October 30, 2009

Just Published: OCHO #26 (The Travel Issue)

OCHO #26 (The Travel Issue), edited by Emma Trelles, has just been published and contains poems by Emma Trelles, Jacob Saenz, Geoffrey Philp, Nikki Moustaki, Jesse Millner, Alexandra Lytton Regalado, Jen Karetnick, Stacey Harwood, Michael Hettich, Susan Elbe, Denise Duhamel, and Didi Menendez.

You can read the poems here(Ocho #26) or you can buy the Print Companion here: CreateSpace--MiPOesias Print Companion

Either way, enjoy the poems and have a great weekend!


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October 28, 2009

A Tribute to Mervyn Morris, O.M.

A Tribute to Mervyn Morris, O.M. 
by Fragano Ledgister

Mervyn Morris has been the face of Jamaica’s academic and scholarly poetry for more than four decades. His voice and pen, more than any others’ has come to define a large part of the national literature of Jamaica since independence.

From his office at the University of the West Indies, he has been able not only to send forth to the public collections of his poetry, but some of the most important anthologies of West Indian literature published since the 1960s. He has been friend and mentor to more than two generations of writers, not only at Mona but throughout and beyond the region.

In Jamaica, through the 1960s and 1970s, however, he was better known as a champion tennis player. I recall a piece in the Gleaner, in the early 70s, perhaps by Cedric Lindo, the tone of which indicated that readers might be surprised to learn that in addition to being one of the country’s top tennis players he also enjoyed a reputation as a poet.

That he was. He was also willing to read the juvenilia of students who begged for his time, and asked for his opinion of their work; even if, as in my case, they weren’t his students. He was a ferocious and firm critic whose love of language communicated itself very clearly. So did his humour: of one frankly sexual metaphor in a poem of his he quipped “I took the image from quick-drying cement.”

His first edited volume of poetry, Seven Jamaican Poets, an anthology published in 1971 was a kind of history in miniature of post-World War II Jamaican poetry. It included work by R.L.C. McFarlane and Basil McFarlane, both undeservedly forgotten these days, who were already established figures in the 1960s, and the magisterial A.L. “Mickey” Hendricks, a man whose poetry absolutely deserves re-examination, then the elder statesman of Jamaican letters. It also marked the entry onto the literary stage of Mervyn himself, Dennis Scott, and Tony McNeil, the three most important poets of the early post-independence era; the men whose work at least one foolish youth hoped vainly to emulate.

Mervyn’s first collection, The Pond, published in 1973 marked him as a serious, lyrical writer. His poetry was spare, taut, tight, each word doing multiple duties, each word almost bowed beneath a freight of meanings. The language, whether Oxonian or Kingstonian, managing to be both bright and wry.

I would not have expected a poet who celebrated the senses as thoroughly as Mervyn does to have written his next collection, On Holy Week. The punning title is wholly Mervyn, however. Each of the poems is written in the voice of a participant in the story of the death and resurrection of Christ. These are poems intended to be read, and Alma MockYen was able to corral an extraordinary range of people to record the poems for broadcast on JBC over Easter 1977. I recall Hugh Morrison as Pilate, Leonie Forbes as Pilate’s Wife, a young dread from JBC as the Malefactor on the right, and me as a priest (“The chap’s a madman rather than a liar”).

The collection that followed, Shadowboxing published in 1979, has a title that is, again, punning. Mervyn takes language very seriously, and plays with it with extraordinary skill. I enjoyed his explanation, after the book came out, of what a shadowbox was, and the meaning of curiosa, one of the words in the title poem. Such subtleties were lost on the Trinidadian critic Victor Questel, who found the collection wanting. Questel’s review, which relied on the best-known meaning of “shadowboxing” as its operating metaphor, led to a poetic reply, using the same metaphor. With a punning title: “For Q.” One best read aloud. In private.

Such publications as the anthologies Jamaica Woman, published in 1980, co-edited with Pamela Mordecai, and Focus 1983, which brought to the public eye a new (and sometimes not so new) generation of writers not to mention the academic writing, and the prose anthologies, such as West Indian Short Stories, meant that Mervyn published no book of his own poems during the 1980s.

Examination Centre, which came out in 1992, takes up the threads of his earlier work, with taut reflective poems, and sharp wordplay. Though now there is in the verse less humour (although the humour is there) and more sadness. As the closing poem in the book notes “memory ketch yu/ like a springe.”

His most recent collection, published in 2006, I Been There: Sort Of, is both a new work and a selected poems. It demonstrates that he has not lost his touch, nor his sure sense of language, either standard or Creole. It also includes a bow in the direction of the new formalism, a demonstration that he could be a deft hand with the heroic couplet.

What I wish, and I hope Mervyn will indulge those of us who know about them, is that his limericks (to speak about another traditional form) might be preserved. I grant that the limerick is not the most exalted of forms, and is frequently associated with vulgarity, but these were clean enough to be published in the Sunday Gleaner; under a pseudonym, true, but still available for all to read.

I’ve mentioned Mervyn’s role as a mentor, for myself and others. Perhaps his most important act of mentorship was the launching of the Creative Arts Centre Arts Review, when he was Acting Secretary of the CAC (now the Sir Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts) while John Hearne was on leave in 1976. In today’s Jamaica where the internet is increasingly available, and where the Calabash Festival and Small Axe both do a great deal to promote serious writing, it may be hard to appreciate how few outlets there were for the young writer back in the 1970s.

Mervyn’s generosity with time, energy, and friendship to young poets – and to a wide variety over the years – has been truly legendary. The pleasure he takes in his friends and the enduring nature of his friendships is also the stuff of legend.

From the 1960s to the twenty-aughties, from Tony McNeil to Kei Miller, Jamaican poetry has been stimulated, encouraged, and awed by Mervyn Morris. When the Jamaican government got around to granting him the Order of Merit, the question on my mind was not “Why?” but “How dem tek so blasted lang?” As a poet, as a scholar, as a teacher, Mervyn has made an immense contribution to Jamaica’s cultural and intellectual life.

Fragano Ledgister was born in London, moved to Jamaica at the age of 12, and was educated at St Elizabeth Technical High School, Munro College, UWI Mona, New York University, and the University of California, San Diego. He has worked for the Jamaica Daily News, The Gleaner, CANA, Efe News Agency, as an office temp, as a college professor, and, once upon a time, as a radio actor.


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October 26, 2009

How To Use Symbols

Many young writers, who after they’ve read poets such as T.S. Eliot, often think that they need to “put some symbolism” in their work. They think that if they add a dash of imagery and a few tablespoons of symbolism, the path to literary immortality will suddenly appear. For my young male poets, the ambition is even more grand: seventy-two virgins will sweep them up into literary nirvana.

As tempting as the vision may be, I’ve often had to tell them the sad truth: symbols can’t be “added” to a poem. Discovering symbols in one’s work is a process. Writing is a recursive activity and symbolism in a literary work is the result of the intellectual and emotional state of the writer before and during composition.

But let’s say, for the sake of argument, that you’ve begin to write a poem and as you are following the words across the page, you find this gem nestled between the thorns of two commas. At this point, you have at least two options.

You can stop writing and do some more research if you think you don’t know enough about the symbol, or you can finish the poem and go with the intensity of the emotion that was the spark for the poem.

Either way works.

I usually choose the second option because I never know what will survive with revision, and I’d prefer to have a workable draft of a poem than pages and pages of Wikipedia downloads with nowhere to go.

Now assuming the gem has survived the first cut and you feel that the poem has not fully explored most of the connotative possibilities of the symbol, ask yourself these questions:

What is the origin of the symbol?

Should I learn more?

How has the meaning of the symbol changed over time?

Which other writers have used this symbol? How have they used this symbol?

What are the religious, intellectual, and cultural connotations?

Is the symbol relevant to the poem? Why?

Does the symbol grow organically from the poem?

Why does the symbol appeal to me?

How is the symbol re-imagined in my poem?

The last question is important because that’s where the creativity of the poet will be demonstrated in the re-imagining of the symbol.

I’m thinking of symbol, of course, in the Jungian sense as standing “for something that is unknown and that cannot be made clear or precise.” Or in the spirit of Ferdinand de Saussure, the signifier may remain constant, but the signified may change depending on the context.

It is this arbitrariness of the signified that creates the opportunity for artists to reinterpret myth and symbols as T.S. Eliot and James Joyce did throughout their careers. In fact, T.S Eliot’s essay, “Ulysses, Order, and Myth,” confirmed Joyce’s “mythic method”--a method Eliot had used in diagnosing the spiritual ills of Europe in The Wasteland.

The use of myth as a contemplative method suddenly became clear. But I did not want to  re-heat Western mythology. The myths would have to speak to something that was happening right in front of me, so I began searching. My quest ended with The Arrivants by Kamau Brathwaite. After I read that collection, I knew what I had to do.

Brathwaite's seminal trilogy made me realize the many displacements of Yoruba mythology in the Caribbean. This became one the major themes in my work: the rediscovery of African heritage in the Caribbean, which as Brathwaite has asserted is essential to the psychic wholeness of Caribbean peoples.

For if we continue to denigrate this heritage; if we do not honor this inheritance, then the cycle of self-hatred, the wound of the Middle Passage will continue to fester. We will never be healed  and all the symptoms of this dis-ease with ourselves will continue to manifest as the various social ills, especially the high murder rates in Jamaica, we see all around us.

Looking around Jamaica and the Caribbean, I saw Xango at a stoplight geting angry with the car in front of him; Erzulie on a Friday night getting in a taxi to go to a nightclub; Papa Legba sitting on the street corner cracking jokes and telling the children riddles.

These archetypal symbols became the means by which I could interpret Caribbean life, even as many of my compatriots continued to act out the characteristics of these loas without knowing it. Indeed, it may be said that some of us are being “ridden” or possessed by Eleggua and we don’t even know it.

And sometimes we want to be ridden by the loa and begin with a meditation on the symbol—the process that Brathwaite used extensively in his collection, Words Need Love Too.

This was the approach I used in the composition of the poem, “oshun,” when I learned about the death of James Byrd, Jr. in Jasper Texas on June 7, 1998. His death was so horrific and I was filled with a hate that needed to be exorcised. That is when I remembered Michelle Cliff’s poem to Oshun and I knew only the love of Oshun could save me from my own hate:

(to michelle cliff)

this morning i could have sworn i saw oshun
rise out of the water – “she who makes her people one.”

i needed to see her this morning after james byrd junior,
my brother, was dragged to death by a truck in jasper,

texas; for i need to believe this morning – i don’t want
to be a tongueless bell – i don’t want to be burnt

up like a useless limb by my own simmering hate.
oshun, guardian of our dreams and our spirit,

lover of our dark hands, dark bodies, dark skin--
healer of wounds made by our enemies and our weapons

aimed at ourselves--my sister, protect us in this dread
hour until anger passes – wash your coolness over my head.

“oshun” needed very few revisions. I already knew about her through Michelle Cliff’s work and my own research, so that when the poem came, I was ready.

But this perhaps leads me to the penultimate question about archetypal symbols: Do we choose them or do they choose us?

Words from flickr created by kastner (Erik Kastner)


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October 25, 2009

Blog of the Day: “You are Killing our Artistes and Celebrating it!”

 “You are Killing our Artistes and Celebrating it!”: Derek Walcott

In the Caribbean you’re more likely to wake up one day in summer and find it snowing than find a writer or poet who believes that the way to get ahead in the book trade and the literary field is to look to the governments for support. That’s no surprise considering the number of aspiring writers who, over the years, have felt compelled to leave their homeland in despair for the greener pastures of the USA, Canada and the UK.  


Mark Your Calendar: October 29, 2009

In commemoration of the awards bestowed on Ms. Norma Darby and the Hon. Mervyn Morris on National Heroes Day in Jamaica, the Friends of Norma Darby and Mervyn Morris, will be hosting A Celebration of Two Jamaican Icons at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Family on October 29, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.

A Celebration of Two Jamaican Icons will feature readings by local writers, Malachi Smith, Donna Aza Weir Soley, and Geoffrey Philp, as well as performances by the Jamaica Folk Revue and Tallawah Band.

A Celebration of Two Jamaican Icons

18501 NW 7th Avenue, Miami Gardens, FL 33169-4441

October 29, 2009 @ 7:00 p.m.

Contribution: $10

For more information, please contact Friends of Norma Darby and Mervyn Morris, 18501 NW 7th Avenue, Miami Gardens, FL 33169-4441, Tel: (305) 652-6797, Cell: 305-302-5365.


If you have enjoyed the work of either artist and would like to contribute to the event, please use the secure PayPal button located at the top right sidebar on this blo.
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October 23, 2009

350 & You: Day of Action

Blog Action Day has come and gone, but the real challenge of raising awareness about climate change and global warning has just begun.

This blog will join thousands of other blogs for a Day of Action on October 24, 2009, to spread the word about 350. But what is the significance of the number 350?

Here is a snippet from 350.org:

And what does this 350 number even mean?

350 is the number that leading scientists say is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide—measured in "Parts Per Million" in our atmosphere. 350 PPM—it's the number humanity needs to get back to as soon as possible to avoid runaway climate change.

If we're already past 350, are we all doomed?

No. We're like the patient that goes to the doctor and learns he's overweight, or his cholesterol is too high. He doesn't die immediately—but until he changes his lifestyle and gets back down to the safe zone, he's at more risk for heart attack or stroke. The planet is in its danger zone because we've poured too much carbon into the atmosphere, and we're starting to see signs of real trouble: melting ice caps, rapidly spreading drought. We need to scramble back as quickly as we can to safety.

It’s not too late to join the Day of Action.  

Join us today


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At the Graveside: Norma Lumley-Manderson (1931-2009)

To be graveside at a Jamaican funeral in America is to enter a parallel world where the only constant between here and then is the break in the circle around a gaping hole soon be filled with a rain of petals falling in a constant downpour like the evening thunderstorms that bind South Florida and the archipelago to the south.

The refrain of familiar hymns, “When The Roll is Called up Yonder” and “Face to Face,” tumble across the lawns puckered with headstones. And under the trees that are always green, the beautiful altos of my nieces (we are a family of singers) are balanced by the baritones of my cousins and a surprising tenor from a nephew I haven’t seen in over twenty years.

The lyrics of “In a Little While” pass over our lips, the bread that crumbles in our hands, too weak to hold anything but the blessings of a life that we have been privileged to know--for her laughter was sunlight. Her faith as sure as the promise which the earth has already made.

And then the terrible moment—the acknowledgment that we will never hold, laugh, cry or quarrel with her again. That even the most bitter fights were filled with the awareness of our communion--a presence that will be remembered in the marrow, the soft cartilage of our throats--in our singing, cursing, praising: the breath that passed between us.

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October 22, 2009

Small Axe Literary Competition: Winners

Small Axe announces the winners of its inaugural Literary Competition

In Short Fiction:
First Place: Ashley Rousseau, of St. Andrew, Jamaica
Second Place: Alake Pilgrim, of Dabadie, Trinidad

Short List: Rhoda Bharath, Joy Campbell, Ariane Cruz, Emille Hunt

In Poetry:
First Place: Monica Minott, of Kingston, Jamaica
Second Place: Tanya Shirley, of Kingston, Jamaica

Short List: Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné, Delores Gauntlett, Ishion Hutchinson, Ann-Margaret Lim, Damian Femi Rene, Obediah Michael Smith

The winning entries will be published in Small Axe 32 in July 2010.

The deadline for next year’s Literary Competition is April 2011.  Details may be found at www.smallaxe.net


Mark Your Calendar: Saturday, October 24, 2009

Arts at St. John's: SEASON SHOWCASE - RETROspective 

Join us for some of your favorites, such as local Jazz legends Mo Morgan & Madafo, comedian Ralphy Love, vocalist Dr. Julie Silvera, the choreography of Charmille Walters, and the music of Talent Quest Miami's winner Pianist/composer Rachel Currea.

And this is only the tip of the iceberg! Other performers include Raymond Yanez, Nydia Noriega, Rachel Faro, and Geoffrey Philp.

Not only can you expect a great show on the stage, but the evening includes an extraordinary reception with gourmet nibbles from Tawanna-Patrice, live music, an art gallery, cirque performers and other amusements that you won’t want to miss!

Come out and support your local artists on Saturday, October 24 at St. John's on the Lake, 4760 Pinetree Drive in Miami Beach. The show starts at 7pm sharp, but come early and browse Miami Beach's most famous pumpkin patch and get your fall gourds!! A good time is guaranteed by all!

Saturday, October 24, 2009
7:00pm - 10:00pm
St. John's on the Lake
4760 Pinetree Drive
Miami Beach, FL

TIX: $20 gate ($15 senior/student/online)
Buy discounted tickets online at: www.artsatstjohns.com


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October 21, 2009

Interview @ WPBT: Geoffrey Philp

Geoffrey Philp, author and professor at Miami Dade College, talks about his latest book Who's Your Daddy? 

Philp will be reading at the 2009 Miami Book Fair International on November 15, 2009.

Please follow this link for the interview:  Interview @ WPBT: Geoffrey Philp


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October 20, 2009

Special Call for Papers on Trevor Rhone and Wayne Brown

The Caribbean Writer announces a call for critical  articles and insights on Trevor Rhone and Wayne Brown for inclusion in a  special section in their next issue, Volume 24 (2010).

Email papers to submit@thecaribbeanwriter.org as attached Microsoft Word or RTF documents.  Please  refer to attached submission guidelines.

For more information, visit www.TheCaribbeanWriter.org or call (340) 692-4152.

Submission  Guidelines

The  Caribbean Writer is an international literary anthology with a Caribbean focus. The Caribbean  should be central to the work, or the work should reflect a Caribbean heritage,  experience or perspective.

Submit poems, short stories, personal essays and one-act plays. Maximum length (for short stories  and personal essays) is 3500 words or 10 pages. Only previously unpublished  work will be accepted. (If self-published, give details.)

Follow  this procedure for submissions: Put name, address, and title of submission on separate  sheet. Title only on submission. All submissions should be on a separate  sheet.  Include  brief biographical information and mention previous publications and Caribbean  connection, if any. Type (double-spaced) all manuscripts.

All  submissions are eligible for these prizes:

The  Daily News Prize for best poetry ($300)

The  Canute A. Brodhurst Prize for best short fiction ($400)

The  David Hough Literary Prize to a Caribbean author($500)

The  Marguerite Cobb McKay Prize to a Virgin Island author($200)

The  Charlotte & Isidor Paiewonsky Prize for first-time publication ($250)

Please  note that manuscripts will not be returned unless accompanied by an envelope and  postage. Authors of accepted work will be notified.

Book  Reviews - Persons  interested in reviewing books should contact the editor indicating areas of  expertise. Include sample reviews if possible.

Please  mail submissions to:              

The  Caribbean Writer 
University  of the Virgin Islands
RR 01,  Box 10,000
Kingshill,  St. Croix VI 00850

Next Deadline for submissions - November 30, 2009

E-mail  submissions to submit@thecaribbeanwriter.org as attached Word or RTF files.

Visit our website www.thecaribbeanwriter.org for  more information!

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Derek Walcott on Rap, Ruth Padel and Much More...

“But I think the activity of rap is a very healthy thing. I think if young writers are trying to rhyme, which is what they’re doing, it’s like a formal protest, in terms of composition.”

“It startled me, when rap came around, because you might have expected that protest would go in a different direction, in a form of violence. And the shape the revolution took was a surprising shape, in symmetry of language, in rhyme and rhythm.”

In fact, Walcott sees intriguing parallels between the social commentary of contemporary rap artists and the social satire of 18th century poets like Alexander Pope or John Dryden.

“You have to rhyme with rap. You’re doing the same thing as a heroic couplet, with the addition of doing it to music. Certain things fulfil themselves because they’re human instincts. Why should satire be in heroic couplets, in rap, as much as in Alexander Pope? Because the couplet summarizes, it emphasizes, it economizes.”

” Da da, da da, da da, da da, da dat/Da da, da da, da da, da da, da dat,” he chants. “That’s a natural couplet instinct, to criticize anything, because of the rhyme.”

 [More @ the Edmonton Journal]

Give thanks to Repeating Islands for the alert.


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"More Awards for the Arts": Hon. Mervyn Morris

After being conferred with the highest honour issued at yesterday's National Honours and Awards Ceremony, literary giant, The Honourable Professor Mervyn Morris, called for more recognition to be given to distinguished service in the arena of the arts.

Professor Morris, who was appointed a member of the elite Order of Merit for distinguished contribution to the field of West Indian literature, told The Gleaner he hoped that being appointed to the Order of Merit will shine the national spotlight on other individuals who have excelled in the arts, especially in the fields of literature and culture.

"It would be nice to see more awards going to the arts, culture in general, because there (are) many contributions that could be recognised."

He added: "I hope that literature and the arts will be increasingly noticed for an award of this kind," he said.



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The Cropper Foundation: 2010 Workshop

The Departments of Creative & Festival Arts and Liberal Arts
The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine

Residential Workshop for Caribbean Creative Writers

Are you the next Walcott? Naipaul? Lamming? C.L.R. James? Olive Senior? The 6th Caribbean Creative Writers’ Residential Workshop sponsored by THE CROPPER FOUNDATION, and organised in partnership with the Department of Creative and Festival Arts, and the Department of Liberal Arts, The University of the West Indies, St Augustine, will take place from July 5th to July 23rd 2010 in Trinidad and Tobago.

Fifteen writers who have not published a novel or collection of short stories, poems or plays will be chosen from across the Caribbean to join this year’s residential workshops.

The 2010 Workshop will focus on fiction, playwriting and poetry and will be facilitated by Professor Funso Aiyejina and Dr. Merle Hodge at a secluded writing-inducing setting location somewhere in Trinidad. Support for Caribbean Writing is an ongoing programme of The Cropper Foundation that seeks to contribute to the development of the Caribbean on many levels and in different areas of interest. The writers' workshop is part of the Foundation's effort to encourage new Caribbean literary voices by providing practical advice on the craft of writing. The workshops this year will culminate with the Launch of the first Anthology of Cropper Foundation participants’ writings – ‘Moving Right Along...’ as well as a celebration of the 10th Anniversary of THE CROPPER FOUNDATION.

Over 80 writers from Antigua, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin Islands, Commonwealth of Dominica, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, and the Caribbean Diaspora (Canada, USA, France, and UK) have competed to take part in these workshops held so far in Grand Riviere and Balandra on the eastern end of Trinidad's north coast, on Gasparee Island off Trinidad’s northwest peninsula, and in Tobago. From the participants of this workshop series, Lelawattee Manoo-Rahming (Bahamas) and Lenworth Burke (Jamaica) went on to win the Commonwealth Short Story Competition and the Jamaica Observer's Annual Fiction Award respectively; Ruel Johnson (Guyana) has won the Guyana Literature Prize 2003, Krishna Ramsumair (T&T) has published a number of short stories in local and international journals; Robert Clarke (T&T) received a Trinidad Guardian Writer of the Month award, as well as an EMA 2003 Green Leaf Award for journalism; and Tiphanie Yanique is now an Editor with Calabash and Story Quarterly.

For this year's Workshop, a maximum of fifteen participants will be selected from entries only from the Caribbean. The moderators will be novelist Dr. Merle Hodge (Crick, Crack Monkey and For the Life of Laetitia) and poet and short story writer Professor Funso Aiyejina, winner of the 2000 Commonwealth Writers Prize (Africa) for The Legend of the Rockhills and Other Stories. They are both lecturers at UWI, St Augustine, in the Faculty of Humanities and Education.

Participants will engage with published authors and professionals from the publishing industry, as well as speakers from a variety of other disciplines including history, culture and political science. Applicants, twenty years and above, who are Caribbean nationals residing in the Caribbean, are invited to submit application forms and samples of their writing (five pages only) no later than November 15th 2009 to the following address: Writers Workshop, Department of Creative & Festival Arts, The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine, Trinidad. Works of prose fiction, playwriting or poetry, either published or unpublished, will be considered for this workshop.

For application forms and further information, please call Dr. Dani Lyndersay (868) 663-0442; Ms. Rhoda Bharath (868) 779-7457 or Ms. Marissa Brooks 662-2002 ext. 3040 at The University of the West Indies, or email: MarissaUWI@gmail.com.


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October 19, 2009

Caribbean Publishing in the Internet Age

Anthony Williams’ aptly titled inaugural post at Caribbean Book Blog, “Breaking the Shackles” got me thinking about publishing, the Internet, and Caribbean writers. I won’t summarize the article here because it’s well worth reading in its entirety, but one of his major points stuck with me:

In the English-speaking islands of the Caribbean there is an estimated population of 5,444,762 (CIA World Factbook 2009 estimates). The Jamaican population in New York alone is estimated at 439,400 www.nyu.edu/jamaicans. Add to that the Afro-Caribbean population in the UK  estimated to be over 400,000 www.mind.org.uk/help/people; and the 783,795 people in Canada who are identified as black (2006 Census by Statistics Canada; www.eng.fju.tu/worldlit/caribbean) Altogether you come up with a population of 7,357,357 people who are overwhelmingly of Caribbean descent. This figure does not include people of Caribbean descent throughout the USA, Africans and African-Americans in the US, the African population in the UK, and Caribbean people of Indian descent in Canada. That seems quite a sizeable pool for Caribbean publishers and writers to try casting their net. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

Even if only half of this population represents potential readers, many of the challenges that Caribbean writers face, especially with publishers who claim that there is no market for our writing, would disappear.

There is still, however, the problem of connecting with this audience. Williams offers these solutions:

The good news is that there is a powerful new realm of opportunity that has opened up to the literary world. It’s the Worldwide Web and it offers writers some amazing tools;  Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites, online bookshops and virtually-free online publishing platforms, electronic book readers, (including the iPhone), book-review and promotion blogs and websites, online book clubs, Skype software that enables users to make low-cost international video and voice calls, send instant messages and share files with other Skype users,  print on demand (POD) publishing, viral marketing, and that’s just to name a few.

These may work, but there are some other problems that we’ll have to confront, and I’ll use this diagram adapted from marketing guru, Seth Godin, to illustrate:

Given the state of publishing in the Internet age, the goals of publishers and writers would be the following:

To connect Tech-savvy consumers via Twitter and other social media to Tech-savvy Creators.

Make it as easy as possible for Non-Tech Savvy Creators to become Tech Savvy Creators

Educate and make it as easy as possible for Non-Tech Savvy Consumers to interface with Tech-Savvy Creators.

As if that were not all, writers and publishers would have to overcome the digital divide and historic lack of trust within the Caribbean and the diaspora in the areas of money and technology. They would also have to figure out the demographics of the four major groups in the diagram.

The lack of trust is exacerbated by the lack of social proof. From my own experience, readers seem to prefer titles from any big US or UK publishing house over titles from Peepal Tree without thinking that these big companies are selling to markets that have ideas about the Caribbean that we might not share. Not to revive the old Walcott vs. Brathwaite controversy, but there is a reason why Brathwaite has never been published in The New Yorker. Brathwaite is a great poet. It’s just that his aesthetics don’t match those of The New Yorker or their subscribers.

Yet as daunting as these challenges seem, they are insurmountable. We have the genius and the daring to overcome them. And I don’t think need to depend on governments, religious or cultural institutions to help us:

Newspapers have already cut back on the sections devoted to books, and many are struggling to keep alive.

Our churches and religious institutions are too conservative and their sole purpose is to maintain the status quo. Any idea that veers away from their outdated, prudish, Victorian worldview is greeted with sermons of fire and brimstone. And a work like Marlon James’, The Book of Night Women, is criticized by some adherents because of its “bad” words.

Our governments have already proven to be unreliable. The goal of every politician is to retain power, and they have time and time again let us down. Witness the fiasco of CARIFESTA and the near debacle of Calabash.

Finally, many of the graduates of our educational institutions that should be able to provide the technological and literary expertise are more interested in holding conferences and writing white papers about dreary French theories.

So, it will be up to InI to build the networks. Again, Godin’s advice is helpful:

You can build a network (which can take many forms--natural monopolies are organizations where the market is better off when there's only one of you).

You can build a brand (shorthand for relationships, beliefs, trust, permission, and word of mouth) 
You can create a constantly innovating organization where extraordinary employees thrive.

Building networks will be the easy part, but building trust will be more difficult. Fortunately there are a few sites such as Ascodela, Caribbean Review of Books, Anthurium, The Arts Journal, Calabash, Caribbean Quarterly, Nicholas Laughlin,  The Caribbean Writer, Casa de las Américas, Hotel Abismo, Poui, Sargasso, Signifyin' Guyana, Small Axe, tongues of the ocean, Wadabagei, Town, and  Zafra Lit, that already fulfill this function.

But many of the publications associated with these sites are quarterlies and annuals, some of which are filled with academic writing that even someone as worldly wise as I am, find intimidating.

And while blogs such as Repeating Islands do an excellent job in introducing new books to readers, they cannot single-handedly cover all the books from the Caribbean. And in this digital age of immediacy, to really connect readers, writers, and publishers, sites similar to Red Room will have to be developed, as Williams has suggested, for and by Caribbean consumers and creators. And there are costs of time and money in maintaining a site full time—even public radio costs money.

What is needed is a web site that is devoted full-time to Caribbean writing. The site as I envision it would be a clearing house for books published by Caribbean writers. Publishers would submit their catalogues, writers could upload their photos and reading dates, and readers could subscribe via RSS, newsletters. or email. This would satisfy the need for a comprehensive overview of books written by Caribbean writers.

But what of excellence? For example, poetry that as Gregory Orr puts it is a combination of the “dynamic tension that comes from a marriage of contraries” such as music and structure, story and imagination?

There is an old saying, “Whatever you value, you measure.” In this respect, the site could provide down to earth book reviews that would not pander--discerning without being pedantic. And the reviewers should possess a catholic knowledge of Caribbean writing so that they would be able criticize a book on the basis of its craft and how it fits into or challenges our cultural memory.

Yet, how much are readers, writers, publishers, and advertisers willing to pay for this service?

How large will the staff of reviewers, web masters, and editors have to be? How much will the market bear for this service? How many deaths and reincarnations will we have to go through until the right model is found?

Despite all the odds, I still think such a venture is possible. We are a people who have made songs out of slavery, music from steel drums. But here’s the big question: are we ready?


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Who's Your Daddy? @ WPBT

Geoffrey Philp, author and professor at Miami Dade College, reads an excerpt from "How Do You Tell?" one of the short stories from his latest book, Who's Your Daddy?

Philp will be reading at the 2009 Miami Book Fair International on November 15,2009.

Born in Jamaica, Philp published several poetry collections.

Please follow this link: Video of Geoffrey Philp Reading


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October 16, 2009

Mark Your Calendar: November 2, 2009


Lovers of Jamaica and Jamaican literature, are in for a rare treat as Jamaican poet, columnist and top communications practitioner, Jean Lowrie-Chin shares her work at the South Regional-Broward College Library on Monday November 2nd, at 6 p.m. She will read from Souldance, a collection of poetry and prose that spans 30 years of her writing.

Jean Lowrie-Chin is well known in Jamaica as a sensitive and insightful columnist for the Jamaican Observer, and as the founder and managing director of PROComm, a leading Jamaican public relations firm. She is actively involved in the Women’s Media Watch, Press Association, Stella Maris Foundation, and Food for The Poor. The wide scope of her civic and charitable involvements informs her work with warmth, compassion and a profound grasp of the issues of her time.

Adding to her stellar accomplishments, Jean Lowrie-Chin has developed an original poetic voice and shares this with her readers in Souldance. In the writer’s own words “I am a breathless messenger in love with her God, her family, and her Jamaica.”

Reviewer Tyrone Reid called the book, “Touching, sensitive and captivating, Souldance is brimming with universal themes of love, family community and struggle.”

Beverley East of The Sunday Herald wrote that, “Souldance is a collection of poems and writings that should be on everyone’s bookshelf. Next time you are in a bookstore pick up more than one copy, enjoy it, share it with others and return to it again and again like your favorite muse that you would keep in your hearts - slip away to comfort your soul.”

Souldance was published in Jamaica by Ian Randle Publishers and copies will be available at the Broward Library event which is free and open to the public. A portion of book sales will be donated to Food for The Poor.

Contact: Christine Craig, Creative Projects, 954-579-0067.


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Ricardo Pau-Llosa @ Americano

"Ricardo Pau-Llosa: The Rebel without an Inferiority Complex" 
by Armando F. Mastrapa.
If a writer, or any other artist, is not focused on what is before him—which is how I see what you refer to as hedonism—and doesn’t reflect this in the work, then he, or she, may be a philosopher or an editorialist, but not an artist.  The immediacy of a work of art is what gives it lasting life.  It is a paradox, of course, which is to say a life-giving contradiction, the opposite of a solvable mystery.  And when one focuses the thoughtful mind on what is there before us, what is immanent, then a sense of loss hazes in, ineluctably.  For that idea-generating surrender to the immanent must pass, and quickly.  The trick is to enshrine that surrender in the work, so others can experience it inexhaustibly.  That is the function of art—not self-expression, not social commentary, not innovating on or reacting to what other artists have done.  To defy the temporal, the flux, art enshrines.

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October 15, 2009

Introducing: Caribbean Book Blog

"Caribbean writers are facing a dilemma. The region is blessed with numerous poets and novelists whose work has thrilled readers over the years.

But if you speak to many booklovers in and outside of the Caribbean, or check out some online message boards where the topic of discussion is Caribbean literature, you’ll find people bewailing how difficult it is to find good books by Caribbean writers, whether it’s in the region itself or in the metropolitan markets."

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Climate Change and Jamaica: Blog Action Day

One of the persistent myths that should have been shattered by the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, and Darwin is that humans have a special place in the universe and that we were somehow separate from the rest of life on the planet. Nothing could have been further from the truth. In fact, our knowledge about the cosmic accident that created an evolutionary niche for mammals to flourish should have made us more appreciative of the fragility of life and the beauty that surrounds us--especially those of us from island nations like Jamaica.

Now it may just be a case of national pride (I grew up in post-Independence Jamaica), but I think Jamaica is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Many Jamaicans would agree with me. And I also know some non-Jamaicans who would also agree with me.

The sad fact, however, is that sometimes we don’t act as if we live in a place of beauty, even when we receive warnings from scientists such as Anthony R. D. Porter about our environment:

the pace at which the ice sheets and glaciers are melting is downright scary to frightening…If the predictions being made are correct, then all of us in Jamaica and the Caribbean need to heed the warnings….We also need to set up a scientifically driven early warning and watchdog system to check and monitor the effects of rising sea levels, caused by increasing temperatures due to the increasing levels of carbon dioxide gas (CO2) being released into the atmosphere by the human race.

As John Maxwell has observed, geologists are not usually “alarmists”: “Geologists don’t usually do that, accustomed as they are to thinking in millions of years, aeons, epochs, and periods with Greek names like Triassic and Cenozoic.”

The implications of the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere are the resultant climate change are grave. According to Mr. Porter:

If a 10-ft rise should occur, then Port Royal, the Cays, Palisadoes Road, and Norman Manley Airport.

In short, planetary meltdown will result in economic, physical and social chaos, and human tragedy will be unprecedented in Jamaica's history, as every aspect of life will be affected - communications, fishing, food supplies, health, insurance, industry, power generation (if we still depend on oil), transportation, and so on.
Even now sections of the existing road surface are almost covered at high tide. Elsewhere in the island, all coastal sections less than 10 feet in height above the high tide mark will be inundated by the sea, including sections of coastal highways, beaches, hotels and other buildings, low-lying swamps, mangroves, Black River Morass, Negril Morass, and the Montego Bay International airport, to name a few: groundwater tables will rise, and weather patterns will change.

The evidence of climate change is already evident in island nations such as the Maldives. If as 350.org reports: “A warmer sea will translate into higher water levels, through thermal expansion of the ocean and storm surges. It will also damage coral, on which the islands depend for fishing and tourism,” then, the need for action is imminent. As Aminath Shauna, Deputy Undersecretary of President Mohamed Nasheed, has stated publicly: "Climate change is no joke for us: rising and warming seas pose an existential threat to the Maldives.”

Now while the problem of global climate change may seem insurmountable, I’ve always believed in the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”

But we need to be vigilant. Mr. Porter continues:

We need to stay informed. And we need to ensure that any and all proposed development projects be carefully scrutinised, assessed and evaluated (especially those planned in coastal regions) by all concerned, be they architects, bankers, contractors, developers, engineers, or politicians, because global changes are occurring that we in Jamaica have little control over. It is a scary prospect, indeed!

Blog Action Day and similar events are some of the ways that we can stay informed about this issue. Change has happened in the past when we as a species have banded together and raised our consciousness about a threat. Out of that matrix, solutions have been generated and we have reaped the benefits. Some of these solutions have already appeared in organizations such as Urban Paradise, which is making a difference in places like Haiti.
Blog Action Day is only a first step. For if we do occupy a special place in the universe, it is because of our self-consciousness—the awareness of our mortality. This alone should propel us because it is only by our collective action that InI will save ourselves.


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