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.