January 29, 2010

Review of Who's Your Daddy? @ Society for Caribbean Studies (UK)

Geoffrey Philp,  Who’s Your Daddy and other stories. Leeds: Peepal Tree Press, 2009.

Reviewed by: Yolanda Martinez, University of Birmingham

Geoffrey Philp‘s most recent collection of short stories Who‟s Your Daddy and other stories documents the experiences of the Jamaican immigrant community in contemporary Miami, at times intertwined with their lives in the Jamaican past. The twenty stories that form the collection bring together an apparently unconnected array of multilayered characters: a dreadlock vampire, a closeted homosexual football player, a rolling calf‘, unconventional priests, prostitutes and drug addicts, and a talking-fridge‘ are some of the characters in the collection that make the complexity of life and human relationships humorous and thrilling; moreover, their personal and peculiar stories underlie a commonality of contemporary issues such as the need for the revaluation of familial and matrimonial values, class divisions and racial discrimination, gender stereotypes and roles, tainted sexual and love relationships, poverty, drugs and violence.

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January 27, 2010

FCLA to Offer Spring Creative Writing Courses Beginning February 1

Learn to craft science fiction, write a poem or a novel this spring with the help of the Florida Center for the Literary Arts’ Creative Writing Courses, taught by talented writer/teachers with stellar publication records and classroom experience.

An acclaimed program of Miami Dade College (MDC), the Center will offer the courses from Feb. 1 through March 27. All classes will be held at MDC’s Wolfson Campus in downtown Miami. The Center will also offer the Writers Institute, four-days of intensive writing workshops with nationally-acclaimed authors being held May 5-8, 2010.

The 2010 Spring Creative Writing Courses offered are:   

Speculative Fiction and Science Fiction: Writing Beyond Borders with Kathleen Ann Goonan
Mondays, Feb. 1 to March 22
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Writing science fiction is not unlike writing any other fiction. Character, plot, setting, style, and the intangibles that hold these together are essential parts of the tool kit. But then, of course, there are those other elements--the accepted science fiction tropes of time travel, aliens, space travel, or new and subtle differences between our lives as we know them and what might be--that must be woven seamlessly into the work. Writing science fiction is an opportunity to explore the possibilities our ever-changing present holds. This is a hands-on course in learning how to revise and refine your own short story or novel using the tools of group critiquing, personal consultation with a published, award-winning science fiction author, discussions of good published science fiction, and recommended supplementary reading.

Advanced Memoir with Nick Garnett
Mondays, Feb. 1 to March 22
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

A rigorous yet supportive workshop, intended for writers who are in the process of completing a memoir, from early draft to final revisions.  In response to participant’s submissions, the class, under the direction of the instructor, will provide insightful and constructive peer critique, while also discussing important issues, such as structure, elements of craft and revision.  Participants should, at a minimum, have completed a substantial portion of a draft of their memoir and have previously taken at least one creative writing class.

Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Sincerity: A Poetry Workshop with P. Scott Cunningham
Tuesdays, Feb. 2 to March 23
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Even the best bands cover other bands’ songs. Why? Not because imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but because it’s (A) the best learning tool that exists and (B) lots of fun. If we’re poets who love poems and want to write better ones, the best thing we can do for ourselves is try to “cover” our heroes. And in doing so, we’ll hear our own voices that much more distinctly. In this poetry workshop, we’ll read and imitate poems we love, in addition to sharing our drafts and giving brief presentations. Plus we’ll have lots of fun.

Creating Life Stories from Photographs with Jeanne DeQuine
Wednesdays, Feb. 3 to March 24
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

It's a novel way to approach the staggering project of an entire memoir. Its focus: beginning writers or those who would like to polish scene-writing ability. The idea is to create two or three well-crafted pieces that stand on their own. We'll begin with the building block of a scene - provided by the photo - and move into describing character and finding the arc of a piece.

I Lie the Truth: A Fiction Workshop with Ariel Gonzalez
Wednesdays, Feb. 3 to March 24
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

How do you convert fact into fiction? Where should an author draw the line between art and life? What is the advantage and disadvantage of writing only what you know? These are a few of the questions we will explore in this workshop, which will look at ways to draw from personal experience without appearing overly self-absorbed. We will also discuss techniques to overcome writer’s block and improve compositional velocity. There will be readings and writing exercises. Be prepared to submit samples of your own fiction.

The Art of Abbreviation: Short-Short Stories with David Beaty
Thursdays, Feb. 4 to March 25
6:30 to 8:30 p.m.

Flash fiction? Sudden, mini, micro, postcard, short-short? These are names for very short stories, between 250 and 1,750 words long. In this workshop we’ll investigate very short stories, and we’ll write our own. We’ll read and discuss anecdotes, scenes, advertisements, jokes, parables, prose poems, and very short fiction by established writers such as Hemingway, Peter Altenberg, and Jayne Anne Phillips. Expect writing exercises in workshop, and be prepared to bring in your own very short fiction to be discussed.

Writing the Novel with Elaine Raco Chase
Saturdays, Feb. 6 to March 27
10 a.m. to noon

Welcome to the world of mass-market fiction!  Learn about the genre's, what publisher's want, how to find an agent and - how to write the novel.  You'll create compelling strong characters; learn to plot, the importance of dialogue, scene staging, foreshadowing, flashbacks plus beginnings, middles and endings; and how to research because most fiction is a blend of fantasy and facts.

The Novel Step by Step (a special workshop with Chely Lima)
Saturdays, Feb. 6 to March 27
10 a.m. to noon

Course will be taught in Spanish.

Students will plan and begin a novel, learn how to create characters and craft a plot.

All workshops will take place at the MDC Wolfson Campus, 300 N.E. Second Ave., in downtown Miami. Tuition for each eight-week workshop is $170, unless otherwise noted. Discounted rates are available for MDC staff and students currently enrolled in credit courses.

For more information or to register, please call 305-237-3023 or visitwww.flcenterlitarts.com.


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January 26, 2010

Nothing makes sense anymore, my sister.

Nothing makes sense anymore, my sister.
The dead words in my mouth can’t say how I feel
And forgive me, Lord, but it hurts when I kneel.
For they say the age of miracles is over,
But when will the horrors end so that we can heal?

Nothing makes sense anymore, my sister.
Mountains of cement and rebar have buried your lover,
His smile greeted you at five every day when you shared a meal,
But breath left your body when you saw the Citadel reel.
Nothing makes sense anymore, my sister.


January 25, 2010

A Personal Loss: Edwidge Danticat

"My cousin Maxo has died. The house that I called home during my visits to Haiti collapsed on top of him."

Pamela Mordecai and the Making of El Numero Uno

First, I must say that I enjoyed reading about exploits of your little pig, and that my only regret is that I won’t be able to see El Numero Uno when it opens in Toronto on January 31, 2010.

But now to the serious stuff—the interview.

1.       One of the most remarkable aspects if the play is the range of languages. What prompted you to make these choices? 

In the final analysis, I think what I’ve made is a mashup – of languages and cultures and archetypes – somewhat in the manner of Manu Chao. Manu Chao is a folk singer who was born in France, but is of Spanish origin (Basque and Galician) and he sings in French, Spanish, English, Arabic, and Portuguese, and occasionally in other languages. On almost any trolley in Toronto, you can hear many languages, not only being used, but integrated seamlessly, spliced into one another – Spanglish and Arabish and Frankish and Creole-and-English and Yiddish-English and so on. So any mix-up of languages is true-to-life, at least true to our life here in Toronto.

I also wanted to address the problem of what our Governor-General, Michaëlle Jean, refers to as les solitudes. (This is a riff, if you like, on the conventional Canadian paradigm of ‘the two solitudes’, English and French, which largely live in their own world; Mme Jean, originally from Haiti, has said, controversially, that there are several solitudes in Canada.) We need to accept the fact that we are one world of many cultures, that language is an important, perhaps the important, carrier of a culture, and that we need to start, not just appreciating, but entering and taking part in as many cultures as we can. If we don’t do that, we are going to miss an awful lot that is good and beautiful and rewarding, and we’ll probably be perpetually at war because we don’t know one another well enough.

2.       More on the question of choices? A pig as a star in a play about identity?

To be honest, that came about as a result of how the play developed. In 1995 I was one of four storytellers invited to the 25th IBBY Conference, held in Groningen, Netherlands. Dutch author and illustrator, Max Velthuijs, created a series of illustrations, and three other storytellers, among them Zimbabwean writer, Charles Mungoshi and I, were invited to create tales to go along with Max’s images. We were told we could shuffle the images around as much as we liked. The images were projected on screen in the order we chose when the stories were being told to the audience at the conference. Max’s hero was a pig, and thus was El Numero Uno, aka Le Premier Cochon, aka the Number One Pig, born. He was a huge hit at the conference, and so perhaps destined from then to go on to greater things!

In about 2001, when I first produced a treatment for the play based on the story, Uno was already a pig, and the cast of characters was pretty much determined. It never occurred to me to change them. Besides which, why shouldn’t a pig be the star of a play about identity? So many of us dislike ourselves, and often the thing we dislike most is our body, and often the reason we dislike our bodies is that they are fat. And if we are fat, that’s exactly what we say – “I look like a pig!” Fat is a source of such discomfort and unhappiness for a lot of adults and adolescents, boys and girls, so why not an adolescent pig that is a hero and not a repulsive creature?

3.       The play works extremely well because the characters all have a dramatic function and so there is an organic rhythm to the plot. However, will there be a glossary/guide for students who may be so drawn into the play that they miss the significance of characters such as Pitchy Patchy

The [Ontario] curriculum expectations as expressed in the guide link to objectives in the arts, social studies, language, history, and geography. They include analysis of oral texts; identification of presentation strategies and their effects on the audience; identification of tone, pace, pitch, volume and sound effects, and practice in using them. All of these will of course help students to demonstrate an understanding of the information and ideas in the play and the dramatic process. There’s also an introduction to reviewing that helps students to look analytically at the play, and talk and write critically about it.

I think discussions such as the one you suggest fall well within the scope of these goals.

4.       I’ve also noticed that our old friend, Anansi, under the guise of Compere Lapin, is in the play, yet he doesn’t have the role of the solver of riddles. Interestingly, you use Ras Onelove for this. Why?

It’s a Canadian-Caribbean story, with roots in Holland, an international character, and a sort of Jamaican pantomime approach. The characters – most but not all – are borrowed from a variety of traditions and I’ve taken some liberties with them. Compere Lapin, as we all know, comes from the Anansi story tradition in the American south and in the Caribbean. In some ways, I suppose, he does resemble Anansi, though I didn’t have Anansi in mind when I created Lapin. I guess they are similar in some ways: both have lots of children and have a hard time keeping them fed; Anansi can be regarded as a suspicious type, and Lapin is certainly suspicious; and both of them are undoubtedly very focused on their own problems. But, as you say, Lapin isn’t the problem-solver. Ras Onelove invited himself into the play – he was the last character to enter – and he wrote his own role as a speaker of heavenly truths, which of course is what a prophet is, rather than a foreteller of the future. As for Ras Onelove’s solving of riddles, I think he helps Uno begin to solve the riddle of who he is, what it really means to be El Numero Uno. That is undoubtedly the biggest riddle in the play, and Ras Onelove starts helping Uno from the very first time that they meet. The other riddle solving is a job to which everyone contributes, with the crucial unraveling being done by the littlest ones.

5.       In your interview with YardEdge, you mentioned a Shakespearean influence. Did this have anything with the inclusion of twins, mistaken identities, and a theme of appearances vs. reality?

Alas, alas! The twins were suggested by the original illustrations of Max Velthuijs. There’s only one respect in which I deliberately set out to do something Shakespearean in this play. I use rhymes to signal where most scenes end. Shakespeare isn’t the only playwright who did that, but I thought of him when I was doing it. If he’s in there in any other ways, in the mistaken identities or the theme of appearances vs. reality, those influences are subliminal: he got in there on the QT!

Thank you Pam and I wish you much success with Uno, the famous pig from Lopinot!

Thank you, Geoff. It’s always a treat to be on this blogspot! And thanks for the good wishes for the Number One Pig, for he needs all the help he can get as he struggles to grow up!


Photo by Martin Mordecai

January 24, 2010

Two More Ways to Help With Haiti Relief

"You must be the change you want to see in the world."~Mahatma Gandhi.

As the relief work continues, many of us in Miami have been thinking of ways to help our brothers and sisters in Haiti. We also worry about giving money to charities because we fear the aid will not get to the people.

I have always given to Food for the Poor and other agencies that were in Haiti before the earthquake. Yes, I know, they have their own agenda and I disagree with some of their policies, but according to the Better Business Bureau they have a proven track record of getting assistance to the poor with 97% of their donations going to their programs.

They are also part of the BBB's Charity Seal Program.--where you can check out other charities before you give. Because it's all a matter of trust, isn't it.

So, here is one more way that I am suggesting that you can help Haiti. It comes from a friend and colleague at Miami Dade College, Lisa Shaw:

Dear Geoffrey,

The ministry program I attend at St. Thomas University in Miami founded and operates a sustainable economic community Port au Paix. in the northwest of Haiti, giving the poorest province in the hemisphere's poorest nation their first experience with economic opportunity.  They have formed a coffee growers cooperative and a women' artisan cooperative (they make and hand decorate crosses) and this  university, under the auspices of the Archdiocese of Miami,  sends students and faculty year round to  assist them from planning to implementing to constructing.

Because Port au Prince is destroyed, hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing to this northwest province, which cannot handle the influx of people without help: no food, no water.  Right now the program is looking forward to LONG-TERM sustainability.  What happens 10 months from now after all the needed billion$ have come into Port au Prince?

They are stepping up the drive to sell the coffee, which I tried last night and which I promise you is delicious!  All proceeds go to the Haitian community absorbing the new refugees.  I am sending links to both the coffee web site and the St. Thomas program.  Please consider this as a way to contribution and feel free to ask me questions.

Lisa Shaw
The Illumination Blog


What I like about this program is not not only that they were there before the earthquake, but that they were promoting "LONG-TERM sustainability" and the solutions to the problems were being generated by the people in Haiti--a pattern that I hope will be repeated in our economies, arts, and cultures.

I'll be making a contribution to Cafe Cocano because it represents some of the things in which I believe: the ability of Caribbean peoples to overcome any situation and that we are responsible for creating the changes we want to see. Unless we (InI) do it for ourselves, nothing will happen.


Because I also believe in the power of the Word and that with giving, we can also speak/write/do great good, I'm recommending a site--thanks Randy!-- VWA{Poems for Haiti):

VWA: Poems For Haiti was created by Caper Literary Journal as a way to inspire people to think about the tragedy in Haiti. We want people — readers and writers alike — to generate hope through a time that is very dark. We have luxuries many do not, and though some of us cannot help in major ways, sharing your work in the name of their pain and strength is something we can do. VWA, the kreyòl word for voice, aims to turn the pain and inspiration into literary works.


January 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Derek Walcott (2010)


When we were boys coming home from the beach,
it used to be such a thing! The body would be singing
with salt, the sunlight hummed through the skin
 and a fierce thirst made iced water
a gasping benediction, and in the plated heat,
stones scorched the soles, and the cored dove hid
in the heat-limp leaves, and we left the sand
to its mutterings, and the long, cool canoes.

Threescore and ten plus one past our allotment,
in the morning mirror, the dissembled man.
And all the pieces that go to make me up --
the detached front tooth from the lower denture
the thick fog I cannot piece without my glasses
the shot of pain from a kidney
these piercings of acute mortality.
And your wife, day and night,
assembling your accoutrements
to endure another day on the sofa,
bathrobe, glasses, teeth, because
your hands were leaves in a gust
when the leaves are huge veined, desiccated,
incapable of protest or applause.
To cedars, to the sea that cannot change its tune,
on rain-washed morning what shall I say then
to the panes reflecting the wet trees and clouds
as if they were storefronts and offices, and
in what voice, since I now hear changing voices?
The change of light on a pink plaster wall
is the change of a culture--how the light is seen,
how it is steady and seasonless in these islands
as opposed to the doomed and mortal sun of midsummer
or in the tightening shadow in the bullring.
This is how people look at death
and write a literature of gliding transience
as the sun loses its sight, singing of islands.

Photograph by: Larry Wong, Edmonton Journal


January 22, 2010

New Book: Intersections by Frances-Marie Coke

A wise and perceptive vision of the human place in the world with satisfying sense of narrative development - a Jamaican woman changing the face of Caribbean poetry.

Idlewild is a place of contradiction for Frances-Marie Coke in her impressive second collection of poems, Intersections. Located deep in rural Jamaica, Idlewild is a place of emotional and psychic shelter for the poet, and becomes, then a place rich with symbolic and mythic meaning, not unlike Lorna Goodison’s Heartease.

In this collection, Coke traces the uncertain paths of childhood and adulthood through a sequence of poems that treat Idlewild as a character, a constant that serves as a reliable touchstone for memory. One is always aware that at the edges of many of the poems of security and pleasant memory are the haunting truths of rupture in family relations, abandonment, loneliness, resentment for the ways of unreliable men, and the challenges of a faith that must be practiced even where things are not hopeful. On such matters, Coke writes with eloquent empathy and profound insight.

A gradual unveiling takes place as the central voice of the poems matures along with her circumstances and her island. Coke is not afraid of nostalgia, but she is never sentimental in her exploration of the past because she is always acutely aware of the present - Jamaica with its poverty, violence, class divides and racial complexities. She writes about these with the same tenderness and sensitivity that she writes about the wide range of people that pass through her world - all marked by the human mix of the heroic and the pathetic.

Frances-Marie Coke comes to us with a well-formed poetic voice, a mature and authoritative command of form and language and a surefooted sense of what makes a poem urgent and timely.


April – my fiftieth year; a Sunday stolen

from our helter-skelter lives in scattered cities,

we stretch out in the sunstreams –

four sisters counting rhinestones in the sand.

From the corners of our eyes we sense

each other’s musings, take slanted glances

at our mother, purse our lips, and swallow

deep – concede the unnamed detail

lurking just behind her eyes. We huddle

in our robes of reminiscence, hiding truth

behind the dance of hope and fear.

A fisherman leaves his prints along the beach,

his dreadlocks glistening droplets

from his daybreak swim across the bay,

his tackle and his dog in tow. An elfin smile

eludes the mask Mama wears these days;

the corners of her mouth slowly upturned,

she stuns us with a bygone song “one man

and his dog went to mow the meadow”,

pointing at the Dread, her eyes locked ahead.

Just then, her face dissolves into a face

owned by another time and place:

1962 – the year of Independence,

when she’d bundled up her pardner draw

with all the other savings to pay down

on her key. How her eyes had shone,

fingering her motorized machine,

quickening her stitches, turning corners,

embroidering the patterns of tomorrow

on curtains for a house that was a home–

Now we watch her turn to face the breakers

rippling into shore, salty water brimming everywhere.

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January 21, 2010

Accepting Submissions: St. Somewhere

St. Somewhere seeks short fiction and poetry for its inaugural online issue.

 In preparation for its official launch, St. Somewhere - A Literary Journal, is now accepting submissions of poetry and short fiction. St. Somewhere is an innovative, blog formatted journal concept, designed to maximize on the contemporary mode of internet communication. By offering smaller, more frequent volumes of publication, we strive to foster a user-friendly, online literary environment in which to connect authors and readers.

St. Somewhere is a regionally focused publication, dedicated to creative writing from and about the Caribbean and Coastal South of the United States.

Randy Baker
St. Somewhere Journal


El Numero Uno Comes to Toronto!

Next week Monday, I will publish an interview with Pam Mordecai whose play, El Numero Uno, will open in Toronto, Canada, on January 30, 2010.

Pam talks about the sources of the play and the aesthetic choices she made in the composition of El Numero Uno, the story of the famous pig from Lopinot.

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January 20, 2010

"Miss Lou and wi Kulcha" : Saturday, January 30, 2010

Broward County Commission Libraries Division presents the Third Annual Louise Bennett-Coverley Reading Festival and the SR-BC Library’s 3rd Anniversary: "Miss Lou and wi Kulcha"


Fr. Easton Lee

Dr. Susan Davis

L'Antoinette  Stines

Lilieth Nelson

Tallawah Mento Band

Jamaican Folk Revue

Dr. Marcia Magnus (Moderator)

Admission to the event is FREE.

Refreshments will be served and signed books and CDs will be available.

Saturday, January 30, 2010, 2:00 – 4:00 pm

South Regional-Broward College Library,

7300 Pines Boulevard, Pembroke Pines.


Contact: Nancy Ansley, nansley@browardlibrary.org

Library Specialist III, Programs and Events Manager


Tell Tales: Accepting Submissions

Tell Tales is looking for short stories to publish online. Starting Spring 2010 we’ll be publishing one story every month on our website. Stories can be of any genre and style. We’re looking for authentic and original storytelling that is compelling and exciting.

Please send your submissions to showtime@telltales.co.uk.  Submissions are accepted from new and established writers.


  1. Stories should be previously unpublished and between 1,500 to 2,500 words in length
  2. Put the title and your name at the top of the page and in the footer
  3. Number each page
  4. Put word length at the end of the story
  5. Double space your work

Authors retain all rights to their work. Allow eight weeks from submission to receive a response from us.

Happy writing!


January 18, 2010

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (2010)

“Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'”
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

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January 15, 2010

Nou led, Nou la--This is What we Know.

Nou led, Nou la--this is what we know.
We’ve carried this sorrow in our mouths for so long,
Cursed by those who say we don’t belong,
and mock our ancestors, yet still we grow,
our bodies filled with the pride of our song.

Nou led, Nou la--this is what we know:
Though it seems our story began with woe
When Toussaint defeated Napoleon to right our wrong
And at Bois Caiman we said we were free and strong.
Nou led, Nou la--this is what we know.


*Nou led, Nou la [We are ugly, but we are alive].

January 13, 2010

Earthquake in Haiti:

Some things are bigger than literature.

From the charity to which I donate, Food for the Poor:

Earthquake in Haiti:  A 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck near Port-au-Prince, Haiti, earlier today. Devastating aftershocks followed. Your help is urgently needed to bring immediate emergency relief to those affected. Please donate now.

Donations: http://www.foodforthepoor.org/haitiquake  or 1-800-487-1158

How to Help

The United States State Department Operations Center on Tuesday opened a number for Americans seeking information about family members in Haiti. Due to heavy volume, some callers may receive a recording. "Our embassy is still in the early stages of contacting American citizens through our Warden Network," the U.S. State Department said in a statement. "Communications are very difficult within Haiti at this time."

The number for Americans who are looking for information about family members in Haiti is 1-888-407-4747.

For those interested in helping immediately, simply text "HAITI" to "90999" and a donation of $10 will be given automatically to the Red Cross to help with relief efforts, charged to your cell phone bill.  

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Pamela Mordecai Interviews Dr. Keith Ellis

Keith Ellis (Jamaica, 1935; B.A. University of Toronto; M.A., Ph.D, University of Washington) is Professor Emeritus at the University of Toronto. He is the author or editor of some fifteen books and many articles dealing principally with Spanish American literature and culture. Among his numerous publications are El arte narrativo de Francisco Ayala, 1964; Critical Approaches to Rubén Darío, 1974; Cuba’s Nicolás Guillén: Poetry and Ideology, 1984; José María Heredia: Torrente prodigioso, 1998; Nicolás Guillén: nueva poesía de amor, 1994; y Nueve escritores hispanoamericanos ante la opción de construir, 2004. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Havana, an honorary member of Cuba’s Union of Writers and Artists; and a corresponding member of the Cuban Academy of the (Spanish) Language. In 2004 he was given the Award for Excellence in Academia by the Association of Black Students and Alumni of the University of Toronto.

1. Professor Ellis, congratulations on the collection you've just compiled, POETAS DEL CARIBE INGLES. Is it the first anthology of its kind, or have there been previous anthologies like this one?

Well, thank you, Dr. Mordecai. This indeed is the first anthology of English Caribbean poetry to be published in Spanish translation and in a bilingual form. I should tell you that the editor of the Venezuelan publishing house has said that this anthology "has come to fill not a lagoon but an ocean of ignorance.” The only previous publication in this vein that I know of was a special issue of the journal Casa de las Américas in 1975 that was devoted to English Caribbean writers and that included some 20 poems. My anthology has more than 160 poems by 69 poets.

2. What prompted you to put the collection together?

The real origins of a project like this go back to my high school days in Jamaica, when I used to argue in vain for the inclusion in our curriculum of Spanish-American and Spanish-Caribbean writings. And I have always looked for opportunities to know more about the Spanish-speaking Americas and to have them know more about us. So that when, during a conference in Cuba, Rei Berroa, a friend from the Dominican Republic told me that he had a request from the editor I have just mentioned to do an anthology of Spanish-American poets writing in the United States, I told him that an anthology such as this one that I have just published would perhaps have a great welcome in the Spanish-speaking world. And so we proposed the idea to the editor who first accepted it as a monolingual anthology in Spanish. I later made the request that it be bilingual and he agreed. This is the first time that this publishing house has published in English, and they have done a really fine job.

3. How many poets are represented in the anthology, from what countries, and how did you select them?

There are some 69 poets, as well as an outstanding prose writer, the novelist, my friend, Austin Clarke, who kindly agreed to write the /Preface/, that blends well with the /Prologue/ written by Rei Berroa and with the /Introduction/ that I wrote, in which the two literary histories--the Spanish-American and the English Caribbean--are compared. I believe that all the English-speaking Caribbean countries are represented in the anthology, in addition to Aruba and the Bahamas. The selections were made on the basis of poems that I found to reflect well the themes that are vibrant ones in our Caribbean.

4. Did you do all the translations yourself, or was there a team of translators?

There was a team of translators, mostly Cuban friends, many of them poets. I also did many of the translations and, of course, was responsible for the quality of all the translations.

5. Why did you choose a Venezuelan press?

The Venezuelan publishers, El Perro y la Rana [The Dog and the Frog], came into being in 2005 with a mission to make world literature available to Venezuelans and to Latin Americans in general. The mission has integrative and popularizing aims. In the short period of its existence that House has published about 40 million books, including a million and half copies of a version of Don Quijote. The book also fits well into the ALBA [Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean] concept of uniting and making the hemispheric countries more aware of each other.

6. What plans are there for marketing and promoting the anthology?

The Venezuelan Ministry of Culture is planning another in its World Poetry Festivals for May or June 2010. This Festival will feature English Caribbean poetry, and this book will be the focal point. I hope that many of the poets will find it possible to attend. Besides, at the recent launching of the book in Caracas, a keen interest was expressed in it by one of the principal Cuban representatives of ALBA, who spoke of desiring a Cuban edition. The idea is more to have people have access to the book than to see it as a commercial success, so that in Venezuela, for example, the two volumes of the anthology--a total of 674 pages--sell for less than five dollars. I am making arrangements for the book to be available in the English-speaking Caribbean and even here in Toronto when transportation difficulties can be overcome.

Pamela Mordecai is a Jamaican writer, teacher, and scholar and poet. She attended high school in Jamaica and college in the USA, where she did a first degree in English. A trained language-arts teacher with a Ph.D. in English, she has taught at secondary and tertiary levels, trained teachers, and worked in media and in publishing.

Mordecai has written articles on Caribbean literature, education and publishing, and has collaborated on, or herself written, over thirty books, including textbooks, children’s books, and four books of poetry for adults. She has edited several anthologies. Her poems and stories for children are widely known and have been used in textbooks in the UK, Canada, the USA, West Africa and the Caribbean. Her short stories have been published in journals and anthologies in the Caribbean, the USA and Canada.

Pam Mordecai has lived in Toronto, Ontario, Canada since 1994, but the Caribbean experience continues to be the focus of her writing.


January 11, 2010

An Open Letter to my Students in Freshman Composition

Dear Students,

Over the next four weeks, I will be assigning several five paragraph essays on set topics, and you’ll probably hate it. If it's any consolation, I, too, dislike the early part of this process. I can only promise you that I will try to find interesting topics and I will grade your assignments fairly.

The five paragraph essay is one of the most basic forms that educators use to teach writing. From the first day of class, these essays help me to see if my students understand the building blocks of an essay. Once you have learned the basics, you can explore other, more complex forms. Essay writing is an essential part of your college education and the sooner you master the fundamentals of writing, the sooner you will enjoy your classes, and you may even get better grades.

Why do I say that? One of the key determinants of success is attitude. Whenever we have ill feelings toward anything, especially something we hate, it shows. Buy a Big Mac at a McDonald’s on 163rd Street and another at Aventura. The sesame seed buns are plump and the sizzle of the two beef patties atop beds of iceberg lettuce, pickles, and onions along with the slow drip of cheese down the layered sides are a visual and olfactory delight.

Yet the burger at 163rd Street tastes better because the server, who looked neat and clean, greeted you with a smile and said, “Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?” The server at Aventura with her hairnet out of place and whose fingernails were dirty may have said the same thing, but the look in her eyes said, “What are you doing here? Get out of here before I call the police!” She ruined your meal and the eating experience.

The same thing happens with your essays. There’s attitude all over the paper. And English teachers can tell. How? Well, for starters, you may not think about it this way, but English teachers are trained, professional readers. We became teachers because we love reading. We savor words the way an experienced wine taster appreciates an aged Bordeaux—pure bliss.

And we’ve been “follow[ing] our bliss” for a long time. Some of us when we were younger strained our eyes reading in the dark with flashlight because we wanted to finish a book, but didn’t want to disturb our brothers and sisters who were fast asleep. Others wore baggy clothes to hide our books because we didn’t want to get into fistfights every day with the bullies who used to tease us and say, “You think you’re better than us?” or “Why are you acting ‘white’ reading those books?” That’s how much we loved reading. It was our passion.

And all this reading taught us at least two things: whenever you find your passion, hang on to it; and always try to find a way to make a living doing what you love. So, we began our careers in teaching in order to share our passion for reading with others.

And then, I read your essay. Your essay from the first line says, “I don’t want to write this. You made me write this, so you are going to suffer through this as much as I have.”

We’re back at McDonald’s with the bad server.

You haven’t checked your spelling, grammar, or punctuation. It’s as if you don’t care. And it shows.

But do you really think the server at either McDonald’s loves her job? That’s not the point, is it? The server at the McDonald’s at 163rd may hate her job. The difference is she wants to make eating at McDonald’s as pleasurable as possible.

So what does she do? She makes sure that her uniform is clean, her hair in place, and her nails are clean and polished. Everything about her, including her smile, says, “Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?”

Do her feet hurt? Is she still angry at the last customer who cursed her out and called the manager on her? Is she worried that her baby, who’s been crying all night, may be sick? That her boyfriend may be cheating on her? You’d never know. Because all you see, it this happy person who greets you with a smile: “Welcome to McDonald’s. May I take your order?”

Yeah, but what does that have to do with writing an essay? Everything!  It’s the same as working at McDonald’s. You fake it every time, and you do it with style. And what's the most important aspect of style? As Sam, the surrogate father of Halley in Athol Fugard's "Master Harold"... and the Boys explains, "The secret is to make it look easy." But you never let your customer, the reader, know that you’re faking it.

So, how do you do that?

Well, for starters an assigned topic in class solves one of the first of three questions every writer has to consider before she begins writing: For whom am I writing?

Here’s the second question: What do I want to say about the topic?

Yes, you! What do you want to say about the topic? You have an opinion, don’t you? I want to know about it.

And don’t tell me what you think I want to hear. I’ve heard it a million times from ten million students. I didn’t start teaching yesterday. Tell me your thoughts about the subject because that’s what I want to know. I want to experience the pleasure of understanding your thoughts and ideas about the subject.

For some of you this may be very scary. You may have been told all your life that no one wants to hear your opinion about anything. Or you may come from a family or a culture that discouraged you from speaking your mind. But for the time that you are with me (and I hope you’ll take a bit of the class with you), I want you to forget all that and tell me what you really think. That’s what I want to read.

Now you may be thinking, “That’s easy for you to say, Professor Philp, you write every day. But for me, writing is hard. In my family we don’t speak English and I don’t read a lot of books, so I don’t know what regular English sounds like.”

Ah, young Jedi. You can borrow books from the library on campus, and you already possess all that you will need to write about the subjects that I will assign in this class--your imagination.

For example, if you are writing a persuasive essay, imagine that you are a prosecutor in a court room who makes assertions (generalizations) and provides evidence (supporting details) for a meticulous judge:

Prosecutor:  Mr. Philp is a thief.

Judge:  Do you have any evidence?

Prosecutor: Sir, we have the videotape from Thanksgiving 2008 of the accused stealing McNuggets from a McDonald’s in Aventura. The tape will show him stuffing the nuggets into his pockets while the cashier was not looking. When he was confronted by the police, even though bits of McNuggets were flying out of his mouth into the officer’s face, he denied (he looked quite hungry) that he had stolen anything.

All of the rules of evidence are presented: Who? What? Why? Where? How? and When? You need to do the same in your essays. A successful essay, presents a mixture of assertions (generalizations) and evidence (supporting details):

Geoffrey Philp is a liar and a thief. On Thanksgiving 2008, he was caught on videotape stealing Chicken McNuggets from a McDonald’s in Aventura. The tape shows him stuffing nuggets into his pockets and into his mouth. When he was caught by the police, Mr. Philp, whose eyes had the look of man who hadn’t eaten in three days, lied to the police and denied that he stole the McNuggets. No one believed him. Every time he spoke, bits of the McNuggets kept flying out of his mouth and into the arresting officer’s face.

Philp will be going to jail—he will not pass Go!—because the prosecutor has proven her case.

But how do you build your case for your trained reader—the judge? Fortunately, writing an essay, like any other skill, can be learned by anyone.

But before you begin writing your essay or building your case, you will need to ask yourself the third question, what do I know about this subject? You may even follow up with another question, do I know enough about this subject?

If you don’t have enough information, you’ll need to gather more evidence by conducting research, brainstorming, idea mapping—anything that will help you to generate as many ideas as you can about the topic.

Then, you will need to build your essay logically and coherently. In other words, you will need to decide how you will present your ideas. Will you appeal to the reader’s heart (pathos) or mind (logos) while appearing to be fair-minded (ethos)? Or perhaps a combination of all three?

Once you have done all that set aside about an hour or two to write the first draft of your essay which should have an introduction, body, and conclusion.


Begin with a hook—something that will catch the reader’s interest and will signal your general ideas about the subject and where the essay is heading:

On the surface, Geoffrey Philp may seem to be a mild-mannered English teacher, but he isn’t.

Give some background information about the subject so that the reader will understand the context of your assertions (generalizations). Help the reader to understand why you are making the assertions.

Mr. Philp, who works at Miami Dade College, etc.

Thesis Statement: Make three assertions that you will prove with concrete, specific evidence. Also be bold in your assertions. Don’t add qualifiers like “In my opinion,” “I think,” or “I believe.”

Mr. Philp is a liar, thief, and masticator.
Body Paragraphs.

Topic sentence. Make your assertions in a logical sequence following the plan of the thesis statement.

Geoffrey Philp is one of the most boldfaced liars in Miami.

Give the reader more background information (context) to set up the evidence:

Although he appears to be, etc

Present evidence that will answer: Who? What? Why? Where? When? and How?

Two years ago, Philp etc.

Offer a bit more of interpretation of the evidence and use transitions between the paragraphs.

As if that were not all, Philp is also…

Rinse and repeat for all subsequent body paragraphs.

Concluding paragraph.

Restate the thesis:

Although Philp etc

Sum up the assertions:

Philp blah, blah, blah

Leave the reader with a final thought:

Geoffrey Philp, if he is convicted of the crimes for which he is accused, will spend the rest of his life in jail and Miami will be a safer place.

You now have the framework for writing an essay. But you’ve only written the first draft. If you really want a good grade, re-read the essay and ask yourself, does this make any sense? E-mail the draft to one of your nine million Facebook friends and attach a note: “Does this make sense? Any suggestions?”

If your friend replies and you agree with her, incorporate her suggestions into the text and revise for “flow.” Expand, contract, or delete words or ideas that could confuse the reader. Make sure all those sentences shine--the pleasure principle for the reader. Your sentences should be varied to match the tone, and the word choice of active verbs, precise nouns, and sensory details, when appropriate, should help the reader to experience the emotions or ideas about which you are writing. Make it beautiful.

Then, comes the part that we all hate: editing. Check for proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar. And because excellence always demands some extra time effort and time, proofread once more. How many times did you think I proofread this? Probably a zillion times. And I’m still seeing some places that I could have made it better.

That’s it! You’ve done it!

You’re now ready to begin working as a cashier at McDonald’s or a prosecutor in Miami. Either way, good luck with your writing!

Yours truly,

Professor Geoffrey Philp

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