May 31, 2008

Chris Lydon on "The Mongoose" by Walcott

Chris Lydon gives an in-depth report on Derek Walcott's reading of "The Mongoose" at the Calabash Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, Jamaica.

“It’s going to be nasty,” Derek Walcott said, prefacing his war on V. S. Naipaul with a warning. “The Mongoose” was the last of Walcott’s new poems at the Calabash Literary Festival in Jamaica last weekend. He’d wondered whether he ought to read it, Walcott said, “and then I figured if I don’t do it, I’ll say: what the hell, you should have done it… I think you’ll recognize Mr. Naipaul.”

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Thanks, Georgia


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May 30, 2008

"Everglades Litany" by Geoffrey Philp

In anticipation of Caribbean American Heritage Month, I’ll be running a series called Video Fridays. I’m starting the series with a video of my own, “Everglades Litany.” The poem was first published in xango music (Peepal Tree Press) and the images are from these sources:

Here are some other sites that also have some incredible images:
Everglades Digital Library
Environment Florida - Founders of The "Save The Everglades" campaign
Everglades National Park (National Park Service)
Friends of the Everglades
Everglades National Park
Florida Everglades
Photos of Everglades National Park - Terra Galleria
South Florida Environmental Report (South Florida Water Management District and Florida DEP)

And if you want to do something about the encroachment:


Give thanks to Theo for his help with choosing a video camera and for teaching me how to use Windows Movie Maker.

For next week's Video Friday, I'll be featuring a poem by CM Clark.

Have a great weekend!


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May 29, 2008

Save the World & Teach!

Yes, I know it's redundant, but at this site students can learn English and help to alleviate hunger.

Several of my colleagues at Miami Dade College have found ingenious ways to implement this site into their curriculum as part of the Learning Outcomes of our college.

Pretty neat, huh?
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Free Rice - For Each Vocabulary Word You Get Right, We Donate Free Rice through the United Nations World Food Program to Help End World Hunger

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May 28, 2008

Recap of Calabash: Caribbean Free Radio Podcast

Georgia Popplewell and a few literary friends discuss the events at the Calabash Literary Festival in Treasure Beach, Jamaica.

Yes — a podcast. In CFR’s 48th show, a collaboration with Antilles and the Caribbean Review of Books (CRB) recorded in Treasure Beach, Jamaica, my gin and tonic-lubricated friends Annie Paul, Nicholas Laughlin, Jonathan Ali, Kei Miller, Alastair Bird and I review the first day-and-a-half of the Calabash International Literary Festival.

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Maslow & the Caribbean Artist

Maslow Hierarchy of NeedsAbout a month ago, thebookman wrote an interesting post about the value of art and its relationship to money. According to thebookman:

I believe that artists should talk about money, because they should talk about value, and they should educate their patrons about value. Artists should determine these standards, although anyone may seem to be able to, as the saying goes, ‘wash their foot and jump in…” to the art arena, and clearly the arena is willing and able to absorb them. The art world of Trinidad and Tobago needs to set standards of quality. If so, everyone will rise to the level that they are comfortable with, and things would not be so ambiguous as they presently seem to be.

This is an important discussion (especially given the relative wealth of Trinidad) because it begins a dialogue between two groups that are often at variance with each other: artists and their patrons. The seeming differences between artists and patrons are often caused by a lack of understanding of each other's needs. In order to create a common language, it is often useful to use Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs to gain a broader perspective about the issues.

Basically Maslow's theory and its subsequent revision in 1970 states that there are seven human needs:

1. Physiological
2. Safety
3. Love and Belonging
4. Self-Esteem
5. Self-Actualization
6. Knowledge/Understanding
7. Aesthetic

"The first four layers of the pyramid are what Maslow called "deficiency needs" or "D-needs": the individual does not feel anything if they are met, but feels anxious if they are not met. The deficiency needs are: survival needs, safety and security, love and belonging, and self-esteem." (Wikipedia). In other words, for most individuals their physiological needs must be met before they consider anything else.

I stress "most individuals" because artists throughout history have been known to forgo the first four needs in order to concentrate on their aesthetic needs. For once an artist has sensed beauty, she begins on a path to explore her initial impulse and the many surprises that will come as part of the journey. This lifestyle has often artists at odds with their families and their patrons.

Many of the patrons of the arts, who have achieved a certain level of self actualization by meeting their physiological, safety, belonging, and self-esteem needs, do not understand the aesthetic need. They have a roof (or roofs) over their heads, money and time for leisure, security guards and police at their back and call, and because of the goods and services they provide, they are often respected members of a community which means that they are afforded a certain kind of respect or perhaps even love.

Yet many of these patrons while knowledgeable about many other areas of human endeavor, remain ignorant about the arts because they have spent most of their lives providing goods and services of monetary value, but are not created from "the joy of Being"--the domain of artists. And because artists operate at an intuitive level to meet aesthetic needs, the questions that some patrons ask such as "But what is it for?" and "So, what's the purpose?" are often misinterpreted as a threat to the artist's existence, and the questioner is dismissed as a "barbarian."

In such a conflict, both sides lose. The potential patron is deprived of an experience that could broaden her understanding of what it means to be alive in a certain time and place, and the artist has lost a means of meeting her physiological needs and self-esteem needs. For even if the artist thinks she has risen above her basic human needs, sooner or later she will have to eat. And if she chooses to eat or get health insurance, she will face some very interesting dilemmas. In order to eat, does she "dumb down" the presentation of her subjects? Does she pander to "lower needs" by only tackling subjects that will "bring home the bacon" instead of pursuing the complexity of her art that comes with maturity? And although her art may ultimately be a form of spiritual practice, until she transcends the belief that her self-worth is attached to recognition by others, her ego will take a beating as she sees others being rewarded for work that is informed by fancy and not the imagination.

And what about the patron? Without any sense of artistic value, which only artists can provide, if she is to purchase a work of art or commission a mural, how can she be certain that she has not wasted her money? Yet without the support of the patron, the community will lose the opportunity to see "one of their own" working at the highest level of human endeavor, and creating a life through an imagination uninhibited by mundane materialism. A patron who has mastered the language of currency can help the artist to repay her community by allowing the artist to create works for the viewer to enter a communion with a landscape--"the clay from which we are born and to which we will return."

The need for the continuation of this conversation has never been greater, and thebookman is to be congratulated for starting the dialogue. For as the pressures of globalization and the boundary-less Internet erode the issues of communal/national identity, Caribbean artists may turn away from the important work that they do in discovering beauty in a space that has only known tragedy, ugliness, and genocide, and begin to concentrate on meeting their physiological needs. If left unchecked, this can lead to our communities losing the habit of seeing beauty in our everyday experiences and a coarsening of human intercourse. For artists also provide a means for us to ask questions such as "Who are we?" and "Where are we going?" "What is beautiful?" And if these questions of identity are left unanswered over long periods of time, our community will lose a sense of wholeness, which despite the best efforts of business persons and politicians, will not satisfy the most basic questions of human identity that only artists can answer through the medium of metaphor.


May 27, 2008

Florida Center for the Literary Arts Summer 2008:Update

Florida Center for Literary Arts

Creative Writing Workshops Begin June 3

Enrollment is open for creative writing and publishing workshops offered by the Florida Center for the Literary Arts (FCLA) at Miami Dade College (MDC). The cost for each workshop is $95 (tuition for MDC staff and students is $80.) All workshops will take place in the evening at Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus, 300 N.E. Second Ave., Miami, Florida. For more information, registration forms and fees, call (305) 237-3940 or visit

Paths to Publication
Six Tuesdays, June 3 – July 8, 2008, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Instructor: Janell Walden Agyeman

Now that you have conceived your book idea and polished a complete fiction or nonfiction manuscript--or perhaps drafted a proposal--are you ready to become a published author? Join our workshop to learn how the publishing industry works and receive personalized guidance preparing your tools for finding the right agent and publisher. Weekly “anchor” lectures and individualized critiques of query letters, proposals and submission strategies provide students professional feedback while you create effective presentation tools.

Janell Walden Agyeman has been a literary agent with Marie Brown Associates Literary Services since 1993, representing authors of books for children and adults. A publishing industry veteran, she previously held editorial positions at Doubleday & Company and the Howard University Press and administered the Howard University Press Book Publishing Institute. She is the proprietor of Blue Horizon Author Services and frequently leads seminars for new authors on the publishing process.

“Say What?” Writing Good Dialogue
Six Tuesdays, June 3 – July 8, 2008, 6:30 p.m. – 8:30 p.m.
Instructor: Nick Garnett

Dialogue is a powerful tool through which to convey and control characterization, tone, exposition, and pacing. It is also one of the most difficult (and often the last) writing techniques to be mastered. In this workshop, designed for writers of all experience levels, you’ll learn how to recognize, appreciate, and create effective dialogue and avoid the traps which can bring your story to a grinding halt. Through in-class and at-home exercises, examining the work of other writers, and critiquing your own writing, you’ll come away from this class with the skills necessary to make your dialogue work for your characters and your story.

Nick Garnett is currently revising his memoir, Straight Man—A Married Guy’s Journey to Fire Island and Back which is currently with a literary agent. He was recently accepted into FIU’s Creative Writing MFA program and has taught frequently for Miami Dade College’s Florida Center for the Literary Arts.

Poetry: A Short Course in English Metrics and Forms
Six Wednesdays, June 4 – July 9, 2008, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Instructor: Michael Hettich

In this class we will examine the most commonly-employed metrical patterns in English poetry and attempt to understand how these patterns work to create the rhythms of vivid poetry. Additionally, we will examine a wide range of traditional poetic forms—from the sonnet and villanelle to the haibun and ghazal—in an attempt to understand how traditional poetry “works.” Each week we will examine sample poems, practice scansion, and listen for the rhythms of thought each poem enacts. Original writings in each of these forms will also be attempted, as a means of gaining full understanding.

Michael Hettich has published a dozen books and chapbooks of poetry, most recently Swimmer Dreams and Flock and Shadow: New and Selected Poems, both of which were published in 2005. His awards include The Tales Prize and Florida Arts Fellowships. Flock and Shadow was named a Book Sense Top Ten Pick in Poetry for 2006. He teaches at Miami Dade College.

Elements of Nonfiction—It’s Not What You Think
Six Thursdays, June 5 – July 10, 2008, 6:30 p.m. - 8:30 p.m.
Instructor: Elizabeth Hanly

“Nonfiction” as a category is bigger, better, richer than many of us imagine.

In this course we will explore the range of the genre focusing on those who created “new journalism”–Tom Wolfe, and Gay Talese–those who are working in the ground between Latin America, the Caribbean and The StatesRichard Rodriguez and Edwidge Danticat–as well as less well-known writers who are pushing the genre still further, sometimes writing essays as free verse.

This course is designed to give those attending a wider range of choices, of colors if you will, with which to approach their own work.

Recommended text: The Next American Essay, edited by John D’Agata and published by Graywolf Press.

Elizabeth Hanly is a journalist focusing on Latin America, religion, and the arts. Her work has been published in a wide range of magazines and newspapers, including the New York Times and The Guardian of London. She has taught all levels of writing at FIU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication and finds herself increasingly intrigued by the possibilities of creative nonfiction.

For more information, registration forms and fees, call (305) 237-3940 or visit

The Florida Center for the Literary Arts (FCLA) at Miami Dade College (MDC) promotes reading and writing throughout the year by presenting literary activities to the community.


Kwame Dawes Blogs @ Calabash

Kwame Dawes is back at the Poetry Foundation and promises more in-depth posts from the Calabash International Literary Festival, 2008.

I answer questions about how to get published, about how to be featured writer at Calabash, about why it seems like Calabash is condoning homosexual “arguments” on stage, about who selects the writers to read at the festival. I feel like an ombudsman, answering questions, trying to make sure that people are satisfied. The Calabash regulars will always give you a knowing smile, and thumbs up—they have been baptized into the healing of Calabash and they are enjoying their renewal and are smiling with the giddy brightness of people who are getting their fix for the year. I like being their ombudsman.

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Derek Walcott & the American Standard

Derek Walcott's criticizes the "American standard" at the Calabash International Literary Festival.
Walcott was critical of the American standard, saying "you don't tell stories, you don't mould character, you don't have a beginning, a middle and end. That is old-fashioned. It is good that Caribbean people are old-fashioned. They still tell stories and that is what the human heart yearns for".
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May 26, 2008

May 25, 2008

Annie Paul @ Calabash Literary Festival

I wish I could have been there!

Annie Paul covers Derek Walcott s latest poem, "The Mongoose."
“A mongoose charges dry grass and fades through a fence faster than an afterthought”. A beautiful line from pre-Calabash Walcott-- Calabash 2008 will always be remembered for Walcott’s stunning denouement: the reading in public for the first time of his poem, The Mongoose, written specifically with V.S. Naipaul in mind.
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May 24, 2008

Pulitzer Center Contest

The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, a non-profit news organization, is sponsoring the Pulitzer Center Global Issues/Citizen Voices contest on, an online writing web site. The contest is calling for independent voices to answer questions based on their international reporting. The latest contest has a question that pertains to Kwame Dawes's reporting.

The question is:
How does stigma and discrimination, as witnessed in Jamaica, perpetuate the global HIV/AIDS epidemic?

The deadline to enter is May 30. To enter, visitors can just click on a question above and submit an essay to Helium. Essays will be judged by other Helium users and staff at the Pulitzer Center.


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May 23, 2008

"Creole Gang" by Rooplall Monar

Rooplall MonarRooplall Monar was born in a mud floor logie on the Lusignan sugar estate, East Coast Demerara, in 1945. His parents were both caneworkers, and his mother continued to work on her own ground provision plot daily, long after she retired. The family moved to Annandale Village in 1953 to a houselot with its own plot. This, much extended over the years, remains Monar's home. He attended Lusignan Government school, Buxton Congregational School, Hindu College and Annandale Evening College. He has worked as a teacher, accounts clerk, freelance journalist, broadcaster, and practitioner of folk healing (herbal cures).

He began writing in the mid-1960s and came to notice in 1967 with a prize-winning poem, 'The Creole Gang'. His early poems were published in New World, Kaie, Voices and various anthologies. His first published collection, Meanings (1972) begins his exploration of the consciousness of the Indo-Guyanese 'divided by horizon's edges, yet/ telling of no other worlds/ but mine'. His second collection, Patterns (1983) continued the creative but painful potential of this limbo consciousness, asking "Who am I/between buried copper trunks/voices in the cemeteries?/Oh whom am I/between a dying consciousness,/a growing vision."

Monar also began to write short stories, encouraged by his blood brother, the folklorist and poet Wordsworth McAndrew, though it was almost another ten years before they saw publication as the classic Backdam People first published in 1985 and in a new edition in 1987. After Backdam People, Peepal Tree brought out a collection of Monar's poems, Koker (1987), followed by his novel, Janjhat (1989) which explores the tempestuous first year of a marriage under the interfering pressure of the boy's mother. The move from estate to village life is explored in the short stories of High House and Radio which sees the backdam people leave their logies for their new high houses and the coherent Indianness of the estate challenged by the new visions brought by the radio, politicians, and the pursuit of more individual lives.

Since then Monar has written two works of popular fiction, Ramsingh Street and Tormented Wives (1999). In 1987 he was awarded a special Judges' Prize for his contribution to Guyanese writing.

Creole Gang

Baling and throwing

among green canes from rusty punts,

their sweated faces

show how many days and nights have passed

between cane roots and black streams,

sunburnt trashes and parched earth,

wearied days and restless reality.

Their hands and limbs are but fragments

that walk and bathe,

when sun shines, rains fall

and drivers shout.

Who can tell when midday meets

their rest - they eat, they talk?

Their limbs cry and hearts burn.

Is this not the century of dreams,

of tales told by ancestors

of a faith told by life?

Again and again they will bale and throw

curse and rest among green canes

and black earth, wishing, wishing. . .


Courtesy of Peepal Tree Press

May 22, 2008

OUP Remembers Claude McKay and Langston Hughes

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Two African American literary giants died on the same day, nineteen years apart, Claude McKay, May 22, 1948 and Langston Hughes, on May 22, 1967. Both were poets, writers, and significant figures in the literary movement of the Harlem Renaissance.

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"Luv Dub Fever" by Malachi

Malachi SmithMiami, Tuesday, May 20, 2008--Jamaican dub-poet Malachi’s new CD Luv Dub Fever will be launched on Tuesday, May 27, 2008, 7:00 pm at the Edna Manley College in Kingston, Jamaica. The event will be hosted by the Poetry Society of Jamaica as part of their monthly fellowship. Malachi will be the special guest performer/reader for the evening.

Luv Dub Fever
is a compilation of 12 specially selected poems: “How Yuh Mek Her,” “5 Times for 1 Nite,” “Pulse,” “Jungle Fever,” “When De Luv is Not Enuff,” “What I’m Gonna Do,” “Wi Tickle, Wi Giggle,” “De Blacker De Berry,” “Liad Mout,” “Ah Luv Yuh Gal,” “Driver for Mama,” and “Why Did U?”

The CD features vocals by Sharon Forrester, Ettosi, Cindy, Cassandra, Winston Dias, Taurus Alphanso, Splity Atombo, and Major Conrod. Musicians are Dean Fraser, Karl Pitterson, Mikey Fanus, and Splitty Atombo. Marlon Smith, Malachi’s son is the production engineer for the project. The liner notes for the CD were written by Professor Mervyn Morris of the University of the West Indies (UWI). According to Morris, Luv Dub Fever is Malachi's "best CD."

Luv Dub Fever is already getting heavy airplay on Caribbean radio in South Florida and on stations in Vale, Colorado, and in Hawaii. The CD is available online at Luv Dub Fever is also available for downloads at Negations are being finalized for distribution in the Caribbean, the USA, Europe, and Africa. Rootsman Kelly of Lion’s Gate Artist Management is handling the negotiations.

Luv Dub Fever is Malachi’s fourth album. Malachi has a MSCJ from Florida International University (FIU). As a James Mitchener fellow at the University of Miami, Malachi studied poetry under Lorna Goodison and playwriting under Fred D’Aguiar. He has won many awards for his poetry. Malachi is also a Miami-Dade County Police Officer (Field Training Officer).

Malachi is a leader in the Caribbean community in South Florida, where he resides with his family. He is also in the process of recording his next CD, still to be titled, of dialect poems about his love of county.

Further info: Malachi (305) 302-5365. Email: or

4-M Productions, Inc.
820 NW 186 Drive
Miami Gardens, FL 33169
(305) 302-5365


May 20, 2008

FCLA Summer 2008 Creative Writing Workshops.

Florida Center for Literary Arts

Paths to Publication with Janell Walden Agyeman (Tues., May 27-July 1, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.)

Learn how the publishing industry works and receive personalized guidance preparing your tools for finding the right agent and publisher. Get professional feedback while you create effective presentation tools.

“Say What?” Writing Good Dialogue with Nick Garnett (Tues., May 27-July 1, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.)

Learn how to recognize, appreciate, and create effective dialogue and avoid the traps which can bring your story to a grinding halt. You’ll come away from this class with the skills necessary to make your dialogue work for your characters and your story.

Poetry: A Short Course in English Metrics and Forms with Michael Hettich (Wed., May 28-July 2, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.)

In this class, you’ll examine the most commonly-employed metrical patterns in English poetry and attempt to understand how these patterns work to create the rhythms of vivid poetry. Sample poems, practice scansion, and listen for the rhythms of thought each poem enacts. Attempt original writings in a wide range of traditional poetic forms – from the sonnet and villanelle to the haiban and ghazal.

Elements of Nonfiction—It’s Not What You Think with Elizabeth Hanly (Thurs., May 29-July 3, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.)

Explore the range of the genre focusing on those who created “new journalism”–Tom Wolfe, and Gay Talese–those who are working in the ground between Latin America, the Caribbean and The States–Richard Rodriguez and Edwidge Danticat–as well as less well-known writers who are pushing the genre still further, sometimes writing essays as free verse.

Tuition: $95. For more info on workshops, instructors and registration forms, visit, or call (305) 237-3940.


May 19, 2008

"A Winter Tale" : Reviewed by Attilah Springer

A Winter Tale
"What good is a community without stories? What value is a society without storytellers? I mean beyond crick crack. Beyond the loss of douens to electric lights and Anansi replaced by the World Wide Web.

The carrier of the stories is the carrier of the wisdom and a sensibility that you can’t and never will get from the Red House.

The carrier of the stories is both the revolutionary and the peacemaker. Who shows the community its beauty and its dirt and its light.

A storyteller is a shape-shifter who uses every tool, every image, every sense to draw you in, capture your imagination."

Attilah Springer reviews A Winter Tale in The Trinidad Guardian.


Markham, Charles, & McKenzie @ Peepal Tree Books

Peepal Tree PressAgainst the Grain: A 1950s Memoir

When E.A. (Archie) Markham came to London in 1956 from his native Montserrat, his ambitions were to make it as a writer or pop singer, and at the same time, fulfil family expectations to become a scholar and academic. Unfortunately the young Archie’s attempts to combine elements of Little Richard and the now forgotten Jim Dale never found the success he was convinced they deserved and it has been in less lucrative fields that Markham established his reputation as a ‘nimble-footed, silver-tongued’ poet, critic and fiction writer.

His memoirs begin with a return to post-volcanic Montserrat to rediscover the now abandoned village of Harris’ and his grandmother’s old house and his meticulous and moving reconstruction of his boyhood in that house – a grand house that made the family feel that settling in the Harrow Road end of Maida Vale was a distinctly ‘downwards’ move for a cultivated Caribbean family.

And it is Markham’s wryly humorous navigation between the poles of his family’s confident sense of their worth and the racial attitudes of those times that makes his account of his travails in the rag-trade, his pop-singer ambitions, the discovery that they were living next door to a leading member of the British Union of Fascists, and his involvement with the ‘angry-young-men’ shifts in 1950s British culture such a rewarding and human document.

Children of the Morning: Selected Poems

Peepal Tree BooksSince 1969, Faustin Charles has been a significant voice in Caribbean poetry, and this long overdue selection from his previous collections and a book’s worth of new poems offers readers a chance to enjoy the range and originality of his work. As a Trinidadian whose writing career has been spent in the UK, he is unquestionably a pioneer of the diasporic consciousness. In this respect his work has sought to uncover what is essential in the Caribbean cultural heritage, wherever Caribbean people might be, and from the time of his first collection, The Expatriate (1969) he has explored the experience of separation and the establishment of new connections. Here, though not ignoring the external contexts of racism and the marginalisation of immigrant communities, his work has focused on the inner qualities of that experience, speaking of those deeper psychic dislocations. As the Jamaican-born English poet Edward Lucie-Smith wrote: ‘The "climate of the heart", which West Indians know of but cannot always communicate, speaks clearly and delicately in his work.’

The range of Faustin Charles’ poetry is wide. It has been very consciously modernist, not frightened of complexity or of embarking on journeys of discovery in ways that relate him to the radical fictions of Wilson Harris and Latin American magical realism. The connection between inner consciousness and landscape is a signal element in his writing. In this respect his work, originally published in the collections, Crab Track and Days and Nights in the Magic Forest is demanding but highly rewarding. But he has also written many eloquent and immediately accessible poems that celebrate manifold aspects of Caribbean culture: cricket, music, folklore and the fauna and flora of the region. Such poems have been seized on by any number of anthologists of Caribbean writing.

In the new poems from ‘Children of the Morning’ there is both a focus on the lives of the young, and a Blakean concern with the quality and integrity of childhood experience that clearly grows from his work as a storyteller with children. These are both songs of innocence and experience, of what ought to be, and, as in ‘Stephen’s Song’, of a young life snuffed out by racism.

The Almond Leaf

Peepal Tree PressEarl McKenzie’s poems are deceptively simple, but their crystalline observations record life in all its complexity. Patricia Harkins, in The Caribbean Writer described his earlier Against Linearity as a ‘book to cherish’ for the particularity of its images from nature and ‘his keen insight into human hearts’. These qualities are deepened in this new collection, where the whiff of mortality demands an even stronger sense of continuance, affirmation and joy in love, family, music, art and, above all, in his beloved Jamaica. If this Eden is a fallen one, Adam has not been expelled from the garden where, with his mate, ‘Together/we share the temptation of the snake/in the garden of rocks and flowers’ (‘Adam to his Maker’). But McKenzie’s vision is never one that gilds. Sitting enjoying the morning and the sight of an egret in flight, a dog that has effected its freedom and an ancient, enduring tree, the mood is poisoned when ‘with an accuracy/ bowlers could envy,/ the newspaperman/ hurls the day’s sad tidings/ to my doorstep.’

I forget the tree’s fabled endurance;

the egret’s unconscious geometry;

the dog’s hard-earned freedom.

I sip my coffee and read;

suddenly it tastes bitter.

In these poems of quirky, unassuming observations, McKenzie never preaches, but he does find sermons in lilies, and what he discovers for himself provides a way of wisdom for those readers inclined to look for it. And beyond the personal, he locates the sources of endurance in his grasp of Jamaican/Caribbean history. In ‘Philosophers in the Crossing’, for instance, he writes of the African philosophers who ‘volunteered to join the victims/in their crossing...’ for there had to be someone ‘to say something/ to those who would be thrown/into the sea’, and concludes that:

These philosophers endured it all,/ and survive/ in our proverbs and songs,/ in kumina, myal and rastafari/ and in the tongues of Garvey and Marley..


May 16, 2008

“The Jaguar and the Theorist of Négritude”by Slade Hopkinson

Slade HopkinsonSlade Hopkinson was born into a middle class family in New Amsterdam, Guyana in 1934. His father was a barrister-at-law, his mother a nurse. A few years after the death of his father, his mother took Slade & his sister to live in Barbados where he attended Harrison College. In 1952, he went to the University College of the West Indies on a scholarship, coinciding with Derek Walcott and Mervyn Morris as students. He obtained his BA in 1953 and a Dip. Ed. in 1956. 

His writing career began in 1954 with the publication of The Four and Other Poems; the plays, The Blood of a Family, 1957, Fall of a Chief, 1965, The Onliest Fisherman, 1967, Spawning of Eel 1968, rewritten as Sala and The Long Vacation. In 1976 the Government of Guyana published two companion collections of poetry, The Madwoman of Papine, which contained mainly his secular poems ranging over his Caribbean experiences, and The Friend, which contained his religious and philosophical poems, written in the process of discovering the teachings of the Sufis.

Sadly by 1970 Slade Hopkinson, now Abdhur-Rahman Slade Hopkinson, having become a Muslim in 1964, was suffering from kidney failure and by 1973 was on regular dialysis, bringing to an end his acting career. He worked for the Jamaican Tourist Board for some years before moving to Canada as Vice-Consul for Guyana. Later he worked as a classroom assistant and teacher before taking long-term disability leave.

Hopkinson wrote a couple of short stories, and his poetry was widely published in journals such as Bim, Savacou, New World and in anthologies such as Anansesem, The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse and Voiceprint. Snowscape With Signature, from which “The Jaguar and the Theorist of Négritude” is taken, was published by Peepal Tree in 1993, with an introductory memoir by Mervyn Morris.
The Jaguar and the Theorist of Négritude

The Nigerian poet Wole Soyinka, apropos of the literary movement known as Négritude, has said somewhere that a tiger does not go about proclaiming its tigritude: it just pounces.
The jungle, grown impatient with us all,

Has marched on military feet,

Has assaulted the rice and sugar coastland,

Checkerboard of historical habit.

The jungle’s retribution

Has invaded the capital.

In every street, branched giants have uprooted houses.

Monkeys with green faces and critical eyes

Open doors or climb into windows.

Terrible is their barking laughter.

Contrivances of our desperate spirit fail.

The sham we thought was our reality boils,

Evaporates, is gone, not even a fume

Remains. Inside each hollow skull

Something rattles - perhaps a knuckle

Of the dead, still weeping man, that, as he rubbed

The dusty trickle of his tears, became unhinged

And fell behind the absence of his eyes.

Ant-bears scribble with their snouts and tongues

Daintily on the infested skin of corpses.

Fleshy flowers, beating like live hearts,

Decorate the starkness of our pavements.

Troops of vipers move deployed, my love.

Essential horror has occurred, my love.

In the middle of an important street

An inventor of the black man’s soul lies dead.

His fingers clutch neither machete nor bomb,

But an anguished book he wrote - published in England.

O jaguar, lady, muse, teacher, it was you

Who banged your jaws into his throat, then ripped.


May 15, 2008

Bloggers Unite: Human Rights

Bloggers UniteToday Bloggers Unite is partnering with Amnesty International to expand a global awareness campaign for human rights. I am joining with iriegal, who issued this call to support the human rights throughout the world, and especially in Jamaica where the rights of our gay men and women are denied almost daily.

I have known gay men and women all my life. I have seen the devastation that silence and living in denial can bring. I have also known gay men and women who are as loving, ornery, spiteful and caring as I am. Because you know what? Gay men and women are our brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. As the song goes, "We are family."

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May 14, 2008

How To Use Allusions

One of the questions that I am asked by my students in creative writing workshops is "How do I use allusions in my work?" The first thing that I try to explain is that the use of allusions is not confined to literary work--they are parts of language and life and extensions of our linguistic imagination. Eavesdrop on any conversation (this is what writers do) on any street corner anywhere in Jamaica, and you will hear people making all kinds of allusions to the Bible, proverbs, and folktales. Sometimes they even spice up their storytelling with metaphors when they are telling jokes with sexual content. Songs such as "Ketchy Shuby" by Peter Tosh and "Stir it up" by Bob Marley are not just about children's games and cooking. In other words, allusions like any other literary device such as symbolism grow organically out of language and the writer uses these devices to heighten the effect of the work.

Most writers use allusions when they realize the similarity in theme or tone between the poem, short story, or novel that they are working on with another writer's work within a literary tradition. For example, the wandering of Leopold Bloom through the streets of Dublin in Ulysses by James Joyce is a direct allusion to the wandering of Ulysses in Homer's Odyssey. Several episodes such as Nausicaa and Calypso have given literary scholars enough material to keep them "busy for three hundred years."

In my own work as I was going through the pre-writing of the novel, Benjamin, my son, I realized that both my personal situation and the subject of my work mirrored that of Dante Alighieri. At the time of composition, I realized several parallels between my life and Dante's: we were in the "middle of life's journey" and because of the war between the "Whites" and the "Blacks," we were living in exile and remembering the moral outrages that plagued our homelands--the direct causes of the war. The situation seemed tailor-made for what was I was writing about--the purgatorial experiences of Jamaicans--and like Dante, I assigned several types of people, based on the moral universe of the Seven Deadly Sins, to a circle in my Jamaican hell.

As a cautionary note, I always stress with my students that the telling of the poem, short story or poem comes first. The Art of Fiction by John Gardner calls this "the creation of a vivid and continuous dream." The poem, short story, or novel must first adhere to the inherent craft of the genre and the dumping of metaphors or allusions into the text will not make them "better." I also remind them that the writer always has the option of playing with the allusion. In the case of Ulysses, Bloom is Jewish and Joyce is making a reference to the myth of the "wandering Jew." In Benjamin, my son, Virgil becomes the dreadlocked Rastafari, Papa Legba, drawn from the Vodoun pantheon, and whose antecedent is Eleggua or as we know him in Jamaica--Anancy.

Allusions, symbolism, and metaphors when used correctly expand the meaning of a literary work and depending on the reader's ability to understand these devices, adds depth to the story. It's not just a one time reading. The reader, engaging the text by thinking about the plausibility of the action, examining the complex patterns, making comparisons and contrasts to his or her life, and evaluating the text to determine if all elements come together seamlessly, keeps coming back for more. Think about songs by Bob Marley such as "I Shot the Sheriff" or the poem, "Mass Man" by Derek Walcott and you get an idea of what makes a work approach literary immortality. Every time you reread the story, you gain a greater understanding to the work, yourself, and how much you have grown with respect to the work and your understanding or yourself. It's a recursive activity hat not only adds richness to reading, but to life itself.


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May 13, 2008

Meme: Passion Quilt

Professor Zero has challenged her readers with a meme that "captures what YOU are most passionate for students to learn about." As you can guess from this picture, I am passionate about kids expressing their creativity.

About six years ago, Adrian Castro and I were invited by The Trust for Public Lands to work with some children from Overtown on a mural and several poems for ”signage along the Overtown Greenway, a pedestrian corridor that will connect Overtown with Biscayne Bay and the Miami River." These were some of the kids with whom we worked and it was a pleasure to work with them. In my work as a poet working with children, this is one of my proudest moments.

Professor Zero was tagged for this teaching meme by Lumpenprofessoriat and these are the rules:

Post a picture or make/take/create your own that captures what YOU are most passionate for students to learn about.
Give your picture a short title.
Title your blog post “Meme: Passion Quilt.”
Link back to this blog entry.

So, for all the teachers out there, if you are reading this, consider yourself tagged!


May 12, 2008

Peter Schmitt @ Books & Books

Peter SchmittPlain-spoken and tender, the poems of Peter Schmitt’s Renewing the Vows (David Robert Books, $17) carefully trace the seam between the mundane and the resonant, reminding us, in their lyrical narratives, that the smallest moments may have the greatest import. Schmitt is the author of two collections of poems, Country Airport and Hazard Duty. He is a graduate of Amherst and The Iowa Writers Workshop. “These carefully crafted poems are full of refreshing humility and empathy – an openness to life, with both its sadness and grief, and its magical moments of transcendence. It’s simply a jewel of a book,” states poet Jim Daniels. Schmitt reads from his new collection this Wednesday.

Time: Wednesday, May 14, 2008 7:30 p.m.

Location: Books & Books, Bal Harbour Shops


May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day!

Merty PhilpMy mother, Mirtygreen Synidia Philp nee Lumley, was born in Struie, Westmoreland. My grandfather, Andrew Lumley, had just built a house in Jamaica, and had it not been for the efficiency of the workers, my mother would have been born in Cuba, like many of my aunts and uncles--some of whom still live there.

From all accounts, she was a bright girl, but due to limiting circumstances, she went to Mico Teachers' College and trained as a teacher. While she was at Mico, she met and handsome man with a devilish sense of humor, Sydney George Philp, and although he had been twice married, she took a chance and married him. They would have two children, my sister, Judith, and I. Everything must have seemed wonderful when they moved into the new development called Mona Heights.

My mother worked as a teacher as Seaward Primary and I went with her until near the time for my Common Entrance Exams, and I transferred to Mona Primary where I won a scholarship to Jamaica College. My mother was so proud of me. She arranged with my uncle, Zamora, to get me a bicycle. It was an old bicycle, but it took me places. And I would always thank my mother.

But little did I know that her marriage was falling apart. My father left, but she managed to keep us together by studying to become a legal secretary and transforming what was once called the "maid's quarters" into a small cottage for medical students from UWI. Although I resented these strangers living with us, I now realize that they were the ones who made it possible for the many extra things I had in my life.

Then came the Manley years of scarcity. My mother, a country girl, had a strong attachment to Jamaica, but when my sister was attacked in our driveway, she had enough and moved to Miami. One of the most vivid memories my mother had of life in America was shortly after she had arrived and going to Publix at Thanksgiving and seeing a cornucopia of fruits and vegetables in the produce area: tears came to her eyes.

But she was never and overly sentimental woman. As a singe mother, trying to raise a boy to become a man hardens something in a woman. A woman sometimes has to give up the "soft, feminine" things to give a boy survival skills and a sense of the hard things that other men try to teach him. So, after being a teacher and a legal secretary, she started all over again in America by going back to school to study nursing--the career that she had always wanted.

With her salary as a nurse, she put me through school and bought a small house in Carol City, Florida. And when my sister needed help with her children, my mother moved to Orlando to be with her until she died a few years ago.

If there has been one regret in my life, it has been that she did not live long enough for me to publicly recognize her value in my life and to somehow give her some of the "soft, feminine things."

My mother instilled in me a love for reading and literature for which I am eternally grateful. Many things in my life would not have been possible had it not been for the love, care, and patience that she showed me and which I, I turn, have tried to show to others.

The sad thing is that I know that her story is not unique. It's the story of many Jamaican/ Caribbean women who find themselves in dire straights, yet they never give in to bitterness and still find the strength to raise strong men and women and never giving up her faith in the redemptive power of love.

So, this Mother's Day wish is not only for my mother, but also for my wife, the Lumley, Philp, Salazar, Patino, and Foster women, the Jamaican/ Caribbean mothers and for everyone who has been a nurturing presence in my life. Give thanks.

Happy Mothers Day!


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