January 30, 2009

So Much Things to Say : Malachi

MalachiI write because a fire burns deep within me. An angry fire. A loving fire. An unquenchable, passionate fire fueled by love; my everlasting quest of trying to know and discover new dimensions of love; a personal commitment to the principles of equal rights and justice for all, and an undying love of country and love of fellowman.

This energy/fury within me propels me to capture events that wound my soul. It is often a life lasting event, like seeing Mikey Smith lying in his casket--his face a canvas of pain, horror, and disbelief. Or seeing Harrington Palmer shot with a shotgun blast through a glass window--his tissue splattered/splashed over broken glass windows that was set ablaze, cooled and then, crystallized in my mind forever. Or seeing a beautiful pair of eyes that light my soul, or walking on the Rose Hall Beach early in the morning, and hearing God’s footsteps in the breeze and gentle splash of lapping waves.

Once I’m struck by an event, I begin my writing process with sounding/writing out the event. I write, rewrite, add, delete, analyze and synthesize continuously until I feel a sense of satisfaction with the piece. To better understand my process, I believe a little information about my life’s journey is relevant.

My quest began early in life. As an “outside child,” my father had two children with my mother before marrying and settling down at Milk River, Clarendon. My older brother was the darling of my father’s and stepmother’s extended family. I suspect that their dislike for me was because I had darker skin than my older brother and a flat nose.

During my kindergarten years, my mother took me to live with my father and stepmother in Clarendon. I experienced living hell from my stepmother’s aunt who didn’t like a single bone in my body. She often expressed this on my small body with brutal floggings. She often said to my face: “You are not Smith’s pickney.”

The next stop on my journey was briefly at Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth, and then, finally to my grandmother at Central Village, St. Catherine, where the issues of my heritage and skin color were constantly reinforced.

One of the blessings of my life was meeting my great grandfather at Central Village. At that time he was very ill. He had returned to Jamaica from Cuba where he had spent a good half of his life. He, like me, was not loved in the home. He told me many stories and even gave me a nickname, “Trupance”—a Jamaican coin worth three pennies. Although I was only a small child, I was the only person in that home who bathed him and ate with him. I still see him in my mind’s eyes frail and bent, but defiant as a lion.

For his funeral, all the children in the home got new clothes. I was the exception. I had to wear my old, white, nylon shirt and a hand-me-down grey nylon pants. When the funeral pictures came out, I upstaged everyone in those photographs. My pictures came out alive and glistening while my brother’s and cousin’s pictures came out pale and dull. It was the first time in my life I was told that I was handsome. I often draw on my great grandfather’s sufferings and pain in my work. His suffering and his rejection was a part of my rejection. It taught me volumes of lessons about loving and caring for someone.

My grandmother had a branch of the Assembly of God Church in her yard. This church played a pivotal role in my development as a writer. I was lauded for my recitations at church concerts. As I memorized the pieces, I began playing with the sounds and rhythm patterns in my head and soon I began creating poetry in my head before jotting them down in exercise books. It was during this process that I began to master deejaying, and my first studio recording was a DJ piece Sister Dell. This process also taught me the beauty of words and the freedom of arranging them to create a desired impact.

At White Marl All-age school, I became the star at school concerts by emceeing, doing comedy/impersonations and reciting poetry. My class had garden days on Thursdays. I would grab a machete, find a spot, and work at reciting, singing and creating poetry until Mr. Findley, my teacher, would stop me. It was Mr. Findley who first told me about Claude McKay and gave me one of his books. I fell in love with “Flame Heart.” It still warms my heart whenever I read that poem. As fate would have it, like Claude McKay, I later resigned from the Jamaica Constabulary Force at the rank of corporal and also migrated to the US.

While at White Marl, my first three poems, “The Pirate of Sunder,” “My Jamaica,” and “Garden Day” were all published in the school’s magazine. I was on my way and a number of interesting things have happened and are still happening.

The Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation (JBC) began Groundings a five minutes poetry reading program week day mornings on its TCB Program. I listened to it religiously and fell in love with the works of Kamau Brathwaite and Paul Keens Douglas. I began reading Kamau. His rhythm and deliberate voice had me hooked. As for Douglas, I enjoyed the journeys in his works and vowed to one day develop a voice like his.

The next stage of my journey was to the Jamaica School of Drama where I met Chris Bailey and Tomlin Ellis. From our acquaintance, Poets-In-Unity was born. Oku Onoura, Mikey Smith, Noel Walcott, Mataumba, Jean Breeze, and Anita Stewart were all part of this dynamic poetry energy that emerged from the drama school. This set the stage for the birth of dub poetry. As young writers and philosophers we read, listened to and critiqued each other’s work under the tutelage of the masters Dennis Scott, Tom Cross, Lloyd Record and Honor Ford-Smith.

I met Mervyn Morris at one of our presentations and it is one of the true blessings of my life. Mervyn invited me on many occasions to the University of the West Indies at Mona, and on occasions to his home, where he gave me one-on-one mentoring about the possibilities of my work. Mervyn gave me volumes of poetry and taught me the art of recognizing “gold” in my work and liberating words to create maximum effect/impact.

Migrating to the US has added the international dimension to my work. I was fortunate to be a James Michener Fellow at the University of Miami where I studied poetry under Lorna Goodison and playwriting under Fred D’Aguiar.

Unfortunate as my circumstances were/are, they gave me the foundation and opportunity to tap into and to know the human experience from many different levels and dimensions. So while celebrating my new experiences, it is the foundation/ groundation that keeps me true to my cause, purpose and mission. I take nothing or no one for granted. I give thanks for every little thing everyday. I will always be guided by my philosophy: “everyman should be heard.” And for those who cannot speak or are not permitted to speak, I will continue speaking loudly for them with the roar of my pen.


January 28, 2009

My Pentateuch: Monique Roffey

I guess my five top books of all time aren’t just great novels, but ones which taught me something about how to write. All have given me great pleasure as a reader, but also they are benchmarks in my writing life, they have impressed me and shown me what I want to aspire to. These books are my writing bible, my First Books.

The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

I admire Rhys, in general, for her prose and the platinum quality of her sentences. I have learnt how to write directly from Rhys by studying her every sentence. But this book is a masterpiece on many levels. It’s the quintessential post-colonial fictional work which ‘writes back’ to empire. Also, it’s a New World work of feminism, a work which critiques the notion of the high feminist European norm and speaks out for the subaltern woman, the ‘mad’ creole woman chained like an animal in the attic of a rich white man’s stately home, a figure grossly overlooked and misunderstood by her author.

WSS is a classic, also an overt address to another canonical work, another brilliant piece of fiction Jane Eyre. Being a ‘prequel it is a thoroughly most-modern work. WSS is demanding and bold. It sticks two fingers up to the likes of men like Mr Rochester. It is brilliant in its conception, structure - and humanity. It is a work of fiction which has reason for being in the world. It is an important book for the people of the Caribbean. Also – it’s a damn good story, with or without Jane Eyre.

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Another important book, a controversial classic, both revolutionary and populist. Steinbeck was obsessed with the enforced migration, westwards, of the tenant farmers in the Oklahoman Dust Bowl in 1930s America. These working people, who’d lived on the dry soil for years, were being driven off with the advent of machinery. They trudged in their hundreds to the Promised Land of California. Steinbeck made two other attempts to write this book – both failed. Finally, he sat down and wrote this masterpiece in 100 days – chronicled in Working Days, his diary of the writing of this book. His wife Carol gave him the title of the book, from a poem by Julia Ward Howe. The book tells the story of the Joad family, who lose their farm and travel west in search of work, picking grapes. On the way the family is beset with death, hunger, floods, murder, pregnancy and starvation.

Steinbeck opens the book with a five page description of a dust cloud about to descend on the Oklahoma valley. He continues to use these poetic non-narrative chapters through out the book in a jump-cut technique. One of these chapters just describes a turtle trying to cross a road. He didn’t care if this slowed down the plot. He wanted to write what he wanted. The last page of this book is take-your-breath-away brilliance. This is the most uncompromising book I have ever read. It has inspired me to be bold and to not give a damn about what others may think.

The Plague by Albert Camus

I read this during an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease her in the UK in 2002 and found the similarities quite chilling. Camus wanted to write about the French Resistance in the Second World War, the idea being that it’s not until every family was effected, until every single family had lost someone, that the Resistance gathered strength. We humans tend to galvanise only when things get very bad – we’re lazy, not prone to helping others until we ourselves are threatened. Or something like that.

In this novel, set in a barren town in Northern Algiers, it’s not until every family has a death due to a plague caused by rats that the town’s inhabitants collectivise. A novel of ideas, no less; a comment on the nature of humanity. This book is also written with a poet’s attention to language. A great book. Not gothic, not anything that one would associate with the horror genre – yet it’s a book about the bubonic plague. Grim and dark and complex.

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

This is a gothic classic. Hauntingly sad. A story written by a genius (it was conceived when Mary Shelley was just eighteen) about the nature of genius. One mad scientist, Victor Frankenstein, tries to make a human being – and botches the job – the result is a hideous monstrous half-human who he shuns. But the monster, having a human heart, craves companionship.

When Dr Frankenstein denies him a female companion, the monster vows to wreak his revenge. This is a book about the nature of creativity and the nature of loneliness. Shelley’s monster has become the archetypal social outcast and the scenes of his huge frame, pulled on the ice by a sleigh of dogs, as he chases after his maker, have always stayed with me.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

There is a scene in this book, when a slave, Paul D, is made to wear an iron bridle while working in the yard. While he is forced to endure this torture, he notices a cockerel look at him with pity in its eyes. Probably one of the most unforgettable scenes in modern fiction. I saw Toni Morrison read recently, at quite a small gathering for the BBC here in London. She also spoke about the scene where Sethe kills her baby, how she intended for the readers to almost trip up on this scene. We do and when we are upon it, it feels like we are in it.

But there are other scenes in this book, like when Sethe gives birth in the river, the boat ‘waddling’ under her. There are scenes here and story telling of the finest quality. This is another book I have learnt from. Morrison is the Queen of the Scene.


Monique Roffey

Monique Roffey was born in Trinidad in 1965 and educated in the UK. The paperback editon of her first novel, Sun Dog (Scribner) came out in paperback in May 2003. Her second novel, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle will be published by Simon and Schuster (UK) in July 2009


January 27, 2009

The Small Axe Annual Literary Competition

The Small Axe Project is initiating an annual literary competition to encourage the production and publication of Caribbean fiction and poetry.

The Small Axe Literary Prize competition will focus on poetry and short stories from emerging writers whose work centers on regional and diasporic Caribbean themes and concerns. This competition is part of the Small Axe Project's ongoing commitment to Caribbean cultural production and our mission to provide a forum for innovative critical and creative explorations of Caribbean reality. With this competition, we hope to encourage and support the region's rich literary heritage, in the tradition of precursors such as Bim, Kyk-over-al, Focus and Savacou.

The competition will consist of two categories: poetry and short fiction. Two winners will be chosen from each category. Winners will be chosen by a distinguished panel of judges.

First Prize: $750

Second Prize: $500

Winners of the 2009 competition will be published in the March and July 2010 issues of Small Axe.

Submission deadline 30 April, 2009

Writers wishing to compete for a Small Axe Literary Prize must submit the following to submissions@smallaxe.net:

  • An original, unpublished short story (maximum 7,000 words), or an original selection of poetry (maximum ten poems, not exceeding ten manuscript pages).
  • A one-page biography, including previously published works.
  • Full contact information, including name, email address, mailing address and phone number.

More information at Small Axe

Via Antilles (Thanks, Nicholas!)

January 26, 2009

Lecture: Bob Marley: The Creation of a Voice

Bob MarleyWhat does it mean to have a "voice," to create a voice, to find one's voice? This evening we will look at Bob Marley's music and persona to explore the nature and importance of "voice"—a concept that includes what one is saying, how one expresses oneself, the context of the communication, and its impact.

Part-listening session, part-lecture, in this workshop we will look behind the icon to explore the man and musician and, of course, his message. We'll see afresh why his original, urgent voice was, and still is, so appealing and essential. With his music and biography as our guide, we will show how Bob Marley developed his voice and thereby became a voice for us all.


Friday, February 13, 7–9:30pm


$15 (No Member Discount)

Garnette Cadogan is a Jamaican-American music critic and writer who is currently at work on a book about Bob Marley. He has written for Transition, Vibe, Caribbean Review of Books and other publications, and lectures widely at several universities.



January 23, 2009

"Haiku for the Ancestors" by Donna Weir-Soley

Obama: bright light
Shooting across a dark sky
Ashé, egungun, ashé.


Donna Weir-Soley was born and grew up in Jamaica. She currently teaches at Florida International University. She is a poet and critic and has been widely published in journals such as Macomere, Caribbean Writer, Sage, The Carrier-Pidgin, Frontiers and in the anthology, Moving Beyond Boundaries. She was recently awarded a Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship for career enhancement.


Next week Wednesday (01/28/2009), Monique Roffey, author of The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (Simon and Schuster UK, July 09), kicks off a new series of guest posts on this blog: My Pentateuch


The Florida Center for Literary Arts: Spring Workshops

Florida Center for Literary Arts

Spring Creative Writing Workshops in English and Spanish Starting Feb. 2

Capturing the Muted Voice

Eight Mondays, February 2 – March 23, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m.

This writing and performance workshop uses literary and interpretive arts (theatre), activist theatre techniques (theatre games and practices), media images, performance and presentations to stimulate and feed creativity for the seasoned and emerging writer. Students will collaborate on a project.

Instructor: Alexis Caputo

Mining Your Life for Fiction

Eight Mondays, February 2 – March 23, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

You’ve always wanted to write about it, but your mother (sister/best friend/ex-spouse/rich uncle) would kill you. Learn how to turn the untellable truth into fiction.

Instructor: Norma Watkins

Breaking into Magazines...and Staying In

Eight Tuesdays, February 3 – March 24, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Writing for magazines is not just good for your wallet—it’s great for your resume, especially if you are trying to sell a book-length work. Learn break-in tactics and strategies for maintaining a career as a freelance writer, including developing ideas, crafting pitch letters, getting the stories right, building relationships with editors and more.

Instructor: Claudia Forestieri

Big Poems, Little Books: The Ins & Outs of Chapbooks

Eight Wednesdays, February 4 – March 25, 6:30 p.m.-8:30 p.m.

This workshop introduces writers to contemporary poetry through the framework of chapbooks, mini-collections of poems valued for their tight focus on subject, detail, and voice. In addition to reading sequences of poems from chapbooks by Florida writers, students will look at how poets write verse that is thematically linked. Participants will write a new poem each week, with an eye toward how it informs or inspires the next.

Instructor: Emma Trelles

Writing and Publishing Bilingual Picture Books

Eight Wednesdays, February 4 – March 25, 6:30-8:30 p.m.

Bilingual picture books have their own niche and are in great demand because they reflect our diverse society. This workshop introduces students to writing, publishing, and marketing bilingual picture books, and includes writing exercises and discussion on cultural authenticity, character development and storyboarding. No need to be bilingual.

Instructor: Lucia Gonzalez

Diaspora Tales: Capturing the Immigrant Experience

Eight Saturdays, February 7 – March 28, 10:00 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

This class is for fiction and nonfiction writers seeking to explore the common threads of the immigrant experience. Students will study works by immigrant, exiled and “hyphenated” writers, and writings influenced by literal and emotional states of migration. Participants will be invited to share their own stories.

Instructor: Liz Balmaseda

Writing Your Novel the TV Way

Eight Saturdays, February 7 - March 28, 12:30-2:30 p.m.

The next time you’re wondering how you’ll ever get through the writing of a novel, think about TV producers and writers of original series and even non-fiction shows. They pretty much have to see the whole thing in their heads, and process it all into a readable “series bible” before they can get a green light. Learn to think like the TV executive who sees it, feels it and believes in it–and get your novel written!

Instructor: Anjanette Delgado

IN SPANISH: Talleres de Escritura Creativa

Protagonistas, antagonistas y agonistas: El arte de dar vida, pasión y muerte a los personajes (Character Development -- This workshop in Spanish will focus on creating characters, and believable character interaction.)

8 semanas: Sabados, 7 de febrero – 28 de marzo, 10 a.m. a 12 p.m.

Un taller centrado en la concepción y el desarrollo de los personajes literarios, y en la interacción de éstos para conformar el texto narrativo. Para estudiantes de cualquier nivel.

Instructor: Emilio de Armas, Ph.D.

Misterios y claves del oficio de escribir—Taller especializado de narrativa

(Advanced Narrative Workshop --This advanced workshop in Spanish will help writers deepen their understanding of the craft of creating narratives.)

8 semanas: Sabados, 7 de febrero – 28 de marzo, 10 a.m. a 12 p.m.

Un curso que explora los códigos íntimos de la creación literaria y profundiza en las herramientas fundamentales del narrador. Se propone un acercamiento a las fuentes personales de donde emanan los contenidos de la narración. Estudiantes deben haber tomado una clase de escritura.

Instructor: Chely Lima

For more information on workshops and instructors and to register please visit www.flcenterlitarts.com, or call 305.237.3940. All workshops take place at Miami Dade College, Wolfson Campus unless otherwise specified. Tuition for each eight week workshop is $170. Discounted rates are available for Miami Dade College staff and students currently enrolled in credit courses.

To register, please visit www.flcenterlitarts.com or call 305-237-3940.

January 22, 2009

Guest Post: @ Middle Zone Musings: What Learned From 2008

Give thanks to Robert of Middle Zone Musings for offering me this opportunity to go beyond the usual popular posts that may not have made the "Top Ten," but are worthy of a second life.

Here's the link to my guest post: What I Learned From 2008.

clipped from middlezonemusings.com
Geoffrey Philp’s Blog Spot, which published its first post on December 13, 2005, features interviews, podcasts, readings, essays by writers from the Caribbean and South Florida. In 2008, I expanded my experiments with the potential of the site by inviting writers from the Caribbean and South Florida to write guest posts called In My Own Words. The site has also grown into a conversation space for published and yet-to-be published writers to share some of the joys and frustrations of writing.
This sample of posts demonstrates the richness and variety of the writing talent from the Caribbean and South Florida. Enjoy!

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January 21, 2009

A Post-Inauguration Poem

All the lies have been laid to rest
The insults from childhood that would trigger
Bile in your stomach, rage that would linger

In your knuckles, creep up into your chest,
And made you think you couldn't hold on any longer...
All the lies have been laid to rest

But in your heart you always knew you were blessed
It gave you strength not to strike back in anger
At the screams, "You're nothing but a no count nigger!"
All the lies have been laid to rest


January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day @ Miami Dade College, North Campus

It was the moment for which we had all been waiting, yet here seemed to be a lingering apprehension, especially among the older staff and faculty who had lived through a segregated city and campus at Miami Dade College: Could this really be happening?

Although there were many gathering spots on the campus, including the Breezeway and selected classrooms, I chose to go to the Lehman Theater because I knew several of my friends would be there. Sure enough, Josett Peat, Patti Harris, and Elaine Perez-Mirabal were there in the overflow crowd of the theater.

We filed in early and took our seats. The audience was largely upbeat as they listened to Councilman Andre Williams from Miami Gardens explain the significance of the event. Then, we watched the video feed with the flow of dignitaries of the screen, and the youthful energy became evident in hoots and jibes whenever the image of President George W. Bush flashed across the screen.

The time had come: The swearing in of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America. It was as if we were all collectively holding our breath. The campus was quiet. I don’t think in the 30+ years that I’ve been at the college, it has ever been that quiet.

Mr. Obama seemed confident as he stepped up take the oath of office and when he stumbled over a few words, one young lady exclaimed protectively: “He’s only human.” That stopped a few nervous giggles and the cleaning ladies nodded approvingly.

I stayed to listen to Elizabeth Alexander’s poem and the benediction by Dr. Joseph Lowery. As we strolled across the campus to our respective offices, Josett, Elaine, and I could hear some of our co-workers sighing: “The nightmare is over. Now the work begins.” And then Josett whispered a sentiment that has seemed to echo across the country, “I wish some of my friends could have been here to see this day.”

We all wish, Josett. We all wish

Overflow Crowd

Inauguration DayLehman Theater


January 19, 2009

Barack Obama, Michael Manley & the "Vision Thing"

Barack ObamaAs America gets ready for the inauguration of Barack Hussein Obama and the many changes that his administration is supposed to bring, the ceremonies remind me of the euphoria that many Jamaicans experienced when Michael Manley was elected as Prime Minister in 1972.

Those were heady times and the similarities are hard to dismiss. Manley, like Obama, was a charismatic politician whose grassroots organization made him popular with poor, working class voters. Manley was also an eloquent public speaker who was able to synthesize the aspirations of the people and the philosophical debates of the era into common, everyday language. But, perhaps, the greatest similarity lies in what both men offered the electorate--what George H. W. Bush referred to as "that vision thing."

Michael Manley had a grand vision for Jamaica. It would be a Jamaica based on social justice and egalitarian principles, and Manley enjoyed the kind of hagiography that Obama is now receiving. Manley was called "Joshua"--the Jamaican version of "The One"--and hymns were retooled in his honor: "Michael rowed the boat ashore, Hallelujah." It was a Jamaica we could all believe in.

Barack Obama has crafted a similar vision based upon democratic principles and America's moral influence in the world, which as he stated in The Audacity of Hope, "has more often been a force for good than for ill in the world" (11). Obama's campaign was grounded in this belief and by tapping into the collective imagination of America--an America we can all believe in--he ascended to the presidency.

A little imagination, however, can be a dangerous thing. By engaging the imagination of the people toward "perfecting the Union," those who oppose his vision will also use imaginative methods to derail the manifestation of that vision. And if history is any guide, Obama's critics will use congressional tactics rather than violence and plunging the nation into civil war as did Manley's opponents, which along with a failing economy finally drove Manley from power.

For just as Manley soon realized that "free education" was not "free," Obama may soon discover that "universal health care" may not be as '"universal" as he or the electorate would like--at least, not in the short run. Obama will face the challenge of the grand vision versus the reality, and it takes sustained energy, either sweat or money, to make a dream into reality. This will test the loyalty of his constituents, many of whom are Millennials, and who are not used to delayed gratification or sustained effort--a tendency Obama acknowledges in Audacity, "the ease with which we are distracted by the petty and the trivial, our chronic avoidance of tough decisions, our seeming inability to build a working consensus to tackle any big problem" (18).

It will be interesting to see how Obama handles the instant messaging generation and if they will support him as the economy grinds through the upcoming hard times. For the recovery ain't just a click away.

For just as the leadership of Michael Manley exposed the internal contradictions of Jamaican society, so too will the presidency of Barack Obama test the beliefs of the American populace. We aren't post-racial yet, and the reason why racism works is because it has immediate economic and psychological benefits for the majority and for a few in the minority (the so-called leaders) who have found a way to use inequality to survive .

The times they are a changing, but it never be what we imagined because it is our collective imaginations that are shaping the events. There will be those think that the change is happening too fast and there will be those who think that change isn’t happening fast enough. Somewhere in the middle though where real change always occurs, the ground will shift. What that future will resemble is anyone's guess.


Photo Source: www.barack-obama.tv/

January 16, 2009

"A Simple Lyric, for Barack Obama"

The old story is still true
Of the divided child kept safe from hate
From those who would deny him his fate

To become the man who would renew
The urgent promise that would not wait.
The old story is still true

That in exile as the child grew
He would learn the humility needed to create
Hope: the people realizing it is they who are great..
The old story is still true.


Look out for my guest post @ Middle Zone Musings's BLOGAPALOOZA: "What I Learned From 2008." It will be published on Jan 21 at 6 pm CST (+6 GMT).


January 14, 2009

"Mule Train: Version" by Geoffrey Philp

read write poem promptI’ve decided to take part in read write prompt #61: reveal your dialect with a poem from my latest manuscript, DUB WISE.

In the poem, “Mule Train,” I am signifyin’ on the song that was written by Johnny Lange, Hy Heath, and Fred Glickman and itself signified on by Count Prince Miller in 1971 and then again with Sly and Robbie in the 1980s.

Of course, the Jamaican manner of signifyin’ in pop music is known as a “version” and there have been countless “versions” of “My Conversation,” “Queen Majesty” and the ubiquitous, “Satta.”

In my version of “Mule Train” the speaker is a young, female “drug mule” on a flight from Jamaica to Miami and she is worried about the moral implications of her involvement in the drug trade. This is just one of the ways that the writers of my generation, especially those from Jamaica, have responded to what Kwame Dawes has called the “Reggae aesthetic.”

Mule Train: Version

Lawd, me know it wrong,

but, do, doan mek de boots

buss, fa me an de pickney

cyaan tek no more. Fa yu know

de reason I mek de deal

fe carry dis poison

inna me belly an heart.

Ev’ry mornin’ me an de pickney

wake up from sleeping pon de col’

floor, an me haffi clean dem eye,

wipe way de matta, send dem

go school with jus a prayer

inna me heart

that so fassy fassy now

is like smady close de door

inna me ches’, an lef me one

fe walla naked in de dus’.

Lawd, do, I know I shud trus’

only you, but dis plastic

is de one t’ing dat stan’

between me and certain deat’

or money--an t’ings not looking

so good wid de acid bubblin’

up me throat an unda me tongue

an I wonderin’ even if I mek it,

how I gwine live?

For the “Jamaican challenged,” here are a few translations:

“doan mek de boots/ buss”: A condom is called a “boots”—the preferred method of cocaine transportation for drug mules. Because the speaker is also a mother, there is a certain amount of irony.

“fa me and de pickney/ cyaan tek no more”: the children and I can’t bear any more troubles.

“me haffi clean dem eye”: I have to clean their (the children’s) eyes

“wipe way de matta”: the dried stuff in the corner of your eyes when you wake up.

fassy fassy”: a cut or sore that’s infected. There’s also the repitition for emphasis in Jamaican that has its roots in West African speech patterns.

“smady”: someone

“fe walla naked in de dus’”: to wallow naked in the dust

“even if I mek it, / how I gwine live?”: even if I make it/ how am I going to live (with myself?)

Writing in dialect always poses a problem for me because it’s very idiosyncratic—it’s how I hear the character’s voice. There are also the added challenges of communicating to a wider audience and the exodus and exchange between home and abroad in a digital age.

And then, whom does one trust with the definitions and spelling? For example, I grew up in Kingston and we called a long knife, a “kitchen bitch,” but in the country, a “kitchen bitch,” according to the Dictionary of Jamaican English, is a lamp.

So how does a Jamaican author, who grew up reading the Queen’s English and listening to Bob Marley, but who is now living in Miami, Florida, navigate through all of this linguistic soup?

My solution has always been to stay true to the voice and negotiate the twists and turns of the language, so that the poem remains intelligible to an English reading audience. For despite the objections to writing in dialect by poets such as Derek Walcott, my reason for writing in dialect remain clear: it is rooted in my belief that everyone's story should be honored and to be as faithful as I can to create an authentic visual or if it's spoken, aural impression of voices that are often ignored.


Look out for my guest post @ Middle Zone Musings's BLOGAPALOOZA: "What I Learned From 2008." It will be published on Jan 21 at 6 pm CST (+6 GMT).


January 13, 2009

Canopic Jar #22 is on the Virtual Bookshelf

Canopic JarRethabile Masilo and Phil Rice have put together another outstanding issue of Canopic Jar.

Click over and read the fine poetry & prose.
arleneAng, coreyMesler [from our archives], gabebaBaderoon, isobelDixon, johnMcCullough, kayMckenzieCooke, leeAnnPickrell, leeStern, matthewGillis, michelleMcgrane, myeshaJenkins, patrickSullivan, phillippaYaaDeVilliers, rethabileMasilo, roseDewyKnickers, ruthSabathRosenthal, santiagoDelDardanoTurann,
amandaLawrenceAuverigne, ashHibbert, billGreen, liamLeddy, pollyTuckett, rickNesSmith, tomSheehan [from our archives], williamAlexander,
didiMenendez, sarahHastyWilliams [from our archives].
We'd like to thank the artists, new and regular, and encourage you all to continue submitting. This issue is the first one to have a comment section. The idea is to see how we can communicate better and more artistically. The comment section is Facebook enabled, so logging on to comment can be done with FB username and password.

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January 12, 2009

Who's Your Daddy?

Geoffrey PhilpAnyone who has read Barack Obama's Dreams from My Father understands the ache of a fatherless boy to discover the missing part of his life, the lost biological and psychological part of the equation that will help him to figure out what part he inherited and what makes him an individual. The stories in Who's Your Daddy?: And Other Stories are about boys like these from Jamaica, the Caribbean, and Miami.
In many ways, Who's Your Daddy is an expansion of the father-son dialogues in my work that began with Benjamin, my son and continued with Uncle Obadiah and the Alien where I explored the relationships between surrogate fathers and "adopted" sons. Who's Your Daddy?, however, asks other questions: What's it like to grow up in Jamaica and attend an all boys school with the secret that you are gay? The collection also continues my exploration of Caribbean magical realism in "The Day Jesus Christ Came to Mount Airy," "Bobby Bijani and the Rolling Calf" and "Sister Faye and the Dreadlocked Vampire," where a would-be surrogate is exposed and a young man learns to trust his own intuition.
It is this period that Jung defined as individuation that fascinates me. For not every boy will be as lucky as Obama to have a principled, idealistic father, a supportive step-father, doting mother and grandparents. The rest of us will have to tough it out on our own.
And in African-American and Caribbean cultures where our stories are denigrated and values such as honesty, independence, straight talk have been corrupted by colonialism and racism, many young men slip into self-hating behaviors as Obama states in Dreams: "Being black meant only the knowledge of your own powerlessness, of your own defeat" (85). This is similar to the kind of powerlessness that Ralph Singh describes in VS Naipaul's The Mimic Men.
Fear and powerlessness are rarely the basis for a healthy individual or community. Successful individuals, families, and communities have always devised methods to transmit sound values from fathers to sons, mothers to daughters, parents to children, elders to children or surrogates step into the gap like in Master Harold...and the Boys
And boys have always had a more difficult transition as Asante explains in Dreams: "It's worst for the boys. At least the girls have older women to talk to, the example of motherhood. But the boys have nothing. Half of them don't even know their own fathers. There's nobody to guide them through the process of becoming a man.. to explain to them the meaning of manhood And that's a recipe for disaster" (258).
Many of the boys in Who's Your Daddy? are similar to the young men we see everyday who are crying out for fathers or father figures in their lives and they seek it any way that they can from gang banging to adopting the names, the language and the codes of conduct from The Godfather.
They want to be individuals--they want to be men, but they don't know how. Until then, they remain rutting, testosterone-driven, half socialized human beings. And you don't have to read Lord of the Flies to discern this. Just listen to dancehall or hip-hop.
For the sad truth is that no mother can teach a fatherless boy how to behave around other men and boys because at the most basic level boys and men communicate differently when they are by themselves. A boy learns to be a man either by attaching himself to an older, more powerful male or by keeping quiet--if he knows what's good for him. So he slips into silence--the kind of intergenerational silence, especially between black men and their son, that Obama says in Dreams has "betrayed us" (429)
I hope Who's Your Daddy?: And Other Stories will break that silence by telling the stories of these fatherless boys and men. I hope some of these ideas were translated into the stories. I don't know. For my first impulse when I write stories is never to preach or teach. Rather, it has always been, "Let me tell you a story…."
Please follow this link to pre-order your copy of Who's Your Daddy?: And Other Stories at Amazon:

January 9, 2009

Asili Celebrates Black Writers from 1711 to the present

A special thanks to the African American Library and Cultural Center, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida and the assistance of Pearl Woolridge and Wayne Draper of the special collections section, Deborah Keeler and Celia Suarez of the Miami Dade College North Campus library, Asili writers Geoffrey Philp for his input on English speaking Caribbean writers and Max Pierre for his input on Haitian-Creole and Francophone writers.
clipped from asilithejournal.com

The following tables presents a partial listing of Black writers, poets and playwrights (African Americans and those of African descent) who created, shaped and influenced Black literature in the United States and the world from 1711 to the present.

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January 7, 2009

Psalm 23 for Bloggers

logger is my platform; I shall not want readers.

It maketh me revenue in pastures of AdSense;

It leadeth me beside the still waters of Page CTR,

It restoreth my Page Rank.

It leadeth me in the paths of righteous html for W3C's sake.

Yea, though I click through pages in the shadow of spam, I will fear no malware,

For McAfee art with me; Blogger's Terms of Service, they comfort me.

Blogger preparest banners and gadgets before me in the presence of mine WordPress enemies:

Blogger anointest my site with ads; my Page Impressions runneth over.

Surely subscribers and advertisers shall follow me for the life of this blog,

And I will dwell in the house of Google forever.


Related Posts: The Ten Commandments Of Blogging

Top 5 Reasons Why I Blog

January 1, 2009

A New Year Wish

A New Year Wish
Happy New Year!

This is my wish for your New Year
That as your eyes bless the morning light
Your heart will be filled with joyous delight

And you will no longer tremble in fear
Of want--the struggles and the fights.
This is my wish for your New Year

For all those whom you hold dear
That every wrong, every worry will be set aright
And you will put to rest your troubles tonight
This is my wish for your New Year