the straw, waited for hours
until the screaming child came into the world,
gazed deep into his eyes, then placed him
between his mother’s breasts, soothing
his cries, and while she was falling
asleep, cleaned them up, cut the cord.

Now there were strangers from all over
the countryside coming into the cave
filling the air with more raw animal smells,
shepherds, sinners, and other neer-do-wells,
who were either drunk or mad,
claiming they’d seen visions
of heavenly hosts of angels, bright
as the moon over the Sea of Galilee.
Joseph shook his head, rocked the manger,
still waiting for the miracle that he’d been promised
when God held his finger and gurgled.

I'll be taking a break from blogging to be with my family and (non-virtual) friends. I'll be back on January 12, and I've got great things planned for 2009!

Until then, give thanks to all who have stopped by, subscribed, bought a book, commented on or linked to a post. It has been a pleasure to share some time with you and I hope the words from either this blog or my books have brought a little light, a little joy into your lives.

Have a Merry Christmas & a Happy New Year!

December 17, 2008

Elizabeth Alexander: Poet for Obama 's Inaugural Ceremony

Elizabeth Alexander
Elizabeth Alexander was chosen by the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies to read at the swearing in ceremony next month.

Over at the Guardian, Jay Parini muses about the reasons why Alexander was chosen:

In a sense, the Obama team remains pitch-perfect here. The choice of Alexander to read is brilliant. She represents black American culture, but she says to the audience: "We're here, and we're very smart and well-educated, fully aware of western European culture in all its complexity; yet we retain an allegiance to our own past, our roots, our needs, our vision."

Photo Source: Elizabeth Alexander Home Page

Update (1/21/2009: Text of the Inaugural Poem from The New York Times:

Praise song for the day.

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

Elizabeth Alexander is the author of four books of poems, The Venus Hottentot, Body of Life, Antebellum Dream Book, and American Sublime, which was one of three finalists for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize. She is also a scholar of African-American literature and culture and recently published a collection of essays, The Black Interior. She has read her work across the U.S. and in Europe, the Caribbean, and South America, and her poetry, short stories, and critical prose have been published in dozens of periodicals and anthologies.

Derek Walcott on "Resistance to the Dominant Esthetic."

Derek Walcott
Derek Walcott's advice to young writers to avoid "bright trash" like this is particularly welcome in this time when there seems to be an imbalance in the publication of "lyric and narrative verse."
One of the most accomplished literary figures of modern times, Walcott is on campus to participate in the Great Minds, Nobel Ideas program, bringing Nobel laureates to the U of A from the Caribbean and Africa. He is the first Nobel winner to visit the U of A as part of the program.

Walcott explained that he grew up in St. Lucia, "a very, very small, obscure, semi-literate island in the Caribbean," and was not the least bit embarrassed by it. Since it was far from the world's cultural centres, he was able to resist assumptions of the dominant esthetic, which can be trite and suffocating, he said, resulting in the production of what he calls "bright trash."

If the standard of the centre were the only possible measure, "you would not have (Gabriel Garcia) Marquez writing about his little town in Colombia," he said. "You would not have (William) Faulkner writing about an absolutely obscure hamlet in Mississippi."

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December 15, 2008

Caribbean Poetry Night @ Morella Art Gallery

Ricardo Pau-Llosa at Morella Art Gallery
After much planning and prayers, the poetry series at the Morella Art Gallery began with Caribbean Poetry Night on December 13, 2008.

It was a pleasure to read with Ricardo Pau-Llosa and to share with the audience the work of poets from the Anglophone and Hispanophone Caribbean whose poems we admire or in some way influenced our development as writers.

I began with excerpts from Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas and read poems by Dennis Scott, Anthony McNeill, Lorna Goodison, Pam Mordecai, and Kei Miller. Ricardo read from his latest collection, Parable Hunter, and the poems of Belkis Cuza Malé, Heberto Padilla, José Lezama Lima, Margara Russotto, Vicente Gerbasi, and J. G. Cobo Borda.

Morella Art Gallery, which hosts an impressive array of Naïve art, will soon be unveiling a year round schedule of events and exhibitions for the next calendar year.

For more photos of this event, please follow this link: Caribbean Poetry Night @ Morella Art Gallery.


December 13, 2008

On the Second Day of Christmas...

Geoffrey PhilpOn the second day of Christmas, an extraordinary Jamaican, Dennis Scott, gave me the gift of storytelling.

Faith is not something that is easy to come by. It begins and ends in a mystery. Sometimes it takes mimicry--acting as if you have it-- or a blessing--someone else believes you have it. This is how many writers begin and continue writing--their belief in themselves and the faith of an elder writer.

To read more of my guest post @, please follow this link: Yes, Me Tinking, R U

December 12, 2008

"Shepherd II" by Geoffrey Philp

Geoffrey PhilpTwelve Poems and A Story for Christmas describes the journey of a newlywed couple, Mary and Joseph, to their ancestral homeland where they are to be registered in a census decreed by a tyrant.

Mary is pregnant and Joseph knows that the child she is carrying is not his. As they travel through the harsh landscape, they are joined by strangers who have been summoned by dreams, visions, and supernatural events to bear witness to a child whose birth they are told is destined to change the course of human history.

Shepherd II

From the edge of the wilderness,

under the sky's wintry glare, goats

bleat at dried streams, thin blades

sliver the ewe's tongue, camels

cough in the dust--have we gone

too far, our faith too much

like madness? For we alone are sure

of what we've seen; our sons totter

from sleepless nights, the sand

tears their eyes, our daughters'

hands, hardened from pounding

corn against stones. And barely

holding our robes, we lower

our heads against the wind

that tatters whatever was left

of our pride. Yet, our reward

lay on the cold straw, warmed

by our bodies, so close to God:

helpless, naked, tired, cranky, one

of us, and we peered through holes

in the thatched roof toward heaven

and delighted in the dance of that star.


December 11, 2008

Jamaican Dub Poet Malachi Smith Awarded Life Saving Award

Malachi Smith
On Tuesday, December 9, 2008, dub poet Malachi Smith received a Life Saving Award from the Miami-Dade Police Department.

On January 23, 2008, Officer Malachi Smith responded to an emergency call from a personal residence and upon arrival, he observed Mr. Clinton Hamilton clutching his throat and desperately gasping for air.

Malachi did a quick assessment and determined that Mr. Clinton was choking on a foreign object. Malachi quickly administered the Heimlich maneuver which effectively dislodged the food that was obstructing Mr. Clinton’s airway. Mr. Clinton rapidly recovered with no injuries.

The citation noted that Officer Smith’s quick response, incredible determination, and valiant efforts saved Mr. Clinton’s life. It also stated that Officer Smith is a credit to the Miami-Dade Police Department and the community he serves.

In addition to the life saving award, Malachi received a Certificate of Appreciation from Northside District for his professionalism, teamwork, and dedication to duty to the community and the Northside District. Malachi was also recommended for a departmental award for assisting in the tactical take-down of an armed robbery suspect who had barricaded himself inside an occupied residence.

Malachi has been with the Miami-Dade Police Department for 10 years and he works out of the Northside Station as a Field Training Officer (FTO). Prior to migrating to the US, Malachi served the Jamaica Constabulary Force for 12 years. He left at the rank of detective corporal.

A founding member of the critically acclaimed Jamaican dub poetry group Poets in Unity, Malachi was a James Michener Fellow at the University of Miami where he studied poetry under Lorna Goodison and playwriting under Fred D’Aguiar. He has recorded four albums. Malachi's latest Offering Luv Dub Fever was released this year.


December 10, 2008

Derek Walcott @ World Book Club: Rewind

Derek WalcottHarriett Gilbert interviews Derek Walcott about his epic poem Omeros. Among the highlights of the reading and the Q&A are Walcott’s observations about "ancestors," the terror of terza rima, and the “accident” of metaphor.

Please follow this link to listen to Derek Walcott's interview:


December 9, 2008

Top Ten Hits 2008 @ Geoffrey Philp's Blog Spot

As the year draws to a close, I’ve been reviewing via Google Analytics the Top 10 most visited pages on this blog and I was quite surprised by the results:

1. "Little Boy Crying" by Mervyn Morris: An Appreciation

2. The Meaning(s) of Bob Marley's Songs

3. Colonial Girls School" by Olive Senior: An Appreciation

4. Bob Marley and the Seven Chakras

5. "A Fable of Freedom: "I Shot the Sheriff"

6. "Epitaph" by Dennis Scott: An Appreciation

7. "Reggae, Rastafari and Aesthetics

8. "Five Songs I Must Have for my iPod

9. "Get up, Stand Up”: The Noble Truth of Rastafari

10."Chicken Soup and my Family

After two years, 708 posts and 163,368+ hits, I’d say not bad. Not bad.

Fred D'Aguiar @ Poetry

Fred D'AguiarFred D'Aguiar is a poet, novelist, playwright, born in London of Guyanese parents and raised in Guyana. He teaches in the MFA and African Studies programs at Virginia Tech. His sixth poetry collection, Continental Shelf, is forthcoming from Carcanet.


The shoemaker’s wife ran preschool
With a fist made not so much of iron
But wire bristles on a wooden brush.

(Source: Poetry)

December 8, 2008

Caribbean Writers, Conservation & Ecology

"I love this land although it has spilled our blood,"

My father roared as we hiked down the valley.

"I spring from these rocks, my bones from this clay.

Can you name this stream--where you were conceived?"

"And now because you've studied abroad,

You think you can lecture me, get in my way

From chopping down trees that fed you every day

Paid for all the book learning in your head?"

"Don't you care what happens to future generations?"

I brushed cobwebs from our path."They'll be inheriting this mess!"

"Choose to eat or save the planet later," he said, machete in hand,

"When you can give me answer to that question,

Your ideas are useless," as he moved through the darkness--

Like those helmeted conquistadores who discovered this island.

This is the first time that I've published a poem of which I'm still unsure. I did it anyway because bloggers and blog readers often lead the first wave of an idea within a culture, and this idea was far more important than my quibbling aesthetics.

The genesis of this sonnet has many sources. The primary inspiration, however, grew out of a reading/lecture by Robert Wrigley and Campbell McGrath at Florida International University on December 4, 2008. The reading took its name from Wrigley's latest book, Earthly Meditations, and was designed to begin "a discussion on the connection between nature, community, and a sense of place in the context of South Florida, focusing on literature as a means of shaping attitudes toward the environment."

During his introduction of Robert Wrigley, McGrath cited Shelley's now famous line from the "Defence of Poetry": "Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world." Campbell connected that statement to Coleridge and Wordworth's Lyrical Ballads,--an influence on the writings of Emerson, Thoreau, and John Muir. It was Muir's friendship with Teddy Roosevelt, the de facto father of the National Park System in America, that led to the preservation of the Everglades, of which many of us in Florida are now the beneficiaries.

The poems in Lyrical Ballads, as Campbell also pointed out, would go on to influence a generation of poets, and once they became enshrined in Palgrave's Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics, would skip across the pond to the British West Indies and find their way into the work of poets such as Derek Walcott, Kamau Brathwaite, Philip Sherlock and John Figueroa. Whether the aesthetic was accepted or resisted (Oak vs. Mango), the influence remains undeniable--a point that Kamau Brathwaite made clear to the poets who attended the Caribbean Writers' Summer Institute. So one could, in fact, trace a poetic lineage from the publication of the Lyrical Ballads through Palgrave's Golden Treasury to the poets who attended the CWSI.

Unfortunately, at least for now, that is where the resemblances end. The Romantic poetic tradition became part of the consciousness of those who influenced American and British politics, but I can find no evidence of a similar movement in Caribbean politics. There are many reasons for this. And they begin with our history of slavery/colonialism and poverty.

It is very difficult for a people to love a land which has been the source of so much physical and psychic trauma.

The Caribbean unlike Britain was viewed as a place to be exploited and everyone who came here--willingly or unwillingly--saw the land either as a curse or place to be pillaged. These attitudes are still prevalent. For whereas many British, Scottish, Welsh, and Irish poets can trace back into pre-history the verbs, nouns, and phrases that seep into their verse (e.g. Seamus Heaney), the Caribbean cannot boast any such sustained loving relationship with the land.

And yet we must change. A cursory reading of the columns of John Maxwell's columns in the Jamaica Observer reveals that Jamaica is in the midst of an ecological crisis. And although Maxwell may be dismissed as a Cassandra, nature has a way of taking care of herself and quite often it is humans who pay the price in the form of "natural" disasters and disease. We can either act now or pay the price later.

But what do I know? I'm a writer living in Miami--the second source of inspiration for the poem. A few weeks ago at the Miami Book Fair International, Junot Diaz made a point when a reader asked him about the benefits of winning the Pulitzer for The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. One of the advantages Diaz asserted was that it gave him a voice in Santo Domingo. Before he was often dismissed with the phrase, "You don't live here anymore and you don't know what it's like living here everyday, so you shouldn't say anything."

Which leads me to the heart of the poem, and the ongoing father-son dialogues in my fictions. For at the center of this poem is a statement by Lynne Barrett during the Q&A of the reading/lecture. Lynne said that poets and writers when writing about conservation and ecology too often "preach to the choir." What about the other side? Shouldn't they have a voice too?

Lynne is correct. Tragedy is never right versus wrong. It is often right versus right and the ecological crisis in the Caribbean is as the result of two rights: the necessity of preserve the land and the overwhelming poverty of the region. The father in the poem represents economic interests of which the son is an inheritor and the son represents the young intellectual from the Diaspora who is trying to bring change to the island and to avert a disaster that will surely take place if proper stewardship is not exercised.

So, what do we do? Starve now to save a nebulous future, or eat now and worry later?

These are the important questions which I hope we will consider. And although the writing business is considered to be highly competitive, this is one area that I hope some young poet will do me one better.


December 5, 2008

Signifyin' Guyana Short Story Competition

Signifyin' Guyana is sponsoring a short story competition for Guyanese writers and the deadline is 1 April, 2009. The winners will receive, in addition to publication, US$500 for the first place, $300 for second place, and $100 for the third place.

In order to fund the competition, Signifyin' Guyana has set up an account with ChipIn so that we can all assist with the support of emerging Guyanese writers.

As many of the readers of this blog know, I've lived by the motto: It's better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. The choice to live as an artist, even in places such as New York, London, or Paris, is never easy. For artists in the Caribbean--a region that is hardly known for its patronage (individually or institutionally) of the arts--the ability to sustain a creative life is precarious at best.

So, I've made my donation in support of the competition and if you'd like to assist, here is the link to ChipIn:

December 3, 2008

tongues of the ocean: accepting submissions for the inaugural issue

tongues of the oceantongues of the ocean is a brand-new online literary journal of Bahamian, Caribbean and related poetry which is currently accepting submissions for the inaugural issue.

Deadline for submissions: January 15, 2009

Poems: Send 3-6 original poems and a bio of no more than 50 words to

No attachments, please. Paste the poems and the bio into the body of your email. If your poem requires special formatting, let us know that. If we like your work enough to consider it, we may ask you to send an attachment.

Spoken Word: Send one poem in MP3 format as an attachment to an email to The email should include a bio of no more than 50 words.

Simultaneous submissions are welcome. Let us know the minute your work is accepted elsewhere.

Poems posted on blogs or online workshops are welcome, especially if they benefitted from their earlier showing.

Previously published poems may be considered, provided you let us know where and when they were published.

Submissions for entry page art: Send photographs or artwork in JPG format and a bio of no more than 50 words to This is for web publication, so the art need not be at full resolution to submit. If we need a higher resolution for any reason, we may ask you to send it as an attachment.

Here’s some of the stuff we’ll be including in tongues:

writers on writers - writers talk about the work of another writer. Like a review, only hotter. Bahamians & residents only, to begin with, but we’ll get friendlier as we go on. We’d like to start with a focus on Bahamian and Caribbean greats.

bredren and sistren - section for Caribbean and Southern US writers, for West Africans - for our siblings and cousins in the diaspora, and for our spiritual kin around the world. We reserve the right.

catch a fire - in every issue we’ll include a section inspired by word prompts, which we’ll post with the call for submissions. For now, this is the only place we’ll accept fiction, and only flash fiction (for our purposes, fiction under 500 words). Prose poems are welcome. Transgress boundaries. Push.

catch a fire issue 1 prompts:
finesse, liquid, cedar, hunger, float

What we’re looking for:
Poems that excite. Poems that move us, that make us laugh, or cry, or stop and say wow. Poems that present familiar things in a fresh way, that make old packages new. Poems that suggest you have some passing acquaintance with the greats of our region, or with the greats of the world. Poems that dance. Poems that sing. Poems that test the boundaries of our language, and poems that show its beauty. Poems that make us think; poems that make us go ooh.

What we don’t want:
Stuff we’ve seen before, in countless different forms, that doesn’t bring anything new to the page. Stuff that was done better by e. e. cummings, T. S. Eliot, Susan Wallace, Maya Angelou, Allen Ginsberg, Langston Hughes, or Gwendolyn Brooks. Stuff that really should have stayed on the pages of your journal. Stuff that isn’t ready. Stuff that makes us go eeuw.

Our region is a region of wonder, of celebration. It’s the region of Lord Kitchener and the Mighty Sparrow and Mikey Smith, of Kamau Brathwaite and Lorna Goodison and Derek Walcott. Our writers wrestle with the languages they inherit: European flesh on African bones. Our world surprises us with its vitality. Seeds tossed on our soils grow into big trees. We want your best trees.

We look forward to reading and hearing your work!

Editor-in-chief: Nicolette Bethel

Spoken Word Editor: Nadine Thomas-Brown


December 1, 2008

Caribbean Poetry Night with Geoffrey Philp and Ricardo Pau-Llosa

Ricardo Pau-Llosa and Geoffrey Philp will be reading from their own work and that of other Caribbean poets on Saturday, December. 13, 2008, at 8 p.m. at the Morella Art Gallery, on the strip on Hollywood Boulevard, in Hollywood, Florida. The reading will be in English.

The event is a celebration of the wondrous images and rhythms which emanate from the Caribbean—the world’s first true melting pot of races, cultures, religions and languages.

“Ricardo and I have wanted to read together for a very long time and after his reading at the Miami Book Fair International, he and I just sat down and worked out the details,” said Philp. “I’ve always admired Ricardo’s work and this will be an opportunity for us to share with others not only our own work, but the work of poets whose work has influenced us.”

Pau-Llosa adds, “The Caribbean is the mother of the New World. It is a paradoxical region—fragile and intense, a lush paradise that also gave birth to the first agro-industries on the planet, a setting that melds cultures and creeds but where ancient rites and beliefs thrive to this day. Its poetry captures all of this.”

Date: Saturday, December 13th

Time: 8 PM, with reception to follow the event

Morella Art Gallery
2029 Hollywood Blvd
Hollywood, FL 33020


About the Writers:

Ricardo Pau-Llosa is a Cuban-American poet, pioneer art critic of Latin American art in the US and Europe, and author of short fiction. His books include Parable Hunter (2008), The Mastery Impulse (2003), Vereda Tropical (1999), and Cuba (1993)—all from Carnegie Mellon U Press. He was recently featured on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS, and his work has appeared in numerous anthologies. His website is

Geoffrey Philp is the Jamaican-American author of Benjamin, my son, Uncle Obadiah and the Alien, numerous poetry collections, and a children's book, Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories. Geoffrey teaches English at Miami Dade College where he is the chairperson of the College Prep. Department at the North Campus. His next collection of short stories, Who's Your Daddy?: And Other Stories will be published by Peepal Tree Press in April 2009.

November 28, 2008

“Trust the Darkness – My Life as a Writer" by Tony Winkler

Tony WinklerAnthony (Tony) Winkler, will officially launch his autobiography “Trust the Darkness – My Life as a Writer” at Bookophilia 6:30pm on Monday, December 1, 2008.

Winkler was born in Kingston, Jamaica. He attended schools in Kingston and Montego Bay and left Jamaica when he was 21 to pursue a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in English. A teacher in his 2nd form English class at Cornwall College, one Mr. Findlay, first noticed his talent for writing.

Years later, working as a textbook salesman in California, he realized that he could improve on the writing in the books he was trying to sell. Instinctively, he wrote and submitted two chapters which earned him his first book advance of $1,000. He has been writing passionately ever since.

He is a member of the Writer’s Guild of America and he was elected president of the Atlanta Jamaica Association for two terms. Winkler’s first novel, “The Painted Canoe”, took ten years to write, and a similar length of time to find a publisher, with Jamaica’s Kingston Publishers releasing the book in 1984, followed by “The Lunatic” (1987), “The Great Yacht Race” (1992), the autobiographical “Going Home to Teach” (1995), and “The Duppy” (1997). The U.K.-based Macmillan Caribbean acquired Winkler’s catalogue and published “The Annihilation of Fish and Other Stories” in 2004, and “Dog Wars” in 2006. He also wrote the film scripts of “The Lunatic” and “Fish”, and co-wrote “Bob Marley, My Son” with Cedella Marley Booker.

Tony and his lovely wife, Cathy, were married 33 years ago on All Heroes in the small village of Colgate in St. Ann, Jamaica. Cathy travels with him to various appearances.

Host: Bookophilia
Date:Monday, December 1, 2008

Time: 6:30pm - 7:30pm

Location: Bookophilia

Street: 92 Hope Road

City/Town: Kingston, Jamaica

Contact Phone: 9785248


As a lover of all things Winkler, I'm going to be one of the first to get this book.

November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving, 2008!

My mother’s first impression of America was the abundance that it offered. She’d just left Jamaica in 1977—a time of shortages and privation—and came to live with her sister in Hollywood, Florida. As soon as she landed, my aunt took her to a local supermarket and as my mother walked through the doors, she was confronted literally by a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables. Tears ran down my mother’s face. It was a scene she would never forget and she repeated this story so many times that it became a part of our family’s story: America’s promise of opportunity and abundance.

And yet, America is so full of contradictions! For even as our extended family sits down to eat our Thanksgiving dinner, there are many in our neighborhood who are now facing foreclosure and with barely anything to be cheerful about this year. These are hard times and its difficult to reconcile my mother’s story with some of the things I’ve seen and experienced. Over the years, it has also been difficult to celebrate this holiday because I came to America as an adult and I did not grow up with the mythology surrounding Thanksgiving.

But I’ve learned and I have my children to thank for this. There is a saying, “There are no atheists in foxholes,” or as David Foster Wallace once said, “There is no such thing as not worshipping.” My version would be, “Parenting makes you a believer.” It takes a lot of faith to be a parent—trusting that despite everything and as long as they don’t do something crazy that everything will be all right. It’s the crazy part that keeps me up at night.

Over the years, however, my children have taught me how to celebrate this season of giving thanks and though I was slow to get into it (like the other celebrations such as Halloween—pirate, indeed!), they have taught me that this holiday is about family—sharing a meal, breaking bread with those whom we love and cherish and who in return love and cherish us. Come what may. Come what may.

Enjoy yourselves and each other.

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all & see you next week. I’m on holiday.


November 26, 2008

Patwa Bible?

At first, I was very skeptical about this, but after listening to the translation, I was moved by its power.
clipped from

The Bible Society has completed half of its translation of the New Testament of The Bible into Jamaican Patois. Religious affairs correspondent Robert Pigott reports on how it has received an emotional reaction both among native speakers and critical traditionalists.

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November 24, 2008

Literary Authenticity & the Caribbean Writer

Ruel Johnson and Michael Gilkes (thanks, Nicholas) have been discussing “Guyanese (and by extension Caribbean) literary authenticity” in Stabroek News and Living Guyana. Although this question of “authenticity” is connected to the idea of limited resources (i.e. we don’t have a lot of money; therefore, we should publish only those who are “worthy”), it seems as if we have been having this discussion for decades.

And while these debates are useful, they become tedious when they limit “authenticity” to the time spent in a locale (or to race, gender, or sexual preference). For what these arguments have in common is a focus on the
identity of the storytellers rather than the “authenticity” of the story—which is the real issue at stake. Storytellers come and go, but the story of the Caribbean continues to evolve--waiting for storytellers to respond to the relationship between a people and a place through time.

So how do we know if a story is authentic? According to Walter Fisher, an audience evaluates a story by two criteria: fidelity and coherence. Based on Fisher’s theories “Coherence can be best defined as if a story makes sense structurally. Is the story consistent, with sufficient detail, reliable characters, and free of any major surprises? The ability to judge coherence is learned, and improves with experience.” Narrative fidelity is "concerned with whether or not the story is true and Fisher has five guidelines for evaluating narrative fidelity:

  • questions of fact that examine the values embedded in the story, either explicitly or implicitly

  • questions of relevance that consider the connection between the story that is told and the values being espoused

  • questions of consequences that consider the possible outcomes that would accrue to people adhering to the espoused values

  • questions of consistency between the values of the narrative and the held values of the audience

  • questions of transcendence that consider the extent to which the story’s values represent the highest values possible in human experience

Therefore, the identity of the storyteller—however that is defined—is irrelevant to the story of the Caribbean which I’ve defined as “The nations of the Antilles that share a common history of colonialism under European dominance and whose Creole identity has been shaped primarily by the merging of African and European cultures and most recently by Asian influences.”

I suppose these debates over literary authenticity and the identity of our storytellers are part of the racial, political and social struggles of the region and will continue as long as the idea of Otherness (based on race, creed, gender, sexual preference—and now time spent in the Diaspora) persists. But these are extra-literary criteria. The real question is how can we increase the publication of stories that illuminate the evolving story of our region: Who are we? Where are we going?


Geoffrey Philp@ Tavares Public Library

Beth Sindler,Harry Coverston, and Geoffrey PhilpI had done my usual research about the city of Tavares and I’d prepared the list of poems for my reading on Sunday, November 9, 2008. But halfway through the very generous introduction by Harry Coverston, I realized that I’d have to change everything.

It wasn’t the first time that I’d changed the format of a reading and when I follow my gut, things work for the best. So I went with reading most of the poems from Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas, and based on the audience reaction, I made the right choice.

Twelve Poems and A Story for Christmas presents the story of Mary and Joseph from the point of view of a newlywed couple, and its starting point was a couplet from the poetry of Angelus Silesius, the mystic poet who rendered in verse some of the teachings of Meister Eckhart:

Of what use, Gabriel, your message to Marie

unless you can now bring the same message to me!

Although it was a small audience, which included my sister and niece who live in Orlando, they seemed genuinely interested in the poems and in the history of Jamaica, Reggae, and Rastafari.

Give thanks to Beth Sindler of the Tavares Public Library, Harry Coverston, and the Florida Humanities Council. It was a pleasure to be invited to read and I am sure our paths will cross again.


November 21, 2008

Anancy @ Bob Graham Education Center

Me and Anancy were in the news again. This time in The Miami Laker (thanks, Eddy Glenn) for my reading from Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories at the Bob Graham Education Center on November 13, 2008.

This reading was particularly memorable for me because of the enthusiasm of the children which came out in their questions and their request.

You see, I normally follow the routine of introducing myself and Anancy, and then, I begin my PowerPoint presentation about Anancy, the Middle Passage, and Tricksters in mythology and folklore. I usually end with a reading a chapter from Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories and answer a few questions.

The children at Bob Graham Education Center took me out my routine. They asked lots of questions. I mean lots! And they wouldn’t allow me to leave until I read another chapter from the book.

Thank you Bob Graham Education Center and all the children, teachers, media specialists, and administrators for inviting me to your school. I will never forget how special you made me feel.


Four Poems From the Past: Geoffrey Philp

Geoffrey Philp
A blast from the past--from when I was a yute at the University of Miami's Caribbean Writers' Summer Institute: "Packing Song," "Tamarind Time," "Last Will," "Heirlooms," and "Exile."

You will need Real Player to view the video: Geoffrey Philp reads @ CWSI


November 19, 2008

Anancy @ Miami Book Fair International

Geoffrey PhilpLast week, as part of the Miami Book Fair International's Student Literary Encounters, I had the privilege of reading at these four schools: Howard Doolin Middle, Jorge Mas Canosa Middle, Bob Graham K-8, and Miami Lakes K-8.

I've never felt more useful in my life!

The students, faculty, media specialists, and staff of Dade County Public Schools made me feel right at home, and I must congratulate them for their courage. For in this FCAT driven climate, it's quite easy to give in to a test driven curriculum and teach only to the test. Instead, these teachers and administrators welcomed me into their schools and exposed the children to a little extra learning--which is always a sign of a healthy academic environment.

And what can I say about the students? They were attentive and asked me some really tough questions. I mean it. Some of them had already read through the book and at Miami Lakes K-8, they came prepared with questions that they'd written on index cards. They delved deep into my past and asked questions about bullying at Jamaica College, the themes in Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories, and the differences between writing a children's book and my other books. And those were the easier questions!

At all the schools I visited, I could tell that the teachers and media specialists had done their homework. They provided the students with my bio, a list of my books, links from Wikipedia, and at all four schools, they had bookmarked my blog. Talk about making me feel special. Thank you!

Finally, I'd also like to Roberta Kaiser and her staff from Dade County Public Schools, who arranged for me to visit the schools. Of course, none of this would have been possible without the unwavering support of Alina Interian of the Florida Center for Literary Arts and Penny Thurer of the Miami Book Fair International, who have been a blessing for the past twenty-five years. Give thanks!


For more photos of this event, please follow this link: Anancy @ Miami Book Fair International

November 18, 2008

"Let No Harm, for Barack Obama" by Mervyn Taylor

Mervyn Solomon and Mervyn TaylorWonderful synchronicities happen at the Miami Book Fair International. For it is not only a place to listen to local and international writers, but it also presents the opportunity to make new friends and to meet old companions. I was lucky enough to literally bump into Mervyn Taylor on Sunday.

We talked a bit about Tony McNeill’s poetry and the need for a definitive edition of his collected poems, and then, he offered me this poem about Barack Obama that I am pleased to share on this blog.

Thank you, Mervyn, for this gift.

Let No Harm

for Barack Obama

I pray no harm comes to this man

walking along a lonely stretch of road

that the bandits with ideas of robbing him

retreat upon seeing his face, and hearing him

calculate the size of the world.

He has traveled long on the way to the market,

the junction where the barterers come with mules

and millet, the harvest of their labor.

They have heard he has enough resources

to redeem the debts of sufferers,

That into his clothes are sewn pockets

that hold the weight of coins minted

in the currency of every country.

He has been coming for years, redoubling

through villages where curtains part to fling

yet another message. And now he counts

on the mercy of the stars, that he has not

read them wrong, that the people

who have come to trade have not grown

impatient, and packed up and gone.



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.


November 17, 2008

"The Torturer's Wife" by Thomas Glave

Thomas GlaveAuthor of the acclaimed story collection Whose Song?, award-winning Thomas Glave is known for his stylistic brio and courageous explorations into the heavily mined territories of race and sexuality. Here he expands and deepens his lyrical experimentation in stories that focus—explicitly and allegorically—on the horrors of dictatorships, war, anti-gay violence, the weight of traumatized memory, secret fetishes, erotic longing, desire, and intimacy.

Thomas Glave is an O. Henry award-winning author and was named a Village Voice Writer on the Verge in 2001. He is the author of Whose Song? and Other Stories, Words to Our Now: Imagination and Dissent (winner of the Lambda Literary Award for Nonfiction), and editor of Our Caribbean: A Gathering of Lesbian and Gay Writing from the Antilles. He is the 2008-2009 Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professor in the Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Praise for The Torturer's Wife:

"The Torturer's Wife is one of the most interesting American books I [have] read in the last years. It is not the usual publisher's product, but a literary text that incites the reader to become a conscious and seduced re-reader."

—Juan Goytisolo, author of State of Siege and A Cock-Eyed Comedy

Praise for Thomas Glave:

"Glave's disruption of form is a powerful metaphor for sexual, racial, and geopolitical disjunctions. Glave is a gifted stylist . . . blessed with ambition, his own voice and an impressive willingness to dissect how individuals actually think and behave."

New York Times Book Review

"Thomas Glave walks the path of such greats in American literature as Richard Wright and James Baldwin . . . He cuts to the bone of what it means to be black in America, white in America, gay in America, and human in the world at large."

—Gloria Naylor, author of The Women of Brewster Place

"What a writer! What a book! Glave is a brilliant writer of startlingly fresh prose . . . His stories are intricate tapestries of life rendered through a triumphant act of the imagination.”

—Clarence Major, author of One Flesh

Publisher City Lights Publishers

ISBN-10 0872864669

Publication Date December 2008

List Price $15.95


Miami Book Fair International: A Recap

Bob Graham and Geoffrey PhilpThe twenty-fifth anniversary of the Miami Book Fair International ended last night and besides the enormous pride of having been invited to read a few times and to meet authors and personalities whom I admire, the overwhelming emotion is gratitude for having been a part of this journey with so many of my friends and their families who have grown up with the fair.


Okay, so I didn't make it to all the writers that I wanted to see, but the ones that I saw were remarkable.

I started off the morning with Jeffrey Renard Allen, Nina Revoyr, Preston Allen, and Brenda Flanagan. Then, I slipped out during the Q&A to listen to the Trinidad massives: Lisa Allen-Agostini, Elizabeth Nunez, and Willie Chen, who I had longed to meet after reading Chutney Power. Mr. Chen lived up to the humorous persona of his stories, and although his short story in Trinidad Noir was unlike many of his other tales, he managed to inject some comedy into the reading: "I'll skip over to the salient parts because the book fair people are so gracious, they have prepared some good food for us. And I don't know about you, but I prefer to eat than to eat." And I wanted to say, "No, Mr. Chen, no. Read. Read."

After a brief meet-up with Sharon Millar of My Chutney Mind, I introduced Dennis O' Driscoll, whose droll sense of humor emerged between poems for Robert Haas and Csezlaw Milosz. Next, came Cyril Dabydeen, who read from Drums of my Flesh and paid homage to his three identities: Guyanese, Indian, and Canadian. Sindiwe Magona followed with her harrowing tale in Beauty's Gift, the story of four women who lose their best friend prematurely to AIDS.

By the time I caught a late lunch, I met up with Lisa Allen-Agostini and we managed to chat away most of the evening--talking shop and gossip before promising to meet her at the author party later that night.


I didn't make it to the author party (sheer exhaustion), but I went to the reading by Brian Antoni and Steven Gaines--two avid chroniclers of South Beach excess.

Next I was off to hear Lili Bita and Peter Hargitai, my former teacher at UM, and then, to Richard Blanco and Michael Hettich, who read selections from Tigertail: A South Florida Poetry Annual, Brazil issue.

I barely had enough time to catch my breath or a brief snack before running off to Junot Diaz, Amitav Ghosh, and Austin C. Clarke--three writers described by Miami Herald critic, Ariel Gonzalez, as "uniquely qualified to explore themes of displacement and oppression."

I decided to buy their books online rather than wait in the line and went over to listen to Elisa Albo and Vicki Hendricks, and ended the evening with the poetry of Ricardo Pau-Llosa. Ricardo's poetry was the perfect ending for the days of mental excitement and gave me the time to reflect as I was lulled into the majesty of his imagery and the beautiful art that accompanied his presentation.

If the next year's program promises to be anything like this year's, then I can hardly wait for the twenty-sixth anniversary.


For more photos of the Miami Book Fair International, please follow this link:
Miami Book Fair International, 2008.

November 15, 2008

"Father Poem" @ Terry Howcott

Every now and then, some generous people come along and they combine a poem of mine with some stunning photography.

Terry Howcott is one of these people.

Please visit her web site and see what she has done with "Father Poem."

Thank you, Terry!
clipped from
November 14, 2008


Geoffrey Philp

blog it

November 14, 2008

Miami Book Fair International: My List of Writers

Miami Book Fair InternationalThis is another year when I will attempt to do the impossible—listen to all of these writers at the Miami Book Fair International.

I will also be introducing Sindiwe Magona (Beauty's Gift, Kwela Books), Cyril Dabydeen (Drums of My Flesh, TSAR Publications), and Dennis O'Driscoll (Stepping Stones: Interviews with Seamus Heaney, Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Reality Check: New Poems, Copper Canyon Press) at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday, November 15, 2008 in the Prometeo Theater.

You can click here to download the complete Fairgoer’s Guide:

Miami Book Fair International Guide.

Adelman, Robert: Mine Eyes Have Seen: Bearing Witness to the Civil Rights Struggle, Time Inc. Home Entertainment

Allen, Preston: All or Nothing, Akashic

Allen-Agostini, Lisa: co-editor, Trinidad Noir, Akashic

Antoni, Brian: South Beach: The Novel, Black Cat

Askowitz, Andrea: My Miserable, Lonely, Lesbian Pregnancy, Cleis Press

Atlas, James: publisher, Atlas & Co.

Baker, Phyllis: A Dreamer's Journey, Educa Vision

Banks, Russell: Dreaming Up America, Seven Stories; The Reserve, Harper

Bass, Rick: Why I Came West: A Memoir, Houghton Mifflin

Bita, Lili: Women of Fire and Blood, Somerset Hall Press

Blanco, Richard: contributor, The Portable Island: Cubans at Home in the World, Palgrave MacMillan

Bragg, Rick: The Prince of Frogtown, Knopf

Butler, Robert Olen: Intercourse: Stories, Chronicle

Campbell, Rick: Dixmont, Autumn House Press

Castro, Adrian: poet, CINTAS Foundation

Chen, Willie: contributor, Trinidad Noir, Akashic

Cisneros, Sandra: The House on Mango Street, Bloomsbury; Caramelo, Vintage

Clark, C. M.: The Blue Hour: Poems, Three Stars Press

Clarke, Austin C.: More, Thomas Allen Publishers

Corley, Linda: The Kennedy Family Album: Personal Photos of America's First Family, Running Press

Cruz, Nilo: Anna in the Tropics, Dramatist's Play Service; Two Sisters and a Piano and Other Plays, Theatre Communications Group

Dabydeen, Cyril: Drums of My Flesh, TSAR Publications

Davies, Carol Boyce: Left of Karl Marx: The Political Life of Black Columnist Claudia Jones, Duke University Press

Díaz, Junot: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao: A Novel, Riverhead; La breve y maravillosa vida de Óscar Wao, Random House

Dufresne, John: Requiem, Mass., W. W. Norton

Flanagan, Brenda: Allah in the Islands, Peepal Tree; You Alone are Dancing, Peepal Tree

Garcia, Cristina: I Wanna Be Your Shoebox, Simon & Schuster; A Handbook To Luck, Vintage

Gassenheimer, Linda: Mix 'n' Match: Meals in Minutes for People with Diabetes, American Diabetes Association

Giovanni, Nikki: Hip Hop Speaks to Children: A Celebration of Poetry with a Beat, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; Lincoln & Douglass: An American Friendship, Henry Holt

Grippando, James: Leapholes, American Bar Association;Last Call, Harper

Hall, James W.: Hell's Bay, Simon & Schuster

Hargitai, Peter: Millie, iUniverse

Hass, Robert: Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005, Ecco

Johnson, Charles: Mine Eyes Have Seen: Bearing Witness to the Civil Rights Struggle, Time Inc. Home Entertainment; Middle Passage, Scribner

Lehane, Dennis: The Given Day: A Novel, William Morrow

Leonin, Mia: Unraveling the Bed, Anhinga Press

Manigat, Max: editor, Cap-Haitien Excursions dans le temps, Educa Vision

McGrath, Campbell: Seven Notebooks: Poems, Ecco

Medina, Pablo: translator, Federico Garcia Lorca's Poet in New York: A Bilingual Edition, Grove

Meeks, Brian: Paint the Town Red, Peepal Tree

Moore, Carlos: Pichón: A Memoir, Race and Revolution in Castro's Cuba, Lawrence Hill

Nunez, Elizabeth: contibutor, Trinidad Noir, Akashic

Pau-Llosa, Ricardo: Parable Hunter, Carnegie Mellon University Press

Philp, Geoffrey: Grandpa Sydney's Anancy Stories, Mabrak Books

Rushdie, Salman: The Enchantress of Florence: A Novel, Random House

Santiago, Esmeralda: El amante turco/The Turkish Lover, Alfaguara

Simon, Scott: Windy City: A Novel of Politics, Random House

Souljah, Sister: Midnight: A Gangster Love Story, Atria

Soyinka, Wole: author, Cities of Refuge Program

Standiford, Les: The Man Who Invented Christmas: How Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol Rescued His Career & Revived Our Holiday Spirits, Crown

Strand, Mark: Blizzard of One: Poems, Knopf

Trelles, Emma: Little Spells, Goss 183

Walcott, Derek: Selected Poems, Farrar, Straus & Giroux; Omeros, Farrar, Straus & Giroux

Wish me luck & if you get a chance, drop by and see me , nuh?


November 12, 2008

Outstanding Writer Award 2008: Geoffrey Philp

Jamaican writerFirst, I want to thank the Jamaica Cultural Development Commission and the judges for this award. It means a lot to me to be counted among the many great writers who have been honored by this body. The "Outstanding Writer" award is a recognition that my work has brought a little discernment to the two questions that a literature must answer: Who are we? Where are we going?

In order to answer these questions, I've had to explore the affinity that I, like many Jamaicans, have with the stories of the Bible. Jamaicans, as an Israeli friend of mine once said, are the "Jews of the Caribbean." We take our Bible stories seriously. We believe that they are our stories and they were written just for us.

Then, there is the relationship between fathers and sons, which I've explored in my novel, Benjamin, my son and in an upcoming collection of short stories, Who's Your Daddy? and other stories.

The poem I'm going to read, "Isaac's Sacrifice," an excerpt from Dub Wise, tries to answer these questions. The poem examines Abraham and Isaac's father and son story from Isaac's point of view. This story has always troubled me. I've often wondered how Isaac must have felt after his father's attempt to murder him in the name of his god. As a son, the inheritor of his father's promise and legacy, how could he fit his father's actions into his belief system? The story asks these questions and many more.

So, where are we going? As a storyteller, I can give only tentative, plausible outcomes. But if it's any solace, one thing that the biblical narratives reveal is that despite the sometimes horrendous actions of our elders, our stories will survive us. But we must be truthful in our telling and collecting if we are to remain alive, and perhaps, find a way to forgive.

Isaac's Sacrifice

I wonder if he ever spoke to his father
again? I mean, there he was playing
marbles in the dirt with his friends,
or out in the fields flying a kite
while John Crows circled over the tamarinds.
And then, his father's familiar bellow,
"Isaac, get the donkey, and stop
with those fool-fool games!
And what have I told you
about playing with those little hooligans
who don't wear any sandals?" But this time
it was different. This time his father was as cross
as a jackass with a burr on its tail.

They climbed the hill without a word
between them, and Isaac gathered the sticks
and bramble, washed himself clean in the cool
springs the way his father had ordered him,
before he left to gather stones…

And when they were both finished,
Abraham, tears in his eyes, asked Isaac
to lie down on the makeshift altar
and being a good son, Isaac obeyed,
even when he saw the long knife
hovering over his chest and didn't blink,
even as Abraham said, "This is not about God,
it is to teach us who we are,"
then turned, as if he had heard
another voice and found a new sacrifice.

As they descended the hill,
and Isaac was kicking stones
out of the path without Abraham
complaining about ruining his new sandals,
and patting him on the head, saying,
"My boy, my only begotten son,"
trying to be his friend, again,
Isaac probably held Abraham's trembling
hand against his cheek, and forgave him,
yet he couldn't help but think,
"What would have happened
if the old goat hadn't been so lost?"