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.



Anonymous said...

Geoffrey! Great article: thanks for sharing!

Geoffrey Philp said...

Thanks, Dave!

Malachi was very gracious to write this.

Joanne said...

I don't know how you do it but you get writers to step out from behind the art and offer themselves, unshielded (I know this from my experience as a guest blogger). Powerful and powerfully honest stuff. You may have the makings in these posts (down the road) of a book on writing from the mouths of various Caribbean writers.
Oh, and I remember Malachi from the Carbbean Fiction Writers Summer Institute; we were there in the same year...though I was in the fiction workshop...I still have his book that I bought that summer.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Give thanks, Joanne.
The writers do it For I

I think you have a great idea...