April 30, 2011

Barack Obama & the American Dream

Barack Obama would be a terrible poker player. He has certain “tells” that reveal his emotional status, especially when he is feeling nostalgic. I discovered one “tell” during his commencement speech for Miami Dade College at the James L. Knight Center on Friday, April 29, 2011. It was a “highly personal commencement speech” and I guess he couldn’t help but get emotional because he was talking about the American Dream.

Of course, President Obama came prepared with the usual facts and figures about Miami Dade College:
It is such a thrill to be at one of the largest, most diverse institutions of higher learning in America -- one that just this week was named one of the top community colleges in the nation.  (Applause.)  More than 170,000 students study across your eight campuses.  You come from 181 countries, represented by the flags that just marched across this stage.  You speak 94 languages.  About 90 percent of you are minorities.  And because more than 90 percent of you find a job in your field of study, it’s fitting that your motto is “Opportunity changes everything.”
But I don’t think he was prepared for the physical evidence in the faces of our students, many of whom reminded him of his father’s struggles to come to America:

I didn’t know him well, my father -- and he lived a troubled life.  But I know that when he was around your age, he dreamed of something more than his lot in life.  He dreamed of that magical place; he dreamed of coming to study in America.
And when I was around your age, I traveled back to his home country of Kenya for the first time to learn his story.  And I went to a tiny village called Alego, where his stepmother still lives in the house where he grew up, and I visited his grave.  And I asked her if there was anything left for me to know him by.  And she opened a trunk, and she took out a stack of letters -- and this is an elderly woman who doesn’t read or write -- but she had saved these letters, more than 30 of them, written in his hand and addressed to colleges and universities all across America.
They weren’t that different from the letters that I wrote when I was trying to get into college, or the ones that you wrote when you were hoping to come here.  They were written in the simple, sometimes awkward, sometimes grammatically incorrect, unmistakably hopeful voice of somebody who is just desperate for a chance -- just desperate to live his unlikely dream.
And somebody at the University of Hawaii -- halfway around the world -- chose to give him that chance.  And because that person gave a young man a chance, he met a young woman from Kansas; they had a son in the land where all things are possible. 
And then, came the “tell.”  He bowed his head and used his left index finger to scratch his left nostril. I would never have noticed his "tell" until he did it a second time.

The second “tell” was during his discussion of his earliest memories of space exploration, as “a little brown boy sitting on my grandfather’s shoulders":

And one of my earliest memories from growing up in Hawaii, is of sitting on my grandfather’s shoulders to see the astronauts from one of the Apollo space missions come ashore after a successful splashdown.  You remember that no matter how young you are as a child.  It’s one of those unforgettable moments when you first realize the miracle that is what this country is capable of.  And I remember waving a little American flag on top of my grandfather’s shoulders, thinking about those astronauts, and thinking about space.
And today, on this day, more than 40 years later, I took my daughters to the Kennedy Space Center.  And even though we didn’t get to see the Space Shuttle Endeavour launch, we met some of the astronauts, and we toured the Space Shuttle Atlantis.  And looking at my daughters, I thought of how things come full circle.  I thought of all that we’ve achieved as a nation since I was their age, a little brown boy sitting on my grandfather’s shoulders -- and I thought about all I want us to achieve by the time they have children of their own.
President Obama saw the proof of the American Dream in the struggles of our students, even as he renewed his commitment to the DREAM Act and gave our students a lesson in American history and democracy:
Changing our laws means doing the hard work of changing minds and changing votes, one by one.  And I am convinced we can change the laws, because we should all be able to agree that it makes no sense to expel talented young people from our country.  They grew up as Americans.  They pledge allegiance to our flag.  And if they are trying to serve in our military or earn a degree, they are contributing to our future -- and we welcome those contributions.  (Applause.)
The climax for me, however, came when spoke about what it means to be an American (something that I have been trying teaching my students for as long as I’ve been at MDC), but President Obama said it best about what it means to be an American:
We didn’t raise the Statue of Liberty with its back to the world; we raised it with its light to the world.  (Applause.)  Whether your ancestors came here on the Mayflower or a slave ship; whether they signed in at Ellis Island or they crossed the Rio Grande -- we are one people.  We need one another.  Our patriotism is not rooted in ethnicity, but in a shared belief of the enduring and permanent promise of this country.  (Applause.)
The American Dream is alive in the students at Miami Dade College and President Obama saw that. His physical reactions told us that without him resorting to phrases such as, “I feel your pain.”
I also learned something else that was vitally important. President Obama is a teacher believes in intellectual debate in order to bring about change. He teaches by his actions and his encouragement of intellectual debate to bring about solutions. But we have to watch keenly and listen carefully to Obama's words and actions:
Like all of this country’s movements towards justice, it will be difficult and it will take time.  I know some here wish that I could just bypass Congress and change the law myself.  (Applause.)  But that’s not how democracy works.  See, democracy is hard.  But it’s right.
He may make a terrible poker player, but as a leader who urged our students to “carry the dream forward,” with a combination of optimism and compassion, President Obama embodies the American Dream.


Here's the video of the "tell"...wait for it:

Remarks by the President at Miami Dade College Commencement:

Obama's commencement speech: More dreams from his father
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April 29, 2011

21 Days/ 21 Poems: A Poem About a Body Part

Sharon Olds Reading in the 2008 Dodge Poetry Festival Saturday Night Sampler 

I am ending the series with Sharon Olds reading two poems about body parts. But are the poems really about body parts?  Are any of the poems in series about the things they have purported to describe?

 In The Poetics, Aristotle made the claim,  "But the greatest thing by far is to be a master of metaphor. It is the one thing that cannot be learnt from others; and it is also a sign of genius, since a good metaphor implies an intuitive perception of the similarity in dissimilars."

The poets featured in this series use metaphors drawn from a certain landscape or personal history to create an experience that although we not be able to share the particulars, we can understand their story on varying levels of complexity. This is the pleasure that metaphor yields.

About Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds was born in 1942 in San Francisco. She was raised as a “hellfire Calvinist”, as she describes it. She says she was by nature "a pagan and a pantheist" and notes "I was in a church where there was both great literary art and bad literary art, the great art being psalms and the bad art being hymns. The four-beat was something that was just part of my consciousness from before I was born." She adds "I think I was about 15 when I conceived of myself as an atheist, but I think it was only very recently that I can really tell that there's nobody there with a copybook making marks against your name." After graduating from Stanford University she moved east to earn a Phd in English from Columbia University on the prosody of Emerson's poems. Olds has been the recipient of many awards including the National Book Critics Circle Award and the San Francisco Poetry Center Award. She currently teaches creative writing at New York University.

Source: Wikipedia


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April 28, 2011

21 Days/ 21 Poems: Hope

A Creed

When you no longer know God
when you are no longer sure
that you ever knew him;

when you are done praying
with your fingernails,
with your eyes pressed into the sand,
with your teeth broken against the pavement;

when you are done with speaking to the silence
wishing that the silence would hear;

when you are done with waiting
at galleries or in music halls,
waiting to gasp at the beauty
of things, waiting
to fall in love;

when you are done slamming doors
that were not relevant to anything,
done shaking houses, and making plates
jump from their shelves;

when you are done throwing bricks
into the seats of parked cars
shouting -- this is for that boy
who was killed,
shouting -- this is for the taxes
that were raised;

when you are done with the news
because it no longer breaks your heart
and you now know sand
where there was once river in your inner parts;

when you are ready
to say -- I have done terrible things,
and there is a room somewhere that holds
this evidence, a thumbprint
made in blood;

then this creed is for you.
We belong to a single country,
and this is our sad anthem.

“A Creed” by Kei Miller. A Light Song of Light. Carcanet Press, 2010.

There is a brutal honesty in this poem. It moves from scenes of utter desolation with the use of the second person, “when you are done praying/ with your fingernails,/ with your eyes pressed into the sand,/ with your teeth broken against the pavement;”  seeming isolation, “when you are done speaking to the silence/ wishing that the silence would hear;” and anger, “when you are done throwing bricks/ into the seats of parked cars/ shouting--this is for that boy/who was killed,” to repentance, stated in the first person, “when you are ready/to say -- I have done terrible things.”

In that moment of confession and penance, “a thumbprint/ made in blood,” the distance of the second person, “then this creed is for you,” becomes disarmingly intimate: “We belong to a single country,/ and this is our sad anthem.” By this tonal shift, the speaker deftly includes the reader in the “sad anthem” about the “terrible things” of the past and achieves reconciliation.

The irony is, however, that after reading the poem, I don't feel saddened, but relieved by a communion of shared guilt about "terrible things" in the past and stand in the liberating present.Which is all I can hope for.

About Kei Miller

Kei Miller is a Jamaican poet, fiction writer, anthologist and occasional journalist. Miller was born and raised in Kingston, Jamaica. He read English at the University of the West Indies, but dropped out short of graduation. However, while studying there, he befriended Mervyn Morris, who encouraged his writing. Afterward, Miller began publishing widely throughout the Caribbean. In 2004, he left for England to study for an MA in Creative Writing (The Novel) at Manchester Metropolitan University under the tutelage of poet and scholar Michael Schmidt. In 2006, his first book of poetry was released, Kingdom of Empty Bellies (Heaventree Press). It was shortly followed by a collection of short stories, The Fear of Stones, which explores the issue of Jamaican homophobia. It was shortlisted in 2007 for a Commonwealth Writer's Prize in the category of Best First Book (Canada or Caribbean).[1] His second collection of poetry, There Is an Anger That Moves, was published in 2007 by Carcanet Press.[2] He is also the editor of Carcanet's New Caribbean Poetry: An Anthology (Carcanet Press, 2007).[3] He has been a visiting writer at York University in Canada, at the Department of Library Services in the British Virgin Islands and a Vera Ruben Fellow at Yaddo. Miller currently divides his time between Jamaica and the United Kingdom, where he teaches Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow.

Source: Wikipedia.

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April 27, 2011

21 Days/ 21 Poems: A Praise Poem

In Praise of Okra

No one believes in you
like I do. I sit you down on the table
& they overlook you for
fried chicken & grits,
crab cakes & hush puppies
black-eyed peas & succotash
& sweet potatoes & watermelon.

Your stringy slippery texture
reminds them of the creature
from the movie Aliens.

But I tell my friends if they don’t like you
they are cheating themselves:
you were brought from Africa
as seeds, hidden in the ears and hair
of slaves.

Nothing was wasted in our kitchens.
We took the unused & the throwaways
& made feasts;
we taught our children
how to survive,

So I write this poem
in praise of okra
& the cooks who understood
how to make something out of nothing.
Your fibrous skin
melts in my mouth--
green flecks of flavor,
still tough, unbruised
part of the fabric of the earth.
Soul food.

“In Praise of Okra” by January Gill O’Neil. Underlife. CavanKerry Press, 2009.

“In Praise of Okra” reenacts the history of New World Africans in North America through praise of an often maligned fruit. From the opening lines, “No one believes in you/ like I do. I sit you down on the table/ & they overlook you,” the speaker establishes her connection through a shared history of Otherness, which culminates in the observation: “Your stringy slippery texture/ reminds them of the creature/ from the movie Aliens.”

Then, through a subtle reversal--reclamations of self and history--the speaker demonstrates the positive values associated with okra and New World Africans who have  have always "understood/ how to make something out of nothing.”

By the generous act of creating a poem, the fruit is transformed by the poet's recognition of its value, and in the act of naming, poem and fruit rightly become: “Soul food.”

About January Gill O’Neil

January Gill O’Neil is the author of Underlife (CavanKerry Press, December 2009). Her poems and articles have appeared in North American Review, The MOM Egg, Crab Creek Review, Ouroboros Review, Drunken Boat, Crab Orchard Review, Callaloo, Literary Mama, Field, Seattle Review, and Cave Canem anthologies II and IV, among others. Underlife was a finalist for ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Award, and the 2010 Paterson Poetry Prize. In 2009, January was awarded a Money for Women/Barbara Deming Memorial Fund grant. She was featured in Poets & Writers magazine’s January/February 2010 Inspiration issue as one of their 12 debut poets. A Cave Canem fellow, she is a senior writer/editor at Babson College, runs a popular blog called Poet Mom, and lives with her two children in Beverly, MA.


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April 26, 2011

21 Days/ 21 Poems: A Love Poem

You, Therefore
—for Robert Philen

You are like me, you will die too, but not today:
you, incommensurate, therefore the hours shine:
if I say to you “To you I say,” you have not been
set to music, or broadcast live on the ghost
radio, may never be an oil painting or
Old Master’s charcoal sketch: you are
a concordance of person, number, voice,
and place, strawberries spread through your name
as if it were budding shrubs, how you remind me
of some spring, the waters as cool and clear
(late rain clings to your leaves, shaken by light wind),
which is where you occur in grassy moonlight:
and you are a lily, and aster, white trillium
or viburnum, by all rights mine, white star
in the meadow sky, the snow still arriving
from its earthwards journeys, here where there is
no snow (I dreamed the snow was you,
where there was snow), you are my right,
have come to be my night (your body takes on
the dimensions of sleep, the shape of sleep
becomes you): and you fall from the sky
with several flowers, words spill from your mouth
in waves, your lips taste like the sea, salt-sweet (trees
and seas have flown away, I call it
loving you): home is nowhere, therefore you,
a kind of dwell and welcome, song after all,
and free of any eden we can name.

“You, Therefore” by Reginald Shepherd. Fata Morgana. University of Pittsburgh Press, 2007

When Reginald Shepherd visited Miami Dade College in 2007, I had the pleasure of hearing him read from this collection. During the brief time that we spoke, I discovered a very warm and generous man who was willing to share his gifts with our students and they were enamored by his brilliance. 

The speaker in the poem while contemplating his imminent death creates from fragments of memory a portrait of his lover: “strawberries spread through your name/ as if it were budding shrubs.” The lush descriptions of natural phenomena, “you are a lily, and aster, white trillium,” drive his relentless desire to define the relationship. It is a failed attempt. His love is beyond language, which metaphor can only suggest: “therefore you, / a kind of dwell and welcome, song after all,/ and free of any eden we can name.”

Reginald Shepherd (April 10, 1963 – September 10, 2008) was an American poet and born in New York City and raised there in the Bronx. He died of cancer in Penascola, Florida, in 2008.
Shepherd graduated from Bennington College in 1988, and received MFAs from Brown University and the University of Iowa, where he attended the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop. He subsequently taught at Northern Illinois University and Cornell University. In his last year at the University of Iowa, he received the "Discovery" prize from the 92nd Street Y, and his first collection, Some Are Drowning (1994), was chosen by Carolyn Forché for the Association of Writers & Writing Programs' Award in Poetry.
His other collections are: Fata Morgana (2007), winner of the Silver Medal of the 2007 Florida Book Awards; Otherhood (2003), a finalist for the 2004 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize; Wrong (1999); and Angel, Interrupted (1996).
He is also the author of A Martian Muse: Further Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry (published posthumously in 2010), Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry (2007) and the editor of The Iowa Anthology of New American Poetries (2004) and of Lyric Postmodernisms (2008).
His work has been widely anthologized, including in four editions of The Best American Poetry and two Pushcart Prize anthologies. His honors and awards include grants from theNational Endowment for the Arts, the Illinois Arts Council, the Florida Arts Council, and the Guggenheim Foundation. His 2008 book of essays, Orpheus in the Bronx, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism.[1]

Source: Wikipedia


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April 25, 2011

21 Days/ 21 Poems: A Poem About Ancestors/ Inheritance

For your grandmother

That time of the year when the days are shorter, darker
and cooler, when the poinsettia, fire plant,
its leaves incredibly red, these leaves
surrounding and protecting
the less conspicuous flower,
was when my grandmother’s brick oven
became more active than usual.
As grandmother prepared for that day --
glorious is what she called it,
all of us children dressed in white,
in observance of the birth of her lord and savior.

The year I turned ten I started growing into my father’s
long arms and legs, his light eyes, his burnished
complexion. I awoke
one morning to an ache in my stomach,
a spot darkening my underwear.
That Christmas, Grandmother called me into her kitchen --
walls blackened by soot,
well-scrubbed silver pots, dangling from the roof,
constant smell of pine and hickory.

She handed me, as an early present, a simple
white cotton apron, she had stayed up all night,

                        by the light of the kerosene lamp, to make.

As I placed the apron over my head she began speaking to me,
as she had spoken to my mother and all my aunts --
as my great grandmother had spoken to her and all her sisters:

“Here in Jamaica, there is never the dream of a white Christmas
therefore, the pudding is not served hot.
Housewives make one mixture: bake a portion for the cake,
steam the remainder for the pudding.
Raisins, currants, and stoned prunes
should have been soaking for months
in real Jamaican rum cut by port wine.
Spice may be added --
vanilla and almond flavouring --
but this is not a must.
Fruits must be soaked in a glass jar
with a tight fitting lid: avoid using
plastic containers.
And”  she paused,  before continuing,

                        “Always measure what you do.”

As I stood  in that kitchen that first time
doing what I knew I would be doing all my life,
surrounded by the ambiguities of my childhood --
a father long gone, a mother
unavailable to me -- I could feel my grandmother
rise to take up space in me, and I knew
she was giving me something to take out
into the world: something I would pass on.

“Recipe” by Jacqueline Bishop. Snapshots from Istanbul, Peepal Tree Press, 2009.

“Recipe” is one on those poems that grows with you. The setting is deceptively simple: a kitchen, a ten year old girl, and a grandmother, who is teaching the child how to make Jamaican Christmas pudding.
But to regard the poem as merely a piece of nostalgic writing is to miss the beauty of the poem: a young girl, “surrounded by the ambiguities of my childhood,”  growing into a woman, who will carry the wisdom of generations of women, in her mind and body. Something she will “pass on.”

The River's Song is Jacqueline Bishop’s first novel. She is also the author of two collections of poems, Fauna and Snapshots from Istanbul. Her non-fiction books are My Mother Who Is Me: Life Stories from Jamaican Women in New York and Writers Who Paint/Painters Who Write: Three Jamaican Artists. An accomplished visual artist with exhibitions in Belgium, Morocco, USA and Italy, Ms. Bishop was a 2008-2009 Fulbright Fellow to Morocco; the 2009-2010 UNESCO/Fulbright Fellow; and is a full time Master Teacher in the Liberal Studies Program at New York University.


Save the Date: Christine Craig @ Dania Beach Paul DeMaio Branch Library

April 24, 2011

The Two Seasons Talking Trees Literary Fiesta

Impressive Lineup of Jamaican Writers at
Two Seasons Talking Trees Literary Fiesta.

The Two Seasons Talking Trees Literary Fiesta has released its programme, with an impressive lineup of established and new Jamaican writers reading their own work.

The 13 Jamaican writers cover the areas of short stories, novels, plays, poetry and journalism. The Fiesta’s international writer is A. Igoni Barrett, the award-winning Nigerian short story writer with Jamaican roots. A panel discussion, Writing it down, explores the pros and cons of self-publishing or working with a publisher, paper or electronic publishing.

Open to the public at no charge, the Fiesta’s first readings start at 10:00 a.m. with the segment Party Pizzazz, featuring novelist Garfield Ellis and journalist, Robert Lalah. Ellis recently launched his latest novel, Till I’m Laid to Rest. Lalah is popular for his columns, Roving with Lalah and the book of the same name.

The panel discussion starts at 11:30 a.m. and features founder of Independent VoYces Literary Fair, Judith Fulloon Reid; publisher of the eZine, TALLAWAH, Tyrone Reid; and Chairman of Ian Randle Publishers, Ian Randle. The moderator of the discussion is composer and director of the music production collaborative, Sounds of Joy, Joy Simons Brown.

Best of the Fests starts at 12:30 p.m. featuring from Independent VoYces Literary Fair writers Sonia King (Jacket or Full Suit) and Veronica Blake Carnegie (The Tie that Came Back and Other Stories). Two writers from the Asante Adonai Literary Lyme will be invited to participate in this segment.

Open Mike will run from 1:10 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. and will be moderated by Joy Simons Brown. Writers are invited to read their best material in two minutes or less.

Sneak Peek starts at 2:00 p.m. and is a reading of Keiran King’s upcoming play “Last Call” – a musical set in 1949 at the Myrtle Bank Hotel, Kingston, Jamaica.

Our Talk starts at 2:30 p.m. with readings from foundation dub poet based in Florida, Malachi Smith; co-founder of the Jamaica Poetry Society and broadcaster, Tomlin Ellis; writer and UTech lecturer in Communication Studies and Creative Writing, Nova Gordon Bell; and Northern Virginia-based fiction writer, Pamela K Marshall.

Talking Drums at 3:30 p.m. – a performance by twin brothers of Treasure Beach, the Shane Drummers – ushers in the featured presenter, A. Igoni Barrett, in Roots and Branches at 4:00 p.m.

Based in Lagos, Barrett is the author of the short story collection, Caves of Rotten Teeth. The son of the noted Jamaican poet and essayist, Lindsay Barrett, who lives in Nigeria, A Igoni Barrett also organizes literary events in his home country. He was a writer in residence at the Chinua Achebe Center in Mombassa, Kenya last year and will be in residence at the Norman Mailer Center in Massachusetts in July, and in September, he will be at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center in Italy. He has completed a second collection of short stories which is awaiting publication.

The Fiesta gates open at 9:00 a.m., when patrons will be treated to an hour of Recorded Talk, featuring recordings of speeches, recitations and literary work interspersed with musical selections. MC for the day is author of the novel, Bad Girls in School, and the adventure audio drama, Fly Guy, Gwyneth Harold Davidson.

The Two Seasons Talking Trees Literary Fiesta is the literary stage of the Treasure Beach Bread Basket Festival (TBBBF). Information on the Fiesta is at www.2seasonsguesthouse.com/blog.

The TBBBF will stage seven events from Friday May 27-Sunday, May 29. For more, visitwww.treasurebeach.net/BreadBasketFestival .

Proprietor Two Seasons Guest House, Christine Marrett


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April 23, 2011

Today is World Book and Copyright Day

23 April: a symbolic date for world literature for on this date and in the same year of 1616, Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors such as Maurice Druon, K.Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo. It was a natural choice for UNESCO's General Conference to pay a world-wide tribute to books and authors on this date, encouraging everyone, and in particular young people, to discover the pleasure of reading and gain a renewed respect for the irreplaceable contributions of those who have furthered the social and cultural progress of humanity.

The idea for this celebration originated in Catalonia where on 23 April, Saint George's Day, a rose is traditionally given as a gift for each book sold. The success of the World Book and Copyright Day will depend primarily on the support received from all parties concerned (authors, publishers, teachers, librarians, public and private institutions, humanitarian NGOs and the mass media), who have been mobilized in each country by UNESCO National Commissions, UNESCO Clubs, Centres and Associations, Associated Schools and Libraries, and by all those who feel motivated to work together in this world celebration of books and authors

By celebrating this Day throughout the world, UNESCO seeks to promote reading, publishing and the protection of intellectual property through copyright.


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April 22, 2011

21 Days/ 21 Poems: Elegy

When you get there, the horses of dawn
before you, the furious wheels of drawn carts,
each distance hard-won with sweated salt,
the road flat between miles, tense; only hoof
and sound of wheel loud above the air,
proof that this is not just another dream,
who can say what's best to do for our calm?
You sit like sculpted ivory among jaded colours,
something in the face you wear, hung like a mask
on walls of inner rooms, something in the sound
whose echo names you, the morning of which
rose out of the gold of you, flaring nostrils
at the world. How can we say who is to blame?
Halfway into destiny, the sun lost all hope,
shone into itself across the great Smokies.
A slow descent home. The accurate death
of the first words ever spoken: let there be light.
What do we know about the meanings
of things that work against that kind of light?

“Janice’s Poem” by Rethabile Masilo

Elegies work on two levels. They mourn the death of the loved one and extend the memory of the beloved beyond physical death.

In “Janice’s Poem,” Rethabile Masilo uses the imagery of a horse drawn hearse as a metaphor not only for the physical journey of a funereal procession, but also for the beloved’s life. The word choice with the short vowels and hard consonants, “each distance hard-won with sweated salt” add tension to the chiaroscuro descriptions of the liminal space and give the impression of a speaker who is displaying the utmost fortitude in the face of profound loss.

But then, in a remarkable turn that begins with ‘Halfway into destiny, the sun lost all hope,” the speaker shifts from the personal with an allusion to Genesis 1: 3: “Let there be light,” and brings the reader within the circle of compassion that the poem so ably evokes.

About Rethabile Masilo

Rethabile co-edits Canopic Jar (http://canopicjar.com) and says he carries a manuscript around in his back pocket. He teaches English, but says he also privately teaches Sesotho in an effort to get people to learn the language. He's the father of two and enjoys playing soccer, reading and writing, and cooking. He lives with his family in Paris, France. You can visit his Africa-inspired blog at:http://poefrika.blogspot.com


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April 21, 2011

21 Days/21 Poems: A Poem I Wished I Could Have Written

8          Fight With the Crew

It had one bitch on board, like he had me mark--
that was the cook, some Vincentian arse
with a skin like a gommier tree, red peeling bark,
and wash-out blue eyes; he wouldn’t give me a ease,
like he feel he was white. Had an exercise book,
the same one here, that I was using to write
my poetry, so one day this man snatch it
from my hand, and start throwing it left and right
to the rest of the crew, bawling out, “Catch it,”
and start mincing me like I was some hen
because of the poems. Some case is for fist,
some case is for tholing pin, some is for knife--
this one was for knife. Well, I beg him first,
but he keep reading, “O my children, my wife,”
and playing he crying, to make the crew laugh;
it move like a flying fish, the silver knife
that catch him right in the plump of his calf,
and he fainst so slowly, and he turn more white
than he thought he was. I suppose among men
you need that sort of thing. It ain’t right
but that’s how it is. There wasn’t much pain,
just plenty blood, and Vincie and me best friend,
but none of them go fuck with my poetry again.

An excerpt from "The Schooner Flight" by Derek Walcott. The Star-Apple Kingdom. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979.

I swear, Walcott makes writing verse look so easy. In "The Schooner Flight" Shabine's language ranges from "I blow out the light/ by the dreamless face of Maria Concepcion" to "none of them go fuck with my poetry again" And the poem is a primer on various types of rhyme, which are not forced, but seem credible enough to be spoken by a "red nigger who love the sea"  and who "had a sound colonial education."

The scope of the poem was wide enough to confront contemporary issues (political corruption, racism) by showing their links to the past in the personal experiences of Shabine and stirred in me what Seamus Heaney calls "the envy test." But it was Shabine's love for Maria Concepcion, surely a metonym for poetry, art--all things Caribbeanly wonderful--and his heart-wrenching grief at her loss that made the poem, not merely an aesthetic exercise, but something real and deeply felt.

"The Schooner Flight" is a masterful performance by a poet whose oeuvre shows a deep love for the Caribbean--its language, landscape and light.

Derek Walcott was born in 1930 in the town of Castries in Saint Lucia, one of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles. The experience of growing up on the isolated volcanic island, an ex-British colony, has had a strong influence on Walcott's life and work. Both his grandmothers were said to have been the descendants of slaves. His father, a Bohemian watercolourist, died when Derek and his twin brother, Roderick, were only a few years old. His mother ran the town's Methodist school. After studying at St. Mary's College in his native island and at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Walcott moved in 1953 to Trinidad, where he has worked as theatre and art critic. At the age of 18, he made his debut with 25 Poems, but his breakthrough came with the collection of poems, In a Green Night (1962). In 1959, he founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop which produced many of his early plays.

Walcott has been an assiduous traveller to other countries but has always, not least in his efforts to create an indigenous drama, felt himself deeply-rooted in Caribbean society with its cultural fusion of African, Asiatic and European elements. For many years, he has divided his time between Trinidad, where he has his home as a writer, and Boston University, where he teaches literature and creative writing.

From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1991-1995, Editor Sture Allén, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997


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