August 1, 2013

Happy Birthday, Lorna Goodison

When I was in first form at Jamaica College, nearly every boy in 1 Murray drooled and doodled while Lorna Goodison tried to teach us color, value, and texture. Lorna taught us art for about two or three years, and then, she left. The next time I saw her was when she was invited by our drama teacher, Dennis Scott, to talk with our literary club. Lorna talked passionately about art, Rastafari, and music. Afterwards, she gave us a writing exercise to compose a Reggae song. We toyed with the idea for some time and she offered a few suggestions. At the end of the exercise, Dennis asked her to read a poem.

Miss Goodison was also a poet? We listened intently as she read one of her poems. I can't remember the name, but I'll never forget the awe that I felt after her reading. She was like a saint. Saint Lorna.

The feeling never left me.

When I decided that I wanted to be a poet and I was searching for models by reading everything that Derek Walcott had ever written, I tried writing a poem like Lorna's "She," which was published in Savacou 13: Caribbean Women. Of course, I failed miserably. No one can write like Lorna Goodison.

For unlike Walcott, from whose work a young poet can learn forms such as the sonnet and how to use allusions drawn from Greek and Roman mythologies to create Odysseus-like characters or from Shakespearean drama to construct Calibanesque figures, Lorna's poems, while drawing from a similar landscape as Walcott's, does not seek to transform the characters into anything other than what they are. Her speakers remain obstinately Caribbean with red dirt under their fingernails, and smelling of rum and carbolic soap. Also, her sense of line, like brush strokes, carry the signature and confidence of the artist.

There was nothing that she could teach me because the images and the associations that she had made in her art held deeply personal meanings, yet she managed to translate those sentiments to the page so that her readers could experience similar emotions. In other words, what I learned from Lorna was that if I wanted to write like her, I would have to live my own life and to use the experiences and associations from my life. And that couldn't be faked. If I wanted to be a poet like Lorna, I would have to write my own poems.

Give thanks, Lorna. Give thanks!


"Emancipate yourself from mental slavery/ None but ourselves can free our minds." ~ Lyrics from Bob Marley's "Redemption Song" taken from a speech by the Hon. Marcus Mosiah Garvey.


Professor Zero said...

I really like her.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Lorna Goodison is one of those rare writers whose work I admire and for whom I have an even greater admiration for her personality.

Rethabile said...

So much things to learn. So much things to read. Good.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Rethabile, yes, Lorna is the real thing.