All posts by Opal Palmer Adisa

Diverse and multi-genre, Opal Palmer Adisa, is an exceptional talent, nurtured on cane-sap and the oceanic breeze of Jamaica. Writer of both poetry and prose, photographer, curator, professor, educator and cultural activist, Adisa has lectured and read her work throughout the United States, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria, Germany, England and Prague, and has performed in Italy and Bosnia. An award-winning poet and prose writer Adisa has fourteen titles to her credit, including the novel, It Begins With Tears (1997), which Rick Ayers proclaimed as one of the most motivational works for young adults.

WHAT BELL HOOKS TAUGHT ME

“I am not a writer who happens to be black.  I am a writer who is black and female. These aspects of my identity strengthen my creative gifts. They are neither burdens nor limitations…” bell hooks from remembered rapture

bell hooks’ feminist scholarship has informed and sharpened both my creative work, as well as my scholarship. She has influenced and shaped many Caribbean women scholars, who have been paying homage on social media and in other formats since her death on December 15 at the age of 69. While I cannot claim bell as a friend we were more than acquaintances and during our time together she taught me a valuable lesson as a sister-feminist, for which I am eternally grateful.

In 1994 the University of Kentucky hosted the Kentucky Women’s Writers’ Conference. Gloria Anzaldua, bell hooks and I were the featured writers and presenters for the 3-day conference. Gloria  and I were both coming from the Bay Area, California, and  were friends having met and read at several venues over the years. I  knew of bell hooks’ work well and, in fact, had been challenged and chastised by at least two professors at UC Berkeley when I was pursuing my doctorate in the late 80s for citing her Ain’t I A Woman. They said she was not a serious scholar and her work lacked academic merit as she did not follow the standard footnote/endnote citation. I argued the point, but the professors did not relent, and I often wondered what they thought when bell hooks became more famous than they. I make this point because many young scholars are not aware of some of the struggles bell hooks faced, not just by white academics, but also by a few prominent black feminist and male scholars who did not accept or respect her work.

 I was thrilled when I was informed that I would be sharing the stage with bell, and we each were scheduled to do a reading, participate in a panel discussion and lead a creative writing workshop. We all were scheduled to arrive the evening before the start of the conference and were invited for dinner. Less than 15 minutes upon checking into my room, the phone rang and  the voice on the other end said, “Hello Opal, this is bell can I come to your room?” I was tired and was planning to rest before the scheduled dinner, so agreed to her coming in half an hour.

In exactly 30 minutes bell knocked on my door. We exchange pleasantries and talked a little about each other’s work and what we planned to do at the conference. Then bell switched and asked directly, “How much are they paying you?” I was thrown off because no one ever asked me what I was getting paid, so I muttered unsure if I should reveal my fee. However, since bell was forthright and unrelenting,  I told her. She shook her head, said umum. “I’m getting almost twice what you’re getting; that’s not right because we’re doing the same number of sessions.  I bet you didn’t negotiate.” And she was right.  Until that time whenever I was invited by a university I accepted what they offered. All the other arrangements for us including airfare,  accommodation and per diem were the same, and bell told me that she had negotiated her honorarium.

bell then  looked me directly in the eye and said, “I’m going to tell you something that you need to do from now on.” She leaned forward in the chair on which she sat while I sat at the foot of the bed. “Whenever a university or any place invites you to read or conduct a workshop don’t accept what they offer you at first. Always ask for at least 20% more than what you want so that you can bargain. I learned that the hard way.” I was so grateful because I had asked several writers before about what they were paid and they generally beat around the bush without disclosing. But not bell hooks. She took me under her wings, and added,  “get yourself an agent who will do all the negotiating and do at least 4 engagements monthly.” I told her that was impossible. She frowned and objected.

I explained that  I had three young children, ages 3, 5 and 10 respectively, was recently divorced , I headed the department at my university that was under-funded, and in order to be there it took a tremendous amount of negotiating and support with family, friends, students and faculty. In short it was a miracle that I was able to be there. She embraced me and said, “Sister Opal, I understand, you are wading through a river, but you are moving.” This thoughtful action illuminated a passage from hooks’ Ain’t I a woman that I had underlined and quoted years earlier.

“By completely accepting the female role as defined by patriarchy, enslaved black women embraced and upheld an oppressive sexist social order and became (along with their white sisters) both accomplices in the crimes perpetrated against women and the victims of those crimes.”

That was such a moment of light and assurance, and those 4 days in Kentucky were awesome as I got to hang out with bell, which also included going with her to buy shoes.  She had a fetish for shoes and bought 4 pairs, and admonished me for not even buying one pair.

By that single generous act of schooling me about the college circuit, bell hooks demonstrated the true meaning of feminism, which promoted me to secure an agent six months later even though I was not able to be on the road as frequently as bell suggested because of my family and academic life.

Nikky Finney is another sister/writer friend (featured in the photo) who has also been supportive, and who had recommended me for the conference. Although that was bell’s and my first meeting, we had communicated a few years before when she was writing Sisters of the Yam: Black women and self-recovery, 1993. I had been performing with devorah major as Daughter of Yam, and bell wanted to use a quote from our performance. Several years later when that collection was being republished she reached out to me again for a blurb.

bell was forthright, generous and had bottled energy.  I remember one of our late night conversations, when my eyes were blurry with sleep and she was energetic, and me asking her  how she managed to write and published so much. She laughed and said, “I don’t have three young children.” Touché I nodded.  Then in a more serious tone she added, “ I have serious insomnia so I write to try and find asleep. Also, I am driven to comment on all aspect of black life, to shed light.”

What impressed me about bell hooks at the conference, as well as other times seeing and hearing her, is her analytical ability. Her penchant for bringing many thoughts together through her wide-range and vast reading, and her unapologetic stance about  being black and woman and all the things that she felt black writers and artists worldwide needed to do.

“The black aesthetic movement was a self-conscious articulation by many of a deep fear that the power of art reside in its potential to transgress the boundaries…” she pronounced in Yearning, one of her many books that I taught over the years.  And that was indeed her charge and the work that she demanded that women feminist writers do continuously— bulldoze boundaries, deconstruct discourses and create new paradigms.

A few years after the conference when bell was coming to the Bay Area to present she reached out and asked me to introduce her at the event. I wrote a poem as way of introduction, which I am unable to locate now. bell was someone whose work I respected and taught, and she likewise respected and taught my work. We communicated over the years, briefly. We saw each other a few times. In New York at one conference, we talked over tea about home and wanting to return.  She was fed up with being in New York and wanted to return to Kentucky and I was similarly wanting to return to Jamaican from California.  When she finally moved back to teach at Berea College, Kentucky, in 2004 I sent her a congratulatory email for being able to make that move and wished her wellness as she had been having health challenges.

bell hooks knew all too well domination and had managed to find a way out of its grasp.

“A culture of domination demands of all its citizens self-negation.

The more marginalized, the more intense the demand. Since black people, especially the underclass, are bombarded by messages that we have no value, are worthless it is no wonder that we fall prey to nihilistic despair…”  (from Black Looks)

The above quote by hooks is relevant to the conditions that many Jamaicans and other Caribbean people are currently facing given the crime rate, the cost of living, the gender-based violence and the horrendous physical and sexual crimes against our children. The nihilism is evident in the acceptability of the present reality and the general belief that there is nothing we can do beyond trying to survive. hooks’ work, although focuses on black life in the USA, offer us many parallels in the Caribbean. It provides us with a framework to engaged in critical feminist discourse that incorporates culture, the patriarchal and colonial  modules that still govern/define our lives. Her books, Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, 1984; Talking Back: Thinking feminist, thinking Black. Between the Lines, 1989; Yearning: race, gender, and cultural politics,1990; Black Looks: Race and representation, 1992 are lucid and straight-forward readings that connect the dots about how the historical antecedents continue to move us further away from who are, and our goal to resist the domination in every form.

For all educators and those wishing to truly create a liberating pedagogy, studying Teaching to transgress: education as the practice of freedom, 1994 and  Outlaw culture: resisting representation, 1994  are prerequisite readings. For those writers or those who desire to write or who teach creative writing,  I recommend these of hooks’ books: Bone Black: Memories of Girlhood (1996); Wounds of passion: a writing life (1997); Remembered rapture: the writer at work (1999). I have required these readings when I taught in the MFA in Creative writing program at California College of the Arts.

bell hooks constantly moved through fear to unbarring the door and she kept the door open not just so that she could enter, but that other writers and feminists of colour could enter too. She blended scholarship with creativity, inserting her voice as Primary source, worthy to stand alone and tell her truth.  A true trail blazer she took Audre Lorde’s intersectional concept a step further thus by creating more space for other voices.

I am honoured that I knew her and got to share the stage with her a few times. Most importantly, I thank her for setting me on the path to ask for what I am worth and deserve.

Sleep now my sister. You have gifted us with a formidable body of work to feed our minds and guide our path.  Asé

This article was published in Bookend, The Observer, Jamaica, Dec 25-26, 2021.


Monica Minott: Zion Roses

Zion Roses is the title of the collection. The collection engages with the loss of our roots as Caribbeans, we who have been separated from our ancestral history , continue to suffer  disenfranchisements. Loss of land, language and cultures report in our daily experiences. Zion Roses acknowledges our pain but it does not ask readers to wallow in self-pity, but to rise-up and overcome. The collection engages with music, art, and literature, as avenues of overcoming.  Descendants are encouraged to innovate and lift ourselves/ themselves into a brighter future, to use dance, music , poetry, and visual art as cure, acknowledging the power in both ‘history’ and ‘history-less-ness.’

In June, 2018, while having lunch with a painter, Stefanie Thomas, who had only a few minutes before completed a painting and set it near an open window to dry, I found my gaze time and again drawn towards the image resting against a wall. I finally got up and studied the painting more closely and I said, “Stefanie, these are flowers falling from heaven, from Zion, a gift.” She studied me and the painting, a smile was her only response.  Days later she called and shared her decision to name the painting … “Zion Roses.” I knew then it would be the title of my next book.

My first collection  Kumina Queen was published in 2016. In that said year I attend Bennington College, Vermont (2016-2018) where I obtained an MFA. Several poems in this collection were penned during my time at Bennington. At Bennington I had the benefit of  working with several significant poets resident in the United States of America, including Major Jackson, Greg Pardlo, and April Bernard. I consider my time spent interfacing with these poets as part of ‘the high.’ But the high did not start there. I had before Bennington, the benefit of mentorship from Edward Baugh and Mervyn Morris. The low …Mama said “Rome was never  built in a day”…poetry needs patience and dedication. I am thrilled  when a new collection is published, but the product  takes time.

This collection captures the scattering and fragmentation of lives — trafficked Africans and their descendants. The continuing impact of European colonisers on the descendants of the enslaved  is of particular importance. The collection reports various influences, with respect to language, foods, and cultural norms; in my mind these influences explain much of the unique multi-layered complex individuals we meet in the Caribbean and the diaspora. The collection introduces subversive voices of persons disenfranchised: “BAG-A-WIRE,” “Mahogany Tree” (Tour guide) , “Telemachus,” and “Jean Michel Basquiat,” to name a few.

Jean Michel Basquiat was born to a Haitian father and mother of Puerto Rican heritage. Basquiat has been described as: rebellious, unique, subversive, difficult, and exceptional. Every black person, more recently termed ‘hybrid,’  should want  to know Basquiat’s story, his successes and his failings. His subversive paintings speak to  his rejection of a system of oppression, ‘The Establishment.’ His paintings report on  life in the USA for  black persons. Basquiat employed symbols in his paintings: skulls, bones, crowns, scribblings and ladders of escape. He used symbols like trademarks.

Zion Roses reports on a history of violence and pain, which may be ascribed to epi-genetic markers ( findings of a recent scientific study) that may one day explain the continuing violence in our  islands. But, most important, the collection encourages overcoming, planting seeds of hope.

LIGNUM VITAE. 

(Three wooden figures, said to be Taino deities -Zemis  on display before the Society of Antiquaries of London.”)

Hardwood taking shape.

Cacique listens to grain

of the wood, turns voice

into form. Ancestors’

knowledge-tree bends

but never breaks, stone-

chisel strips away bark                        

revealing heart-wood

ready for stone grinder.

Beveled liberation. No

Auction Block. Bird-

man finds tree-of-life

good to make ships. 

Audience: Persons who are interested in  postcolonial studies, history of people in the Caribbean, and the complexities of Caribbean persons, will appreciate Zion Roses. 

Covid 19, facilitated my focused attention for approximately 14 months on the third collection. The Black Lives Matter movement confirms that my decision to explore the continuing impact of colonial occupation on trafficked Africans, via  “colonial loss and reconciliation,”  is reasonable and relevant.

I am currently completing my third collection,  this collection, heavily biased towards  ekphrasis, will present “ships that scattered us.” The collection again seeks to be a conduit of voices that had been silenced, voices that now must to be heard. I also continue my tantalizing journey through the works of  Jean Michel Basquiat.

While reading, a word or a sentence often provokes a memory, I am transported to a space where I  try  to resolve unresolved issues, or to document injustices I have unearthed.   I’ll stop and write my thoughts as they come, responding to the artistic intuition/ pulse.  A memory often forms the skeleton or the sub stratum of a poem.  For the poem to evolve  I meditate on the idea of the poem while trying to hear my thoughts clearly; thereafter, I widen areas of consideration through research or further readings in an effort to eliminate limitations I may have subjectively imposed. The lyrical call will already have entered  the lines,  ‘enriching the dry bones.’  My poems are never finished until they achieve the intended purpose, i.e.,  ensuring  the voices of the voiceless can be heard through my writings.

I wish to write the most powerful collection that I can possibly write that will impact lives and foster reconciliation.

I am  a workaholic, nevertheless,  I am a bit disorganized maybe because I am usually doing three projects when other persons  are focused on one.

         LET US PLAY BY MY RULES                                                           

I have been called, yes called

to a city where boys grow into skeletons

and skulls, wearing halos of nails and thorns,

where locusts deconstruct and  strip-down,

like I strip down for you, show you my lines

my angles, my crown. They cross over me,

Madonna, to feel what black-crazy feels like.

They cross me over, sit me down, sing me

soft, sing me wild, ring me with fire. Then

they listen when I testify, a broken heart,

loud, back-talking loud, before they reply,

calling out my name, Jean Michel Basquiat.

I say, “Off with their grinning heads.”

Zion Roses Reviews:

How To purchase a copy

https://www.peepaltreepress.com/books/zion-roses

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/zion-roses-monica-minott/1139189453

How To Contact author:   @mint99wm twitter

Makers of Peace

I’m Professor Opal Palmer Adisa from Kingston Jamaica where I live and work, the home to reggae music, jerk food and the fastest woman and man in the world. I am a writer of poetry , prose, essays and children’s books. I am a feminist, gender specialist and cultural activist.

From I was in my twenties I have been writing and advocating gender justice, especially in the area of children’s right, specifically for girls to be safe and protected from sexual and physical abuse.

I have also been advocating against gender-based violence, in particular domestic violence that disproportionately affects women and children. I have worked with diverse groups that have made these issues their charge. I have written extensively on the issue, in fact my first short story collection, Bake-Face and Other Guava Stories, 1985, explores both of these issues.

When I was living and teaching in California, USA I taught at California College of the Arts, and headed the Diversity Studies programme, where among looking at Ethnic inclusion also worked  for gender equality; I also works  the Berkeley women’s center, designing and conducting workshops in shelters for women on self-empowerment and regaining their voice after years of domestic abuse.

In the US Virgin Island I worked with the V.I. Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Council and The Women’s Coalition of St Croix, where I wrote and directed plays as a result of interviewing women on the issue of childhood sexual trauma and domestic violence.

 In Jamaica, as the outgoing University Director of The Institute for Gender and Development Studies, with units in Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago, I had the distinct opportunity to oversee and direct programs that tackled these issues, as well as liaison with community service organizations and NGOs throughout the Caribbean regio n to network around these issues. I have been promoting intergenerational networking of veteran advocates with emerging advocates to build capacity, share best practices and learn from each other and work together to solves many of these issues, especially GBV.  As the present initiator of Thursday in Black in Jamaica, I have led island-wide campaign/demonstrations to bring public awareness to GBV and work to reduce and eventually eliminate it.

Gender equality is the necessary prerequisite to bring about a culture of peace and, it is crucial that women and girls, and men and boys are involved in every aspect of peacebuilding as we must learn to co-exist and thrive together. Gender inequality negatively impacts everyone in the society, and while some men due to their patriarchal upbringing, believe they will lose out as a result of gender equality; they are mistaken.  Everyone wins when the scale is evenly balanced.  Women and girls get to make independent choices and men and boys are no longer have to bear the burden of being bread-winners or protectors as everyone will contribute to their own welfare and safety.  And more importantly, for development, the full participation, intellectual, physical and other areas of both women and men and girls and boys will allow for greater progress over a shorter period of time, and the combination of innate skills will result in peace and more respect and Intunement with our environment. 

Gender equality is the vision of the future that we are working to ensure will be a reality. We are all daily dying from lack of peace, from conflict, from inequality. I firmly believe GE will rebalance and allows us to recalibrate how we can live and work together in peace and harmony.

I identify as an African Jamaican because my ancestral roots are in Africa, and that sense of geographic roots grounds and connects me in a visceral way with the people of Africa; their struggles are mine, and mine theirs, and their past and present achievements are likewise mine.

People of the African diasporas in Jamaica and throughout  Caribbean will feel more connected to their African roots if they are taught about Africa, not just the history of enslavement, where they are always told their people sold them, and never about their people who valiantly fought to keep them from slavery, not about the great accomplishments of Africans way before the Europeans and Asia, and all the natural resources of Africa that has and is still continuing to benefit the world, include the very technology that we now take for granted. We don’t know this history.  We are not taught to love ourselves and honour our ancestors. The education system must change from the colonial model to a Caribbean/African model.

Jamaicans and other Caribbean people have been and will continue to be  involved in contributing to a culture of peace in Africa.  Jamaica was one of the first countries to boycott South African for its racist, apartheid policy; our musicians, Peter Tosh, Bob  Marley, Juddy Mowatt,  and many others have sang about freedom and liberation and peace. Reggae music is known and appreciated globally for its message of peace and liberation; its call to stand and end sufferation… We have been working to bring about peace and have joined out sisters and brothers throughout the African continent to amplify that message and end colonnization.  But more needs and can be done.  One way is to allow for more educational and trade exchange between the Caribbean and Africa; African languages and its full history must be taught throughout the Caribbean. We have to examine and adopt some of the measures of the Queen Mothers of Ghana and the sisters of Nzinga, with our own Nanny and other female fighters, their  strategy and methods of resolving conflict and building coalition can be insightful to our struggles.

Portia Dreams – A children’s book

I am so excited about my new book for children, Portia Dreams.

It is the childhood story of Portia Simpson Miller, the first and still to date, the only female Prime Minister of Jamaica.


On March 2006 to September 2007 she was elected Prime Minister and again from 5 January 2012 to 3 March 2016. She was the leader of the People’s National Party from 2005 to 2017 and the Leader of the Opposition twice, from 2007 to 2012 and from 2016 to 2017.

Portia Simpson Miller is from a working-class family in the rural area of St Catherine, but she decided very early that she wanted to contribute to change, and supported by both her mother and father, she became a change-maker.

I invite you to read this book and learn about Portia’s childhood and the dreamer that she was.

My goal is to inspire children, especially those from humble beginnings, so they know that regardless of their circumstances, like Portia, they can dream and aspire and become Prime Minister one day.

For further information, please contact:

Lincoln Robinson

PSM Foundation Book Project Coordinator

Email: lincrob55@gmail.com

Tel: 876 833 0403

https://jamaica-gleaner.com/article/art-leisure/20211212/portia-dreams-book-mama-ps-childhood-years

Celia Sorhaindo: Guabancex

H2.5AZ (Strong Ties, Galvanized)

They are building me a new roof since the old one went

with the wind—category 5 +. I have learnt a whole new

vocabulary—purlins, rafters, wall plates, hurricane ties.

It is chaos on top of chaos—the necessary brutal breaking

down to build back better, stronger—mitigate against future

blows they say will come more frequently—ferociously unpredictable.

I look up—sturdy wet new treated pine above my head, see the thicker

rafters—bird beaked—sitting tied down on edge of anchored plate.

They say you must have such cuts and ties to firmly lodge onto ledges—

the price to be secure—to be more—permanent; more knowledgeable?

My chapbook Guabancex is about that traumatic and emotionally complicated period when in 2017 Dominica suffered a category five devastating hurricane, Maria. Poetry was my way of working through some of that mental chaos. I wanted to think more deeply about some of the complex nuances I observed and experienced; all the issues bubbling under the surface that a devastating event can uncover – but also the love, resilience, empowerment and community spirit that was there too. Often, what gets portrayed on the news when a catastrophic event occurs, can be very different to the lived reality of the people going through the experience, so I also wanted to record some of that in poetry.

I try to pay attention to what’s in the space , what words I keep seeing over and over again.  I had been coming across articles and videos about the indigenous Taino people of the Caribbean region, and their female deity Guabancex, associated with all natural destructive forces, including hurricanes. She’s known as “one whose fury destroys everything”, but she’s not only the goddess of disaster, she’s also the goddess of rebirth and renewal. Even though there is no evidence the Taino reached as far as Dominica, it seemed an appropriate title for the book and a way of honoring the Taino memory and the memory of all the indigenous people who perished due to colonization. We still have an indigenous population here in Dominica, the Kalinago, and people often aren’t aware of this. So, I felt it important, especially  in terms of climate change that the knowledge indigenous peoples seemed to have about weather patterns, where to build your house, how to build your house — we can learn their knowledge in these current times.

Immediately after the hurricane, there was no headspace for writing, it was mentally and physically an exhausting time, and we were just concentrating on the day-to-day basics of food, water, rainproof shelter etc.  It was six months after that I really began writing the poems in earnest and about one year after that I sent a few to Papillote Press for publication consideration. The final book was officially published in February 2020. Writing the poems was empowering and cathartic and it felt amazing to see something aesthetically beautiful, come out of the devastation of the hurricane. I agree with Kamau Brathwaite that art can come out of catastrophe. We had a physical book launch in Dominica, then the pandemic really kicked in, the lockdowns etc…

I never consciously have an audience in mind when I’m writing, because it makes me prone to self-censor. Hopefully during these testing time, readers will be able to relate to the themes of resilience of the human spirit, how we survive and over time heal from traumatic events, the importance of community, family, friends, faith, compassion and love; and the ‘collateral beauty’ of Guabancex.

Everything impacts my writing because for me writing is not separate to life. The world feels completely unstable and unpredictable; every area of life has been affected; I am just trying to stay balanced and healthy. I have a full-length collection of poetry which will hopefully be published at the end of next year.

I don’t have a formalized writing process. I read a lot and take a lot of notes. Sometimes I use writing prompts and writing exercises to get poems started; sometimes I work to deadlines for journals and competitions; sometimes poems subconsciously arrive unbidden which I always give thanks for and I use the craft tools I have learned to make them more potent. But every day, even though I am not writing, I am probably doing something related to my craft.

I’m a bit hesitant about giving myself a “writer” label, because there are so many expectations and assumptions as to what “a writer” should be and do and I’m just not sure yet how much of that world I want to be a part of. At the moment I am just enjoying having this creative outlet in my life; it is one of my health and wellness activities. I just want to keep enjoying the creative process, keep courageously experimenting and exploring with words and my imagination.

I have many quirks and idiosyncrasies but nothing in particular I think you should know.

 a poem filled with words not metaphors

im not going to sit here and paint a heavy hurricane picture for you to

visualise in pretty clever metaphor words will never carry you to what

its like actually lets just leave it like that words cannot ever take you

there at all although to be fair Mum is always saying kannót is a boat

all word is metaphor

this will never be real

in a billion years i dont

want some reader to come here think

this world of words was literal think

this blank ink represents black feeling

or that this white page feels any thing

this is what the hurricane left me with

go out and experience it for your self

metaphor the world however you want

http://www.celiasorhaindo.com/

https://www.facebook.com/TropicalTiesDominica/

Instagram @tropicaltiesdominica

LeRoy Clarke: A Prolific artist with a mission

LeRoy Clarke was a genius, a master artist, as passionate and as complex as the best. You either loved him fully, unconditionally, or you left him alone. He was fierce, full of convictions, and he did not mince his words, regardless of who might be hurt by them.

At his house/museum, 2017

I met LeRoy for the first time, at seventeen, recently arrived in New York, getting ready for college and a friend invited me to accompany her to visit him at his home/studio in Brooklyn. When we arrived he was working on a massive piece, about 20 x 60, part of his Douen series, with such minute details, I thought he would surely go blind. I still don’t understand, how up to two years ago when I last saw him before the COVID pandemic, how he was able to see with such clarity those fine lines and details of his multi-layered, prophetic, visual compositions.

I had been around artist in Jamaica as my uncle, Lloyd Walcott, was an artist, but walking through LeRoy’s home/studio that day I knew I was in the presence of a master. Also, amazing was his ability to work and entertain — I remember him making and offering us peanut punch, playing music, chatting with others who dropped by, between the 4 hours we were there, and in the midst of all the activity and talking with us, he kept painting. The caveat of that first meeting, of what would become many, many visits, was that my friend told him that I wrote and he said I should bring some of my poems the next time I came to visit — that was before computers and cell phones.

About a month later I visited LeRoy and left him a slim folder of my typed poems. He called about 3 weeks later and declared me a poet. He suggested some books for me to read, including Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, provided critique on several of the poems and told me, “Keep writing.” Thanks my dear LeRoy, I am still writing. LeRoy Clarke was my first mentor and he introduced me to many important poets in New York, Quincy Troupe and the late South African poet who was in exiled in New York at the time, Keorapetse William Kgositsile; LeRoy also took me to my first open mic reading, and at the many parties at his home I met other artists, musicians, and writers/poet from the Caribbean, Africa and the entire globe.

When his first collection, Taste of Endless Fruit: Love Poems and Drawings, 1974 came out he gave me a signed copy. When I left New York after undergraduate college and returned home, Leroy and I communicated via letters — still computer and WhatsApp was not yet invented. I believe I was visiting New York when LeRoy said he was packing up and returning home. I was inspired. He told me to come and visit him there and I did, in all of the locations in which he lived before he built his home museum, El Tucuche, where I stayed many times.

Opal & Leroy, 2018

LeRoy Clarke has been an inspiration; consistently he  was  clear and unwavering about doing his work without any distraction or deviation. The first original piece of art I bought when I was 21 years old was one of Leroy’s Painting that he allowed me to pay for over a 2-year period; it sadly was stolen from my California home, when I was away on study leave in 2009, when some very unscrupulous people tried to take over my house and stole that, among other art work.

LeRoy insisted that I attend his 75th birthday, and asked me to speak about his work and our friendship at the Museum in Port of Spain; also, I wrote and was interviewed in a local journal about our mentorship/friendship.

In 2016 I spent a week with LeRoy, and during that time we spoke extensively about his work – his process and some of  those conversations were in a taped interviewed him about his Eye Hayti Series; an excerpt of that interview was published in the journal, Interviewing the Caribbean, Vol 3, No 1, 2017

About five years ago, Leroy asked me about his work, and when I visited him three years ago he had me select 3 images from Ubiquitous Thunder, and write about those.  I hope this quintessential collection of line-drawings will be a forthcoming publication  by his estate.

LeRoy painting at his home, 2018

LeRoy Clarke has left a massive body of work that will take many, several  life times to analyse and process. He is certainly one of the Caribbean’s most prolific visual artists and writers, and his work enshrines our history, culture and his future hopes for our restoration. I count myself among those blessed to have known him and who was encouraged to keep steadfast with the work.  I am leaning on the shovel, LeRoy, and will keep leaning.

Asé.  I know the ancestors welcome you in their folds. Walk Good my dear friend.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LeRoy_Clarke

https://www.leroyclarke.com/

LeRoy Clarke (7 November 1938 – 27 July 2021)

Marcus Garvey : still relevant today

“Our success educationally, industrially and politically is based upon the protection of a nation founded by ourselves. And the nation can be nowhere else but in Africa.” Marcus Garvey


I love this photo of Garvey as it resembles my father –he resembles my father or more accurately, my father resembles him; they could have been brothers; therefore Garvey could have been my father; he is certainly my spiritual father. However, Garvey forged a path much wider than my biological father; he had a vision, insight and the tenacity to pursue his dreams, and thankfully for us –Garvey’s dreams still inspire us.

As a writer and intellectual, this Garvey quote resinates with me, especially when intellect is married with common sense then the whole world opens to one. But really what does Garvey mean by intelligence? It of course has its base with self-knowledge, as Garvey understood this to be the cornerstone of Black people’s liberation from enslavement whose primary goal was to reduce us by let us forget who we are truly and where we came from. The vast majority of us still don’t know the most basic things about our heritage, even today when so much is available to us.

CONFIDENCE in SELF

Similarly, if one has no confidence in self, there is very little positive change one can accomplish. That is why it is so important to endow our children with knowledge about self, and help to bolster their self-confidence. Everything we hope to achieve is only possible with self-confidence; without it we will remain stagnant.

Throughout his life, Garvey tried and accomplished many things. Some will say he also failed at many things, but that is also the mark of a courageous and forward thinking person, who is not afraid to fail because s/he knows every failure leads us that closer to success. So thanks Marcus Garvey for doing and failing and doing more so we have the history of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL, commonly known as UNIA), which you founded and Presided over, and which was once the largest organisation of Black people throughout the Diaspora, and that inspired countless, and continues to do so even today.

There are many Garvey quotes that I find inspiring but these three in particular resonate with me:

“Africa for the Africans… at home and abroad!”

I hope the leaders of Africa will come to truly understand and reflect this very soon in the near future.

“A reading man and woman is a ready man and woman, but a writing man and woman is exact.”

We all need to ponder the meaning and implications between ready and exact.

And this finally quote below speaks to our future:

“There is no force like success, and that is why the individual makes all effort to surround himself throughout life with the evidence of it; as of the individual, so should it be of the nation.”

How are we as individuals and as a society/nation measuring success, which must have a community component and an element of altruism. I don’t remember how old I was exactly when I was introduced to Garvey’s philosophy, but it feels as if he has been always around, and I know he will continue to be a beacon that sees me and others through to the other side.

Asé! May his words continue to guide…

Not Another Nashawn Brown: Let’s Parent With Love

The death of Nashawn Brown, resulting from the beating by his stepfather is not an anomaly.  Every day, throughout Jamacia, regardless of  class and ethnicity, children are abused emotionally, physically and sexually. This must  stop.  We must learn and understand that children are not empty vessels and not our property to do with as we feel.  We must not take out our anger and frustration on our children. We must honour and respect our children, and we must not stand by and watch adults abuse children. Those of us who know better, must be the voice of children who are unable to speak for and defend themselves.

Whenever I see children out, whether going to school, church or some function, they are always well-groomed. It is evident that a parent or guardian invested time and energy to achieve that appearance. However, it seems that parents do not take the same amount of pride in the psychological and emotional welfare of their children.

What we as parents say to our children has deep, life-lasting implications. If we want children who are intelligent and compassionate and emotionally intelligent, then as parents we have to provide them with an opportunity to practice and internalise these values.

Contrary to what some adults might believe, each child comes into this world fully equipped with a unique personality, with specific likes and dislikes. While parents or guardians are intended to guide our children, we are not expected to dominate nor terrorise them.

When I do workshops, parents often throw out the Bible phrase “spare the rod and spoil the child,” which is taken completely out of context. No matter how you slice it, beating is violence. Although there should be no corporal punishment in schools, we know that children are being damaged irreparably by some teachers who humiliate them because they might not understand a certain lesson. Teachers are co-parents so it is vital that  teachers are instructed in the psychology of children.

The data says that 75 per cent of adults who are in jail were abused as children. Those who rape, mutilate and murder, were abused as children. Here are the inescapable facts:

  • 80 percent of Jamaican children experience or witness violence in their homes and communities, and 60 percent experience violence at school.
  • Adults who engage in violence against their intimate partners or children, experienced and or witnessed violence in their homes or communities when growing up.

If we treat children with integrity, show them love and compassion we are on the pathway to creating an open, honest and healthy society.  Let us act as if each child is our most precious treasure. Listen to our children. Speak softly and kindly. Do not be quick to judge or interpret their actions based on your own adult reasoning. Give them the benefit of doubt as you discipline, do it with love and compassion. Model kindness. Model forgiveness.

Children’s Right

Opal Palmer Adisa

before she was four

she was thumped

pinched slapped in the face

by the time she was six

she’d been beaten with stick shoes

pot the hook of a fruit picker

her mother has shoved her

causing her to stumble

in the market for walking

too slow with the heavy basket

then cursed her out:

you too damn clumsy and weaky-weaky

her grandmother had spat on her

and knocked her in her head with a stone

for saying good morning to the woman who was

her grandmother’s life-long enemy

the teacher had slapped

her in her hands with the ruler until they swelled

because she couldn’t remember

nine times eight and when she said

her head hurt the teacher shamed her

now at twenty-three with four children

two fathers she expects to be thumped slapped

spread and entered with force

any friday night when her man

comes home drunk               feeling defeated

she expects to be cussed out/grabbed by the throat

when she asked for money to help with food

and when her frustration and anxiety mount

which is all the time she shoves and pushes

her children for clinging to her          screams at them

ah wish oonuh would just dead

and leave me the blasted hell alone

then she pulls and hugs then tightly

to her bosom                           head throbbing

as she mumbles    is love me love oonuh

is so love hurt

WE CAN & MUST EMANCIPATE OURSELVES

I am emancipation, the door and one path.

You are emancipation, the walls and another path.

We are emancipation, the roof and windows, a shelter.

Emancipation is not complete until we are all emancipated.

The first and important step is to scrub our minds of the colonizer ‘s lies and affirm those aspects of our culture that sustain and empower us.

The second step is respect of our people, and keeping us safe, especially women and children. Empower ourselves with knowledge.

Third step is a foundation of manhood that combines strength with wisdom.

Together we rise. We demand reparation out of respect for all the hard labor and sacrifices our ancestors made so that we are still here standing.

Shara McCallum: I love Myth

JAMAICAN born Shara McCallum is the 2021-22 Penn State Laureate, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English at Penn State University, and winner of the Silver Musgrave Medal of Jamaica and the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. The author of six collections, including the recently released, No Ruined Stone, Shara offers insight about this work.

No Ruined Stone

May 2018: for my grandmother

When the dead return

they will come to you in dream

and in waking, will be the bird

knocking, knocking against glass, seeking

a way in, will masquerade

as the wind, its voice made audible

by the tongues of leaves, greedily

lapping, as the waves’ self-made fugue

is a turning and returning, the dead

will not then nor ever again

desert you, their unrest

will be the coat cloaking you,

the farther you journey

from them the more

distance will maw in you,

time and place gulching

when the dead return to demand

accounting, wanting

and wanting and wanting

everything you have to give and nothing

will quench or unhunger them

as they take all you make as offering.

Then tell you to begin again.

OPA: What is this collection about?

No Ruined Stone is a collection of poetry. As a whole, the book is a novel-in-verse. It offers a speculative account of history, based on the real-life 18th-century Scottish poet Robert Burns. In 1786, Burns came very close to migrating to Jamaica to work on a slave plantation.

OPA: How did the title come about?

From a poem by the 20th-century Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid. In the poem, MacDiarmid says, “There are plenty of ruined buildings in the world but no ruined stones.” This quote serves also as an epigraph for the book.

OPA: How long have you been working on it and explain the journey, the highs and lows, and finally the triumph to completion?

The idea for this book took hold in 2015 when I first went to Scotland and, there, learned the story of Burns and Jamaica. I researched the book for nearly three years after that. So much time went into research with this book, I began to wonder if I’d ever write the thing itself or had bitten off more than I could chew. I’m a poet and was asking poetry to do the work of a novel. I wasn’t sure if I, as the writer, was up to this task. When I went back to Scotland in May 2018 for another extended stretch, that’s when the writing caught fire. I wrote a third of the book there in about 14 days.

OPA: Why is this collection important and why would it appeal to others? Do you have a specific audience in mind?

The book examines the legacy of slavery, race, passing, migration, exile, and memory. I hope Jamaicans and Scots would be interested in this interconnection and lesser-told story of our entangled histories. I live in the United States where the book will also be published, and I hope Americans will also be interested to hear a story in which reverberations of the past in the present are audible.

OPA: As a writer living under Covid 19 and the Black Lives Matter movement, how have these two very different social realities impacted you, your writing?

I may have answered the second part of this, obliquely, though I began writing this book before BLM became part of public consciousness. Like many black writers/people, my awareness of slavery and the continued impact of racism has a long memory. As for Covid, this last year and a half has strained my ability to write. But I did complete final rounds of revisions and edits with No Ruined Stone during this time. I also worked to finish my part of the work on another book (La historia es un cuarto/History is a Room, an anthology of my poems in Spanish, translated by Venezuelan poet Adalbar Salas Hernandez), which is coming out later this year too. The production stages of a book take time, as you know well Opal, but are an essential part of the writing life and I can’t complain.

OPA: What are you working on now, or what will be your next project?

Alongside poems, I’ve been writing personal essays for over the past twenty years. In 2020 I published two essays that are the foundation of a collection in process, Through a Glass, Darkly. The essay collection revisits several of the themes and narrative threads treated in my books of poems, though the discursivity and larger canvas of the essay formally shapes the material differently I think.

OPA: Can you share your writing process?

I generally draft new work in brief, concentrated periods of time, and then won’t write anything new again for months to a year. I prefer to revise on my own and don’t share writing in process with others very often, though I did when I was younger. I sometimes will sit on a poem or an essay for many years, wrestling with it until I feel I’ve seen all it wants to be.

OPA: What are your aspirations as a writer?

To keep writing and to be truthful.

OPA: Share a secret that we should know about you the writer-person.

I love watching sports. I also love superhero movies. Basically, these are modern-day myths and I love myth. These aren’t really a secret about me, but I share them because people tend not to associate either of these past times with poets & women.

No Ruined Stone

May 2018: to Robert Burns, after Calum Colvin’s “Portrait of Hugh MacDiarmid”

You saturate the sight

of those who come after, poets

and painters alike. Your words invade

my mind’s listening, manacle

my tongue when I try to speak

on all I backward cast my eye

and fear and canna see.

Who would I have been

to you, what stone

in the ruined house of the past?

In this world, I am unloosed, belonging

to no country, no tribe, no clan.

Not African. Not Scotland.

And you, voice that stalks

my waking and dreaming,

you more myth than man,

cannot unmake history.

So why am I here

resurrecting you to speak

when your silence gulfs centuries?

Why do I find myself

on your doorstep, knocking,

when I know the dead

will never answer?

No Ruined Stone (Alice James Books, US)

No Ruined Stone (Peepal Tree Press, UK)

sharamccallum.com

If you might like a review copy or media/publicity materials, please be in touch with Emily Marquis (pa@alicejamesbooks.org) or Alyson Sinclar (alyson.sinclair@nectarliterary.com), with Alice James Books, or Adam Lowe (adam@peepaltreepress.com) at Peepal Tree Press.