January 31, 2011

Patwah & Somebodiness

Mikey Smith

Bald heded John Crow
siddung pon tree top
look dung pon ded English speech cock
  a patwah dat
  a patwah dat

“A Patwah Dat” by Mikey Smith

I’m thinking of signing up for Inglés sin Barreras because as the web site explains, “Knowing English has become a basic necessity. That is why Inglés sin Barreras is here to help.”

I kid, of course. Not about the “knowing English” part, but the signing up for the course. I think I know enough English to get around Miami pretty well. Throw in un poquito de español and the only words I know in Kreyol, Sak pase? and I’m a veritable man about town.

I swear, living in Miami sometimes feels like the opening scene in Bladerunner.  We recognize language for what it is: a tool for communicating a need or for accomplishing a task—from buying a Red Stripe y para buscando el cuarto de baño.

So I was surprised at the bangarang in Jamaica over the Patois Bible and the assertion of one journalist: “If you take the Bible and its theological meaning seriously, it is clearly unsatisfactory to have it translated into a style of speaking which was never meant to be set out on paper and convey precise theological concepts.”

If you believe that, then you believe that God only speaks in the Queen’s English. Now I know why my prayers have not been answered! Especially the ones about writing the Great Caribbean Novel. I’ve been praying, “Do, Massa God. Ah beg yu,” and the Archangel Gabriel has been picking up the celestial iPhone (no Samsungs in heaven) and saying to the Most High, “Yea, verily, it is that lad from yonder isle who speaketh in an unknown tongue. Moreover, he doth listen to that infernal doom-di-doom-doom music." Then, Gabriel blocks all future calls. And you can forget about texting or tweeting. Those, too, are not allowed in heaven.

But fun and joke aside, as my friends used to say, I’ve listened to the translation by the Bible Society and if the words can move an old reprobate like me to repent, then the translation has fulfilled its intended purpose.

And what "precise theological concepts" is she talking about? The message of the Bible is very clear: Love InI.

The esteemed journalist even had the temerity to suggest: “Patois has it charms and should never die. But stories in the British media about translating the Bible into patois only play into a stereotype that Jamaicans are ignorant, and do the island a huge disservice.” This reminds me of a routine by Wanda Sykes in I’ma Be Me: “White people are lookin' at chu!'' 

If white people want to equate patwah with ignorance, let them do so at their own peril. Are Miss Lou or the dub poets such as Oku Onoura, Mikey Smith, Mutabaruka, Jean “Binta” Breeze, Malachi Smith, or Linton Kwesi Johnson, “the first black poet to have his work published in Penguin's Modern Classics series” ignorant?

But this goes to a deeper issue. The equation of patwah with ignorance.

What’s even worse is that by devaluing patwah, we wound children who have been hearing patwah from the day they born. Patwah is as natural to them as mother’s milk. We may also be reviving the last vestiges of British colonialism that suppressed the “local” tongue throughout the Empire. The British did it in Ireland, India, and the Caribbean. The French and the Dutch (read about Trefossa) also practiced the same policy in their territories. This has been a long standing practice of conquerors since Nimrod was a boy.

Instead of saying to our children, “You are less than others” for speaking patwah, we should be saying, “You are someone. We can help to make your light shine even brighter by learning Standard English, Spanish and perhaps Mandarin?”

Language is breath is life.

We must assert our children’s somebodiness  and never let doubt in the form of breath, make them feel less than others by denigrating patwah. The ability to compete in the world market is not just possessing skill sets; it comes from a confidence in one’s abilities--the kind of mindset that Marcus Garvey urged when he said, “Always think of yourself as a perfect being… Never allow anyone to convince you of your inferiority as a man. Rise in your dignity to justify all that is noble in your manhood as a race.”1 Only then, will our children have the ability as our esteemed journalist suggests, “to compete in the international marketplace.”

1 Marcus Garvey.  Life and Lessons. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987).


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January 28, 2011

Fourth Annual Louise Bennett-Coverley Reading Festival

The fourth annual Louise Bennett-Coverley Reading Festival, which takes place Tuesday, February 1, 2011, will mark the beginning of activities observing February as Black History Month, at the South Regional Broward College Library in Pembroke Pines.

Under the patronage of Jamaica’s Consul General, Sandra Grant Griffiths, the festival will feature a panel discussion titled “Mi Fren’ Miss Lou – Then and Now," and her relevance to today’s society.

Panelists will include notable Jamaicans in the arts who had worked with her during her long and expansive career, including Rev Easton Lee, author, storyteller and playwright; Dr. Ivy Armstrong, healthcare professional, poet and public speaker, and Dr. Susan Davis, actress, poet and educator. The moderator will be Dr. Marcia Magnus, educator.

The Reading Festival was started in 2007 by former Executive Director of the Jamaica Folk Revue, Norma Darby, following the death of the Hon. Louise Bennett-Coverley, O.J. at age 86 in Toronto, Canada. “Ms. Lou” was buried at the Jamaica’s National Heroes Park in Kingston.

The Reading Festival has explored and addressed the immense influence her works have had on Jamaicans at home and in the Diaspora, Mrs. Darby explained.

The event is free to the public and will also include a line-up of local Jamaican talent from the South Florida Diaspora.

Proceeds from sales of Miss Lou’s works, including books, CDs, and other memorabilia, will support the Louise Bennett-Coverley Scholarship at the Edna Manley College of Visual and Performing Arts in Kingston. The scholarship was named posthumously and is awarded to a student at the college pursuing studies in the performing arts. To date, there have been five recipients.

Valrie Simpson, Library Manager at Broward’s South Regional campus, said that the Library was pleased to partner in the annual tribute saluting the legacy of the late Jamaican cultural ambassador.


Madam Brigitte: A Portrait

I saw you last night as I lay on my straw mat beneath the stars, watching shadows of lives lived long ago slip past mango trees in the dark. I drifted off and there you were waiting for me around the corner and down the street about three blocks beyond my dreams. Damn girl, you were devastatingly beautiful in a wicked sort of way all dressed in black (although lilac is your signature color) dripping in diamonds that sparkled like so much light dancing on the surface of the sea. Your skin was caramel colored by miscegenation; something you hated with the deepest of all hatreds about the very roots of your being. You held equal disdain for your black daddy and your lily-white mother moon.

And so, there you stood in front of me, all arrogant, haughty, powerful and tall, demanding respect like some kind of  big time Vodou Queen, talking with your thoughts rather than your words. We traveled to a city where hundreds upon hundreds of peristyles stretched out across rolling hills as far as the eye could see. You told me to choose any one of them I want for my home as drumbeats filled the air with their talking reverberations of a thousand ancient voices. I see that you are good. I see that you are evil. I see that you will quickly take care of my enemies. I see that you make sure that great honor is bestowed upon me. It will only cost me diamonds. It will only cost me my soul. I see.

Image: http://www.arcadia93.org/pics/brigitte.jpg


About Patti Harris

Patti Harris is an anthropologist who teaches at Miami Dade College where she is the chairperson of the Department of Social Sciences. A graduate of the University of Oklahoma, she has done extensive fieldwork in Haiti and will soon publish an ethno-biographical study based on her research.

January 27, 2011

*Bangarang in Jaipur

For all its flaws, the film Shakespeare in Love has always had a special place in my movie library. According to the script,  written by  Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard, young Shakespeare,(Joseph Fiennes) who is always broke and in search of inspiration falls in love with Viola de Lesseps (Gwyneth Paltrow), the daughter of a wealthy merchant who is betrothed to Lord Wessex (Colin Firth). From the ill-fated romance, Shakespeare goes on to write Romeo and Juliet and a literary star is born.

But it isn’t the plot that interests me. One of the more interesting subtexts, a conflict among political, mercantile, and artistic forces, appears in various guises throughout the film. And although it may be argued that the artist finally “wins” by writing a masterpiece, the action of the film is driven by a strange alliance between the theatre manager Philip Henslowe (Geoffrey Rush) and  loan shark Hugh Fennyman (Tom Wilkinson). And Shakespeare’s dalliance with Viola, which is fraught with class conflicts, is resolved with the action of Queen Elizabeth I (Judi Dench). It’s the classic struggle of money and power with the artist caught in the middle.

Which leads me to the Jaipur Literature Festival and the row between Hartosh Singh Bal and William Dalrymple. Observing the fracas from afar, three issues become readily apparent:

·         White privilege
·         Commerce or what sells
·         Post-colonialism and its effects

In the red corner and hailing from Scotland, is William Dalrymple, who has lived “off for more than 25 years in India.” According to Dalrymple, one of the main organizers of the Jaipur Literature Festival, “I conceived, co-founded and co-direct the DSC Jaipur Lit Fest, which is now the largest in the Eastern half of the globe, and brings fine writers together in 12 of India’s 22 official language.” The event, which takes place in an area that sorely needed the assistance, has brought extra income and tourism to the area. Dalrymple should be congratulated for his vision and skill in creating the festival.

In the blue corner and hailing from India, is Hartosh Singh Bal, Open Magazine’s political editor. Bal’s critique of the festival, provocatively titled, The Literary Raj, traced the history of White privilege in India and by association linked Dalrymple to “inheritors of a Raj that still lingers.” Bal detailed some of the derogatory effects of White privilege on the Indian populace which included “fawning” for “British approval.This tendency, which extended to publishing and book sales, is exacerbated by Bal’s claim about the exclusion of “local” writers from the Jaipur Literature Festival:

How did a White man, young, irreverent and likeable in his first and by far most readable India book, The City of Djinns, become the pompous arbiter of literary merit in India?
If Jaipur matters as a festival, it is because of the writers from Britain it attracts. When I talked this piece over with a top publisher at one of India’s leading publishing houses, the person, seeking anonymity ‘to protect the interests of the authors at the publishing house’ said: “Indian publishers and writers are peripheral to the enterprise. The list of authors that I send year after year is casually ignored—and that, I believe, is the case with most Indian publishers.
To many Caribbean writers, this is all too familiar. Barbara Blake Hannah raised similar concerns about “homed-based authors” and the Calabash Literary Festival:

We home-based authors thought a break had come with the Calabash Literary Festival, which we thought would give us access to international publicity and distribution opportunities. But over the years, we have seen that the scores of home-based authors do not get invited to read from our work at Calabash unless we line up in the sun for a "rush-the-mike" moment. The only "Jamaican authors" privileged to be promoted at Calabash each year are those who live abroad. Instead, the event gives headline and microphone space to a plethora of international authors, some of whom we have never heard of.

The “local” artists in Jamaica and Jaipur thought they would be better represented in the respective festivals. But money and power see things differently.

Ugly compromises are made in the organization of a book fair. It takes a lot of money to organize a literary festival. And if the organizers want to keep admission free, as Dalrymple did, in order to encourage readership and patronage, then they must make concessions to money and power. Organizers charge sponsors for space to sell their goods and/or a percentage of the book sales. But before sponsors invest any money, they will want certain “guarantees” in return for their investment.

In order to create and sustain a viable product, organizers face a stark financial question: What sells? Will readers come out to hear “foreign” writers XYZ or “local” writers LMNOP? We know the answer. Without the support of the “local” readers, money and power talk. Hence Bal’s assertion: “If Dalrymple appears central to our literary culture, it says something far more damaging about us than about him.” Namit Arora echoes a similar sentiment:

Sixty years after political independence, we still carry an inferiority complex about our literary culture. Our English language literati, chronically insecure and hungry for external validation, pursue British publishing venues and accolades over Indian ones. Yes, target markets and economics explain many things but there is more—it is as if we accord a higher caste to the British and subconsciously elevate and mimic their literary culture. It is one thing to admire and be inspired by other literary cultures, but our attitude here is one of deference, lacking the self-confidence of equals. Nothing like Bookers and Oscars, or reviews, endorsements, and fat book deals in Britain (also increasingly in the U.S.) to turn our heads. Indian novels that "make it" in the Anglophone West are then taken seriously in India—not vice-versa. Do we ever grant the same cachet to books that win Sahitya Akademi and other awards in India? Or crave translations of our best non-English books?

British colonialism has cast a long shadow over the psyches of Commonwealth citizens. It is the great project about which Ngugi wa Thiong'o wrote in Decolonizing the Mind. In the Caribbean, artists and writers such as Rex Nettleford and Kamau Brathwaite and many others have dubbed the effort as creating somebodiness in “our people.”

But are “our people” in the Commonwealth listening? There is a story about Bob Marley and the Prince of Wales that Lorna Goodison told at a recent conference in New York that is relevant to the discussion:

Another way in which he helped us to shape a new kind of identity was by his insistence on always being his authentic self, for it is clear that Bob never saw himself as less than anybody. There is, for example, a story about Bob and the Prince of Wales both finding themselves in an African airport on their way back from the independence celebrations in Zimbabwe. According to people, some of whom claim to have been there, Prince Charles heard that Bob was in the airport and dispatched an equerry to him to say he’d be delighted if Bob would come and meet with him. And Bob told the equerry that if Prince Charles wanted to see him, he should feel free to come himself.

Although Bal was confrontational with the use of phrases such as “pompous arbiter of literary taste,” the failure of the Indian literati to envision such a project seems to be the crux of Bal’s argument. Or to put another way, why should it take British approval to recognize Indian genius? For as Karan Majahan concludes, “Dalrymple's success may carry a whiff of colonial advantage.”

In the case the Jaipur Literature Festival, Dalrymple, who seemed to have been genuinely offended when Bal voiced his “inconvenient truth,” could learn from White entrepreneurs like Chris Blackwell, the founder of Island Records. Mr. Blackwell, who traded on his White privilege, was thoroughly aware of the legacy of colonialism in the Commonwealth. As a result, there are only a few photographs of Blackwell and Marley, which were taken only when Bob learned he had terminal cancer. Neither Blackwell nor Marley, who were aware of the sensitivities surrounding their relationship, ever wanted to give the impression that Blackwell was Marley’s White overload. With Marley and Blackwell, there was mutual respect and a balance in the recognition of money, power, and talent. Both Marley and Blackwell had a tacit agreement about the optics, which served both parties well.

Dalrymple should also realize that he may be just a foil for Bal's ire  Frank Collymore, a pioneer of Caribbean literature who also happened to be white, faced similar kinds of criticism, yet he was instrumental in launching the careers of writers such as George Lamming, Derek Walcott, and Edgar Mittelholzer.

Book fairs in the Commonwealth have not reached that level of sophistication where there is a balance of the “local” and “foreign” writers and these dramas are played out in the public arenas. Unfortunately, moneymen only understand money and they will get their money one way or another. In Shakespeare in Love, the “negotiations” between Henslowe and Fennyman take place over hot coals. I’m not saying it could get as ugly as that scene, but if sponsors think they can make more money from “selling “foreign” authors over “local” authors, they will continue to pressure organizers for time and space. Organizers, who are always critically underfunded, can only compromise. And don’t blame the writers, they have to eat.

Part of the solution is political. But I am not advocating government involvement. This calls for reader to vote with dollars. But I suspect for as long as “our people” continue to devalue “our authors,” book fairs in the Commonwealth will continue to experience these kinds of challenges.


*Bangarang (For the Patwa Challenged): A hubbub, uproar, disorder, or disturbance
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January 26, 2011

In My Own Words...Joanne Gail Johnson

“Nuff Respeck!”
My Caribbean Children’s Books are “Self Organized Learning Environments”
Joanne Gail Johnson

It enthralls me that children can really know some things; and very important things I mean.

Today I sit and pay attention to life just as I did as a child. My one-eyed cat, Sweetheart, is curled around the computer mouse, not-so-patiently waiting for some love. (The cat and me too!) Outside my picture window is a picture, worthy of its window: the buxom northern range bathed in a sea of golden light. The ordinary life of neighbors can be heard in the mowing of grass and raking of leaves. Their cars swishing by on the main road I cannot see, remind me that I am grateful. I am grateful for the simplicity, the stillness of these writing hours when the dishes and unmade beds can wait…

During this time, I commune with what I know. I feel confident that there is a housewife in Milan, a billionaire executive in Tokyo, a farmer in Jamaica, a drug trafficker in Bombay and a children’s book author in Wales with whom I have much in common.

I know we each want respect.

We may pursue it in a variety of ways and fulfill it to varying degrees, but the desire itself is universal. It is this ‘sameness’ that I tap into before I explore the infinite palette of details; before the characters in the story at hand are defined and named; before the ins and outs of a plot unfold. Potentially, it is my awareness of that resonant quality of universality that lends foundation to even a few lines of “silly” rhyme. It is what gives a children’s author the courage to hone her craft.

I heard it said that V.S. Naipaul, in a lecture at U.W.I. during his two million dollar, 2007 visit to Trinidad, responded to a question about Caribbean children’s literature by saying something to this effect: “There is no such thing. Children are in fact not capable of understanding any work which could qualify as literature.”

This amounts to hearsay, I know. But I will address the thought itself and will acknowledge first that the tone of the word “literature” spoken in the mouth of a Nobel Laureate dictates a very capital and intimidating “L.” Even so, I will risk a bit of adventure. I can admit here that it took some time to refer comfortably to myself as an author, with or without a capital A. (Or any other superlative letters tacked to the end of my given name as proof that there is indeed some measure of craft supporting my “smaller” creative choices - seeing that, from a novelist’s perspective, I don’t actually write as many actual words for my audience.)

I dare add that we are learning today so much more about that race of humans we call “Children.” They are so very much like the others called “Adults.” It has been said that a good children’s book will bring out the child in an adult and the adult in a child. Many works considered  “Classics” today, achieve this: Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnet to name a few.

Allow me now, to Google search instead of Oxford Dictionary the word “literature”…

Many definitions are provided, (including one I never knew - “a card game for six players”):
· Creative writing of recognized artistic value
· Published writings in a particular style on a particular subject
· The art of written works - Literally translated, means "acquaintance with letters" (from Latin littera letter)

My work, thus far, may be more akin to that of Sugata Mitra’s “Self Organized Learning System” than to any man or woman of letters. My professional and creative goals include a strong intention to cultivate in Caribbean children, the habit of reading; indeed, learning for the sake of pleasure. In my humble opinion, picture books are unsurpassed as teaching tools. I write by conceiving visually and depend on illustrations not because it is ‘easy’ to do so, but to create a shared schema through which I may communicate concepts well beyond the temporary reading level of my audience.

Since 1998, Macmillan-Caribbean has published a number of my children’s books, easy readers, and stories. I embrace the privilege whole-heartedly and recognize that I am just beginning. I have not even approached writing anything of the capital “L” type yet. Even so, no one sets out to write something “easy” or inconsequential, at least not I. On the other hand, I certainly never intended to pen the next great West Indian classic, even in the context of - if Mr. Naipaul will allow – children’s literature. One must concede, at the very least, working authors in my field prepare the ground for passionate, discerning adult readers who will keep Mr. Naipaul and other “serious” West Indian novelists, poets and journalists in business.

Writing children’s books is for me the fulfillment of a deep, childhood knowing that I, and by extension “all ah we,” deserve to have books that reflect the diverse and unique Trini-Caribbean world we see and hear. Quite-o-quite-o, way back when, I was convicted of our cultural worthiness, and this was long before I read Miguel Street, my first Naipaul classic. This was when Enid Blyton and Beatrix Potter were walking me through English country lanes. Far more than a peep through their foreign windows, they gifted me with that universal awareness of the feeling of RESPECT.

Joanne’s latest children’s book is a contemporary Caribbean version of the Aesop’s fable, The Donkey and The Racehorse” (Macmillan-Caribbean). It hit stores in December 2010 and is now available online at Amazon and in Trinidad at R.I.K. Books. Wholesale orders at www.macmillan-caribbean.com

About Joanne Gail Johnson

Born, bred and based in Trinidad, Joanne is a published children's author of a number of contemporary Caribbean books, readers and stories with Macmillan-Caribbean; and is the series editor responsible for acquisitions of Macmillan's 'tween' novella series Island Fiction. Joanne is also the founding Regional Advisor of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators Caribbean South Chapter. She is a dynamic storyteller, and facilitates both “Relevant Reading” and “Core Creativity” workshops for students and teachers; including volunteer readers of the Comforting Words Mobile library at Mt. Hope Children’s Hospital.

As children's theatre facilitator, she has worked with UWI’s Creative Arts Centre, and The Trinidad Theatre Workshop. As an actor, Joanne was last seen on stage in Walcott’s Remembrance, which the Nobel Laureate himself directed in St. Lucia and in Trinidad; and on the small screen in the ever-popular Earth TV Caribbean soap series, Westwood Park. These days Joanne tours schools and libraries regionally, and recently visited St. Maarten and The Bahamas.

In 2009, she authored a tertiary level course in Creativity for CREDI - Catholic Institute. Last year, 2010, St. Francois Girls’ College produced her young adult play The Last of the Super Models, which she also directed, on a national stage at Queen’s Hall. In the 90s, her company SUN TV LTD pioneered indigenous cable television in Trinidad producing over 700 hours of 100% Caribbean content; and in 2003 created www.caribbeanchildren.com: The First Ever Website for Caribbean Children.

This year SUN TV launched its own imprint Meaningful Books with its inaugural title Pink Carnival. Joanne’s work is generously supported by the NGO, Creative Parenting for the New Era: "We are convinced that Joanne's focus on nurturing the emotional intelligence of children through her books is a powerful contradiction of the violence many children experience daily in their homes, schools, on the streets and in the media." Joan Bishop MA, CEO


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January 25, 2011

New Book: Mapmaker: Kwame Dawes and the Caribbean Literary Aesthetic

The first literary critical monograph on one of the most significant and influential figures in contemporary Caribbean writing, this unique study examines the connections between Kwame Dawes' diverse publications and offers insightful and sensitive readings of Dawes' core work. First introducing his literary career and providing a brief biography, the resource goes on to give commentary on A Far Cry from Plymouth Rock, his memoir, and discusses the literary and cultural influences that helped shape his writing aesthetic. The guide also examines his poetry, religious influences and symbols in his writing, and the use of Africa as a spiritual locus that, alongside the Bible, centers the identity of his characters. Rounding out the comprehensive volume are chapters on Dawes' representations of women and the feminine—with emphasis placed on his poetry collections Wisteria and Midlands—the role of landscape and physicality in his poetry, and a thorough examination of Dawes as the new voice of the Caribbean.

About theCorinna McLeod 

Corinna McLeod is an assistant professor of English at Grand Valley State University, where she teaches courses in world mythology and world literatures in English. Her research centers on postcolonial theory, ecocriticism, and questions of national identity in literature. She has been published in Small Axe. She lives in Allendale, Michigan.


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January 24, 2011

Derek Walcott Wins TS Eliot Prize

In a "bumper year" for English-language poetry, Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, who was embroiled in scandal two years ago, was tonight named winner of the TS Eliot prize for the best new collection of poems published in the UK or Ireland.
He took the prize against competition from an eclectic group of poets, including fellow Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, Iraq war veteran Brian Turner and Sam Willetts, whose debut collection came after 10 years lost to addiction to and recovery from heroin.
Valerie Eliot, widow of TS Eliot, awarded Walcott £15,000 at a ceremony at the Wallace Collection, London.


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Book Review: "All Things Bright" by Christine Craig

Reviewed by By:  Heather Russell, Ph.D.
Florida International University

Christine Craig, daughter of the Jamaican dust, reminds us in her collection, All Things Bright, why she remains one of our most talented, powerful, and relevant poets. The poems in this collection travel. Some demanding, some coercing, some entreating, some coyly teasing us -- Craig’s poems take us on journeys deep, deep into the realms of national belonging, nation language, memory, history, myth, tradition, family, culture, exile, life, pain, injustice, and too, in the best possible sense of the word, into righteousness. 

Moving dynamically and evocatively across geographies of nation, place, and time, nostalgic African “ancestral roamings” commingle with and ground in evocative ways, contemporary Kingston’s dread realities of unemployment, struggle, exploitation, resistance. “We weep” for “women on the streets of Kingston” and with and for her children, even as we sway to the rhythms of gospel, reggae, blues, and stop short at the sharp, abrupt, familiarity of dominos, banging -- urgent reminders of our rituals of survival, and of our cultural wealth.  

In her collection, Craig pays homage to the literary forbearers that help to shape our understandings of ourselves, even as she presents this her latest installment reminding us of how much we have missed her own poetic wisdom. Resisting simplified, nostalgic portraitures of home, the poems are infused with the laughter, philosophy, resilience, and complexity of everyday folk -- a cultural grounding as it were for those of us who often feel we have traveled too far away.   

And yet, there is nostalgia here too -- as in the poignant recurrence of the phrase:  “we should not have been allowed to leave.Here however, the painful reality of exilic existence is given full expression and nuanced articulation as nostalgia quickly gives over to the wonderment of standing at the U.S.’s southernmost point -- the Florida Keys -- the poet contemplating if this is “the end of America,” or “her beginning.Migration is a beginning too, a beginning albeit marked by the painful legacies of slavery, indenture, colonialism, but a beginning nonetheless of the possibility and promise that is diaspora community. 

In the end, All Things Bright achieves the promise its title portends, to give poetic voice to  the great, the small, the wise, the wonderful, to creation…and it is…beautiful!

About Heather Russell

Dr. Heather Russell’s research interests examine narrative form and its relationship to configurations of national/racial identities. Her latest book, Legba’s Crossing: Narratology in the African Atlantic, was published by the University of of Georgia Press. She has also published inAfrican American Review; Contours; The Massachusetts Review; and American Literature and has essays in a collection on John Edgar Wideman, Jacqueline Bishop’s, My Mother Who is Me, and Donna Aza Weir-Soley and Opal Palmer Adisa’s Caribbean Erotic.
At the undergraduate level, Dr. Russell regularly teaches C19th and C20th African American Literatures; Major Caribbean Writers; Black Citizenships and Black History and the Fictive Imagination. For the graduate curriculum, she teaches African Diaspora Women Writers andNarratives of Enslavement and Resistance.

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January 20, 2011

Pity the Homesick Dictator who gets the Blues.

“In Haiti on Monday, an associate of Duvalier said that he had returned
... because he was homesick.” ~ CNN

Pity the homesick dictator who gets the blues:
Endless nights on the French Riviera eating alone
Only his Swiss bankers calling on the phone,
No more time to torture enemies or to schmooze
With Macoutes, each one eager to ascend the throne.

Pity the homesick dictator who gets the blues
Remembering when naked girls kissed his shoes
His word could give breath, or sever a bone
Families disappeared, their names still unknown.
Pity the homesick dictator who gets the blues.


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January 19, 2011

Book Review: "Dub Wise: A Gift from Maker to Reader" by Mary Hanna

Geoffrey Philp is a fine poet and a friend of poets. His latest collection of poems is lauded by Olive Senior, Mervyn Morris, and Kamau Braithwaite on the back cover of the text. Olive Senior is attracted to Philp’s humour. She says:  “Without losing the joy of play or the play of the rhythms, Dub Wise celebrates the burdens and delights of love, friendships and the responsibility of being at home in the world.” Mervyn Morris admires Philp’s scope and the complexity of his heritage. Morris says:  “Epiphanies in the US and the Caribbean, sensuous love poems to his Colombian wife, poems about family, hurricanes, injustice and other challenges; poems in dialogue with myth, literature, the Bible , music – these are some of the many graceful treasures in this book.” Kamau Brathwaite remarks on Philp’s clear and accomplished voice and its “new strong sense of place…family & history.” He sees “a continuing unfolding of a ‘Jamaican Tradition’” and calls the names of all our major poets in the influences he sees in Philp’s work. It is with delight that one opens this collection and partakes of the offerings there.
Here is a simple, lovely poem by Philp. It is called “Rest Poem” and appears in the second section (“Dub Wise”) of the collection:

My sister drags her shadow across
the back of Miami Avenue, her head
brewed in wood smoke, fingers
knotted around the smell of money.

Rest, little sister.

Leave the money in the till, uncounted,
rumpled beds, unmade,
dust in the corners, unswept.

Rest, little sister.

Rest, your head on the cushion of my shoulder,
your arms on the pillow of my chest,
your feet in the cradle of my lap.

Rest, little sister, rest.

I have quoted this poem in full so the precious intensity of Philp’s work can be appreciated, the world of caring and loveliness he can build into a simple poem. It comes as a gift from its maker to the reader, and is symptomatic of this entire collection.

Dub Wise is made up of roughly 70 poems divided into four sections:  “Poems for the Innocent”, “Dub Wise”, “Beyond Mountain View”, and “Mysteries”. These sections address the core concerns of relationships, blessings, and epiphanies.

We hear echoes of the voices of Morris and Dawes, McNeill, Baugh, Mikey Smith and Garvey, Joan ‘Binta’ Breeze and Derek Walcott. Yet Philp has his own distinct voice, as shown in the above quoted poem.

The influence of Walcott can be seen in “Beyond Mountain View”. Here, Philp draws pictures of the landscape that lies along the Palisadoes and harbor View.  He starts with locating the poem in space:

As we descend Mountain View Avenue,
past houses that lie prone
beneath Wareika, scarred by hurricanes
and bulldozers, past walls
smeared with graffiti that still divide the city,
I roll up my window from the stench
of the sea at low tide that creeps
into storefronts and rum bars,
into the hair of sisters in floral
prints, shirts of brothers
with spliffs tucked behind their ears,
up the legs of children rolling
spokeless bicycle rims down a lane…
(“Beyond Mountain View”)

Philp writes with a love of place and purpose, his rhythms always flawlessly attuned to the subject matter of the poem. He builds humour out of unlikely subjects, as for example in “Warner Woman:  Version”, a poem dedicated to Edward Baugh and carrying something of Baugh’s tone in its measured phrases:

“Woe to you, for you have stoned and exiled
my prophets.  Woe to you, for you have defrauded
the homeless and the poor.”  Then she ripped
her dress in two, spat on the asphalt three times,
and ran like a horse without its rider,
back up to Long Mountain, up into the darkness
gathering around the tops of trees
with the smell of rain around their roots.

Philp intertwines his fresh vision with myths of other cultures with remarkable results. Here he draws on the Erzulie myth to write a beautiful paean to the Creole:

But then, the scabs became scars became scales,
her hair grew wild and untamed,
and a garden of yellows, blues, and reds sprouted
on her arms, legs, and back –
her ears and lips studded with gold –
and almost overnight she changed into something
she had always resembled in her own dreams,
in the mirror of her mother –
something beautiful and fearsome.
(“Erzulie’s Daughter”)

In the closing section called “Mysteries”, Philp retells the biblical stories of transformation in a moving sequence. “Isaac’s Sacrifice” is the story of Abraham preparing for the sacrifice of his son, but told from Isaac’s point of view. It is a loving and humorous rendition of terror:  “Isaac probably held Abraham’s trembling/hand against his cheek, and forgave, /yet he couldn’t help but think, /”What would have happened/if the old goat hadn’t had been so lost?”

Philp’s collection is a pleasure to read and remember. The master poets have praised it rightfully and respectfully.

Geoffrey Philp is the author of nine books of poetry and fiction. He teaches English and creative writing at Miami Dade College where he is the chairperson of the College Prep Department. His poems and stories have been published in prestigious journals and anthologies.


Hanna, Mary. "Dub Wise: A Gift from Maker to Reader." The Sunday Observer 12 December 2010: 3.


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