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.

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)

If you might like a review copy or media/publicity materials, please be in touch with Emily Marquis ( or Alyson Sinclar (, with Alice James Books, or Adam Lowe ( at Peepal Tree Press.

Paulette RamsAy: The Dynamism of Words

Both poetry and prose use language in an imaginative way to create vivid images and pictures. Both use a rich array of elements that communicate meaning in a creative manner. Paulette Ramsey

Mothers Make Magic

(For mothers everywhere)

they create magic

mothers do


they stretch time like endless

elastic ropes

that children swing on

to the moon and back


make tuneful onomatopoeia

and put the night on hold,

they keep the day running

as their sons float their kites

on the wind,

games must be played,

bodies fed,

fantasies spun

with the thread

of magical words,

songs must be sung,

the stars repainted in the sky

everyone must go to the moon

and back

as mothers make magic.

I write prose and poetry.  I write because I enjoy using language in different innovative ways. I love the dynamism of words and figures of speech and expressions.

As a childhood  I loved to read a lot and this enjoyment of reading gave mean appetite for living in the world of books. I enjoyed the books of Enid Blyton and Andrew Salkey, Everard Palmer , Jean Da Costa and others who drew me into the world of their works.

Because I like to write about Caribbean experiences, place is important for establishing cultural contexts and political and social background.

I do believe that poetry and prose can draw attention to social ills, and  try to subtly, and without preaching, suggest the ills that need to be addressed.

I am not writing now but I am thinking about my next novel. I usually carry things in my head.

I am an academic who does research on the injustices faced by people of African descent in Latin America.

My new novel is Letters Home. The title is based on the fact that the novel is made up of letters and diary entries.

I wrote it for about two years and eventually decided I wanted it out there in the public. It focuses on the trials, challenges and problems faced by Windrush people in England in the 60s and 70s.

My next project will be another novel, but you should know I wrote a novel for three years and never bothered to publish it.

My writing process is –I read , think ,then write and rewrite many times.

I would like to win an award one day…

Star Apple Blue and Avocado Green

our star apple tree is old and tired now

so many many years after my

great grandmother planted it

it now leans lazily yet gracefully

against the avocado tree that I planted

ten years ago

interestingly, they each carry stories

of two different generations

in a family that celebrates

our tropical trees with great spirit

my great grandmother loved the star apple’s purple blue skin

and its succulent purple and white flesh

so delicately arranged in a wine coloured bowl

I planted my avocado for its smooth, waxy fruit

that my mother used to feed me

with hot slices of yellow heart roasted breadfruit

they seem to like each other’s company

my avocado tree seems happy to

bear the weight of my great grandmother’s

aged star apple tree with its purple green leaves

the star apple tree is happy to find

friendly support in a young strong trunk

in its last days

so reminiscent of the way great grandmother

loved the company of us young people

as we laughed and chattered around her

in her last days

our two trees seem to like

the cosiness of being snuggled against each other

listening to the soft whisper of their leaves

brushing against each other

in the quiet green breeze

sometimes I watch them with envy

I contemplate joining them

but then I wonder

who will I lean on

my avocado, or great grandmother’s star apples?

for now, I’m content to just watch them

or close my eyes and imagine myself

sitting in the V where they meet

surrounded by star apple blue and avocado green

flowers and colours, my colours of life and joy.

Glodean Champion’s Salmon Croquettes – a rites-of-passage novel

Prose is what happens when a writer shows up to the page

with the courage to be vulnerable, the willingness to be honest,

and a desire to uplift and enlighten the reader.” Glodean Champion

OPA: What is this novel about and why is it importance?

GC: This is a coming of age story about a 12-year-old Black girl who is struggling with her sexuality amidst a community fighting for equality. It is important because as bi-sexual Black woman who has more courage than most, my coming out wasn’t really a coming out. I just showed up with a “girlfriend” one day and acted as if it was the most normal thing in the world. My family was a little taken aback, but not shocked because of who I am. The other thing is I’ve never struggled with anything other than my weight. So, when I thought about all the other LGBTQ people of color, I knew it wasn’t as easy for them. I wanted to give them a voice and show people that homosexuality is not a “choice.” Having to witness a child trying to sort it out who hasn’t been molested or traumatized to make her “choose” to be with the same sex makes people think differently. That’s why I also made sure nothing about her story was stereotypical. She has both parents. They have money, but the father chooses to live in Watts because that’s where he comes from. And, her community is close knit and everyone looks out for each other.

OPA: How did the title come about?

I titled it Salmon Croquettes because my mother (now deceased) used to make salmon croquettes on Fridays and I loved them! She’s gone now and I thought the best way to honor her memory would be to name the book after something that makes me think of her. Then when I thought about the fact that my mother tried to teach me how to cook and I preferred poking holes in the tablecloth and taking things apart (like the radio and toaster) it made it easy to weave that into the storyline.

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

I started working on the novel in 2008. It was actually my thesis for grad school. It evolved a LOT over the years it took me to complete it. Seven years, in fact. I finished the first draft on December 31, 2015. During that time, Zayla (my main character) kept me writing. On those days when I didn’t know where to take the story I would get an idea while cooking or sometimes in my sleep. It never failed; when I took action on those ideas the words poured out of me, seamlessly. I can’t say that I knew how the story was going to evolve. I wrote out an outline, but wound up writing something altogether different. I guess the best way to say this is, “I trusted the writing process and wrote what came to me in the moment.” In fact, there’s a character, Miss Millie, whom I didn’t even know existed until I was writing her into the scene! She literally just showed up and I went with it. It’s one of my favorite scenes in the book and I never edited any part of it. The way I wrote it the first time is the way it remained.

OPA: Why would this novel appeal to others? Do you have a specific audience in mind?

It’s both YA and historical fiction. I didn’t have an audience in mind, initially. I wanted it to be for “everyone.” But, to see how YAs would respond to it I did a book club with Willard Middle School in Berkeley, CA to test it out. There was a group of 14 girls, most white, and they loved it. What was most important was that it resonated with all of them. Several of them made references to the connection they see between George Floyd and one of the scenes in the book.

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 don’t think it’s made much of a difference, however, releasing the book during this times was perfect because it’s so relevant.

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

I have four books in my head. The sequel to Salmon Croquettes, and three books about finding my birth family. One will be fiction (based on a true story) about my birth mother and adoptive mother. I’ll be exploring how things might have been if their lives (as women) paralleled each other and how my birth mother’s life encountered ours on the streets of Los Angeles without us knowing. It’s a love story. A mother’s love, which is what I’m going to call it. “A Mother’s Love.” Then there’s the memoir/leadership book I’m going to write about my life with my adoptive mother, who raised me with intentionality and can be equated to the epitome of a true leader/servant leader. It’s a telling of the foundation that shaped me into the woman I am today. Then there’s the book I want to write about my birth father. I might call this one, “Ain’t I a Man?” or “Ain’t I Man Enough?” (still sorting that out). Anyway, it’s an exploration of what it

looks like and how it may feel to a Black man when his child is taken away without his knowledge or input (fiction also based on a true story). And, lastly, a photojournalism style book, that I’m calling, “Pura Vida: A Black Woman’s Journey to Self-Love.” This will be a combination of travel pics, selfies, and journal entries that end with lessons learned or observations of life and love.

OPA: What is your writing process?

I come up with the idea then I show up to the page with one specific topic/idea to work on. And I write until it feels complete. It might be a scene or a chapter, but whatever it is I trust my instinct to know when it’s done.

OPA: What are your aspirations as a writer?

To get to a point where 50% of my income comes from my writing. Whether it’s in books, blogs, or articles. I have finally accepted that I have a voice that should be heard because my stories could change the world! It’s one of the goals I’ve set for myself that I won’t be able to achieve until I grown into the person who can. That person shows up to the page and, when the work is finished, has the courage to put it out into the world without any hesitation and a ton of confidence!

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

I have this pen thing that’s kinda crazy. It’s two fold. I have fine point pens that I like to write with at times and medium point pens that I like to write with too. If I’m on “fine point” mode, then I will ONLY write with that type of pen. It’s a specific pen, too. Not just any fine point pen. I use the “Uniball Signo DX 0.38” with black ink. When I’m in medium point mode there are two types of pens I go to. Here’s the crazy part…one is a pen I got from the Embassy Suites when I was conducting a training class. They gave me almost 20 of them. I’m down to 4. The other is a pen I got from my last job and I just found them on Vista print (so, that’s good cause when the Embassy Suites pens are gone I have back up)! That’s all kinda crazy, right? LoL!

Excerpt form Salmon Croquettes:

When Dee-Dee tired of the sprinklers, she came up on the porch, dripping water everywhere, and flopped down next to me. We watched the water go back and forth across the grass awhile. I searched for an excuse to leave, because as fascinated as I was, I was equally uncomfortable. Dee-Dee appeared to be completely comfortable in her skin, as if it was an extravagant evening gown designed by God Himself. She was one hundred percent girl. Polished fingernails and toenails. Matching swimsuit and sunshades. I was rough and tumble. My skin felt like a three-piece polyester suit four sizes too small – designer unknown.

Basically, I didn’t care how I looked coming out of the house. I hated fingernail polish. Matching clothes. And anything frilly or ruffled. My experience with the girls in The Circle proved that “rough and tumble” and “girlie girls” didn’t blend well. It probably didn’t help that I took pleasure in decapitating dolls and breaking up tea sets. Momma said I did it out of meanness because I was jealous. Except I wasn’t jealous. I just hated pretending to be a girlie girl when I had much more fun climbing trees and playing stickball.

All of sudden, as if she could hear inside my head, Dee-Dee turned to me and said, “We can’t be friends if you play with Barbie dolls or have dress-up tea parties.”

I grinned. “I hate Barbie dolls and I hate playing pretend even more.”

We became fast friends.

More  information on Glodean Champion:

  1. Website is:
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Natalie G. S. Corthésy: Universality Of Minority Struggle

Poems are puzzles. You pick the pieces up over a cup of coffee or swimminon lazy days by the sea. You have to try many seemly right pieces that don’t fit, until it finally comes together. Writing exercises are great too. Mostly it is about writing everyday as a routine and editing mercilessly all the way to the publisher.

                                                            Natalie Corthésy


Summer’s persistent wings

flapped against the sombre clouds.

As a child I often dreamed of flying things.

Hummingbirds dizzily playing hop scotch in my mother’s garden.

Lemon-yellow butterflies filling the buoyant pews

encircling the lignum vitae’s altar of lilac blossoms.

A sad sky swallowed my sun

before I could mount its back and glide over the blues.

Pointless to imagine a smoky plume lifting me high.

I grew up into a wild featherless thing. Nobody taught me how.

I never asked for the cage I was given.

It’s too late for me to fly now.

© Natalie G.S. Corthésy

Inspired by her birthplace, Jamaican, Natalie G.S. Corthésy has assembled a diverse collection  of poems that recounts familiar stories with a distinctive feminine voice. The title Sky Juice entreats the reader to recall a most treasured delight enjoyed by Jamaican children on hot days, which is every day!

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

Three years in the making, “Sky Juice” is Natalie Corthésy’s second collection of poems after her debut anthology Fried Green Plantains (2017) Nasara Publishing.  “The Watchman”, “Swansea”, “Siren” and “Ritual” have been published in The Caribbean Writer Volume 33, 2019. “The Helper Experiment”, “Where are you from?”, “The School Girl”, and “Free” have been published in The Caribbean Writer Volume 34, 2020. “Up” was published in the writing and visual art journal, We Are Goodgenough Magazine, 2020. “Plantation fringe” was contributed to a special commemorative edition of Interviewing the Caribbean honouring the work and life of Kamau Brathwaite, 2020.

Natalie Corthésy is the 2020 Winner of The Caribbean Writer’s Marvin E. Williams Literary Prize for a new or emerging writer for “The Helper Experiment” published in its Volume 34 edition under the theme, Dignity, Power and Place in the Caribbean Space.

Speaking about the collection, Corthésy says, This collection is a snap shot of Jamaican culture. This is significant because it is crucial to tell our own stories.”


The stories my mother told me

have been bleached like black skin gone red.

No more peenie wallies in a bottle to see at night,

the rolling calf and the duppies are dead.

Manuel Road is now a low income housing scheme

and nobody breaks stones by hand.

No more playing cricket by the pond

all that remains are stray goats and dry land.

The post office was replaced with a wholesale shop.

There is no need to walk miles to town.

So many foreigners have come to settle

all the people in the community are now brown.

Barefoot children are few and bastards have been abolished.

Women have become bread winners

and salacious Village Rams admonished.

The flame of the “home sweet home” lamp has been put out.

There are no pimento berries to dry in the sun;

the trees have succumbed to the drought.

Gentrification has stripped her unblemished countryside raw

leaving it exposed to ungrateful kin.

But the church is still full and the bar next door open,

they chronicle the truth of living in mama’s skin.

Working on her third collection of poems, when asked how and in what ways Covid 19 and the Black Lives Matter movement have impacted her writing Corthésy is clear .

The work reflects the universality of minority struggle. Covid 19, the Black Lives Matter and the Me too movements are equalisers that have inspired a new narrative of hope for anyone who has known prejudice or loss.”

As a writer affirms that she “wants to write poems that capture a distinctive Jamaican voice that is relatable, memorable and timeless.” Perhaps as memorable as sugar cane she used to eat every day!


A free man can

see you in his sunburnt ancestors

yet he does not know his kin,

the names of the slaves that boarded the vessels,

nor the legend of their King.

A free woman can

feel you in her tightly knotted cane rows

but she does not know her tribe,

the rituals for babies born in drought

nor the courtship dance for a young bride

Somehow, I have known you all my life

because the spirits followed me

through the middle passage, from a watery grave

unto island shores. I rise up

in a New World, free, yet still a slave.

But Mother knows best.

The Windrush that anchored me in Brixton

capsized innumerable  souls with my own.

This village crippled folkways

silenced the kalimba lilt of colourful voices into a dull monotone.

I walk past generations

firing up Electric Lane with gritty cultural fare

but shops no longer sell that brand of happiness here.

I want to belong, to go home and come back.

But there is no refuge from being born black.

The Poet can be contacted:

FB: Fried Green Plantains Book Launch

Being a Mother has made me a better human being

I have to thank Shola, Jawara and Teju for helping to make me a better human being, for allowing me to mother them, for helping to bring out my compassion and understanding, for teaching me what it means to love another unconditionally, more than myself.

Being a mother is a tough, challenging task, with failures and successes…I hope/believe I have succeeded in some large measures as there are three very smart, accomplished and conscious human beings that I have gifted the world.

I am grateful for the opportunity, grateful for all the lessons and joys, grateful for the connection which I hope to work to make stronger and more meaningful with these now adult children.

John Robert Lee: common human experiences

“Poetry is a literary/language art form that attempts, with precision, to apprehend and record with truth (to the subject), beauty (no matter the subject) and harmony of composition, the writer’s perceptions of human experience, as received through our physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual bodies.”

John Robert Lee, Saint Lucian writer:

Author of Pierrot (Peepal Tree, 2020)

Pierrot is a collection of poems that covers a linked range of subjects that includes the death of literary figures, tributes to writers, responses to Caribbean art, aging, faith, love, politics, culture. Readers will have to decide how this book’s themes are important to them.

The title Pierrot was inspired by the art of Shallon Fadlien, Saint Lucian painter. That particular piece provides the cover art. The Pierrot personality in the poems is a composite of the Trinidad carnival character of Pierrot, the later Pierrot Grenade, verbose Midnight Robber, Saint Lucian New Year masqueraders and is also a Christ figure, the Man of sorrows.

I started this collection about 2017, the year my Collected Poems 1975-2015 was published by Peepal Tree. I usually write steadily as I build up a new collection. No particular highs or lows to report. I have themes in mind as I go along. Essentially, deep down, the poems are all linked, if not obviously. Always good to be completed and then published. This is my third book with Peepal Tree. My editor there is Jeremy Poynting with whom I work well.

Ideally, we Caribbean writers hope our own people, home island and wider region, would read and appreciate what we write. Our themes, images, characters, narratives are Caribbean and we hope our first appreciative audience would be home folk. But we also hope our work – poems, novels, non-fiction – would find an appreciative audience beyond our shores and cultures.

I write of topics and subjects that relate to our common human experiences – life, love, aging, death, politics etc. I try to do this well with all the skills I have accumulated over many years. And I would hope that my poems would find resonance with those who share these common experiences.

Arielle (1966-2020)

“who tip toed into her own beauty like flowers” (Vladimir Lucien)

arrange your griefs, carefully

with white roses

alongside wreaths & yellow lilies —

her glancing grace, elusive

 penetrating, languid gaze, untranslatable

smile at her lips’ corners, beauty —

the child’s purple balloon rises

above scrape of trowels, hymns

pleading for remembrance, like a tear not planned for

dribbling off the overcast cheek of a drizzling sky.

While Perrot touches on the Black Life Matter issues, my newer work in progress, does reference the Covid times and BLM. These things have impacted so one cannot avoid them. As a black Caribbean man, with black children who live in the UK and US, I am concerned about perennial racism and the dangers to us non-white peoples.

Covid has not impacted me directly, but I follow as best as I can all the recommended protocols. I have received the first dose of the vaccine. Certainly, for us in small islands, so dependent on tourism, Covid has had huge economic impact on us all. It has exposed our vulnerabilities, both internal and external.

As writers, we cannot physically meet for readings and launches. But a whole virtual, online world has opened up with many opportunities for meeting other writers and artists, to share work. And of course to publish online. And to do interviews like this.

Apart from my creative work in poetry and short fiction, I also write reviews and related arts and literature articles. So I am always reading – new and older literature and related materials. I am working on a new poetry collection, tentatively titled Belmont Portfolio. The title poem is dedicated to novelist Earl Lovelace.


-for Ann-Margaret Lim

“To the saints who are in Ephesus..” (Ephesians 1:1)

Gospelling yellow-breasts among avocado blossoms,

butterflies cavorting round the Rose of Sharon

a clean white flower in the morning

tinged at noon with pink changings,

hummingbirds probing under grapefruit,

hens and chicks foraging brown fallen leaves,

children on this Sabbath chanting hymns from their verandah,

and palm tree like a winged angel under the blue, sparse-cloud sky —

who would think

that pestilence is ravaging our world?

No safe zone on continent or island,

regular routines locked-down,

family, friends, lovers masked, distanced,

networks obsessed with flattening curves, death statistics,

churches and mosques closed, except for fanatics,

beaches, bars, brothels shut, except for skeptics

or those who want normal here, now,

and there are us crowding long lines outside shops —

who wrote the script

who configured this incredible dystopia?

Skies are clearing over megalopolitans everywhere

Himalayas in view after decades

I hear canals in Venice and Amsterdam are clean these days;

in neighborhoods under curfew,

wood-doves, various warblers clock quick-passing hours,

crickets, breezes soughing through leaves, are the night sounds,

no backfiring bikes or late-night dj’s. Judgement is dropping abroad

from our mouths, our hands —

what unbelievable drama is rolling out behind the scenes,

Who is moving, Ephesians, to centre-stage of this cosmic scenario?

My writing process is: Ideas come. I think about them. Plan how to write about it, in terms of content and form. Research where needed. Aim for truth (to the theme), beauty (regarding form), harmony (overall composition). While I make handwritten notes, I now compose entirely on the computer. Then I do several versions of editing, until I arrive at the final piece. After that, even after some publication in a journal, I would fine tune.  Further edits come when my book editor begins to work on the ms.

My aspirations as a write is to write well. Be an accomplished writer in terms of writing skill. Leave behind work that reflects thought and true insights. And work that can reach readers anywhere in the world.I am a faith person, so like the makers of ikons, prayer and deep spiritual preparation informs my writing and all that goes into it.

for Anthony ‘Cocky’ JnBaptiste, drummer (1964–2021)

on this first afternoon of your last April

a furtive sadness plays the fool

with my masked & distanced feelings

as news of your death sounds out

like an insistent knuckling of a kenté drum

through the indifferent sunlit April of your last afternoon —

(this April   masquerade prancers   moko jumbies

goatskin drummers   are not allowed   to dance   your last   parade)

For more information on John Robert Lee:

www.mahanaimnotes.blogspot.comFacebook: @Thejohnrobertleeauthorpage; Instagram: @caribbeanwriter
Twitter: @Rlee_fan


Poetry is a construct made of breath, and longing, in an attempt to gain access to the place where language lives.

                                                                    Mervyn Taylor

She Sings in the Shower

Now, in the fiftieth year of her sentence,

Gloria W., who tried when she was sixteen

to rob a store with her son’s toy gun,

has appealed to the governor again. But

he has no time, the pandemic is spreading

all over Louisiana. So she sings in the shower,

a song about a colored girl escaping through

the bayous, her child slung across her back,

and imagines her cellmates are all her

grandchildren, listening to her story

about snakes, and ‘gators, and the virus

she caught in the swamps one time.

My recent collection, Country of Warm Snow (Shearsman Books, 2020) is a further exploration of the dilemma of living in two places at once: the immigrant’s life in dream and memory, and the day to day experiences of survival in an adopted clime.

The title comes from a work I saw at the Folk Art Museum in NYC, by outsider artist Josep Baque, which represents, “the interior of some marvelous islands at two million meters above sea level, unexplored, uninhabitable by civilized beings”, as a country of warm snow.

Some of the poems herein go back quite a few years, but the collection began to really adhere in the period 2017-2018, after the publication of Voices Carry (Shearsman 2017). My publisher gave the year of publication as 2020, which seemed a long way off at that time. I presented the ms to other publishers during the wait time, while honing the contents into what the book would finally become.

One night, during the pandemic lockdown, going to bed in a rather depressed state, I scrolled through my emails, and there, in one that I had missed somehow, were the page proofs from Shearsman. I cried, I shouted to the rooftops in Belmont, Trinidad, in the house where I grew up.

This book is important as I think it represents the culmination of an exploration that began with my first collection, An Island of His Own (Junction Press, 1992). It reflects upon experiences and desires peculiar to the immigrant, that historical phenomenon upon whom modern terms like refugee and alien now apply. Broadly, I envision a world audience, but I speak directly to those like myself, who hail from the Caribbean.


What type of pitch do we use
that our sidewalks crumble so,
and when we fix them, why do
they sit so high above the road

that the elderly must be helped
down, one trembling leg after
the other? Ah, these dips and 
rises, said one tourist, dizzy from

the sun, resting in Cipriani’s short 
shadow, shirt dark with sweat. 
Still, he seems happy, munching 
on his doubles, the wife nearby

taking pictures. Tomorrow they’ll 
visit La Brea. Their guide will explain 
the nature of crude, how it glazes
the streets of London, Washington.

But here, it makes turtlebacks
of our lanes, breaks up our step,
as joy does for Miss Dickinson, 
my poetry teacher explained.

While in lockdown in Trinidad, where I’ve been since January 2020, I experienced a burst of creativity—poems coming early every morning, for an extended period of time. These coalesced in a ms I was fortunate to have published last October, News of the Living: Corona Poems (Broadstone Books, 2020).

It followed close on the heels of Country of Warm Snow. What a thing— two books in one year, the Year of the Virus, so to speak!

The poems I’m writing now have a strong sense of home, of rediscovery. Having lived abroad for more than fifty years, with brief periods of return to Trinidad, I am finding surprises, like turning a corner to come into full view of the foothills that surround Belmont, looking up to see bright, yellow poui in full bloom. Or the surprising cries of children playing in the lane where I live, a sound strangely absent for years. Like my own childhood come back to visit. My next book will pick its way among these flowers.

My writing process is not very clearly defined. It works in spurts— periods of flurried activity, periods of reflection. A lot of time is spent in observation, in the recording of images that might replay in poems.

I believe the poem is an act of discovery, begun anew each time. My aspiration is to present poems that are revelatory, that may bring about a further understanding of the life we live.

Someone wrote me recently asking if I would be willing to participate in a literary event, confessing an apprehension about approaching me, saying she found me to be kind of ‘stern’ in demeanor. The truth is, I always feel the opposite about myself, that I present a warm, welcoming exterior. There’s a famous adage, about there being no art to find the mind’s (something, I forget) in the face.

Donde Está                to Derek Walcott

Only last week I sent you new work,

thinking how many lines I should have

changed before you received them,

frowning, asking the old question—

Donde está la música, señor?

I had hoped you would read past the first

ten pages or so, getting to the good stuff,

glasses reflecting the evening light

coming off the Vigie headland, making sure

my endings were no longer shrill, that

they stopped like the wooden

wheels of a donkey cart, the animal

knowing where better than the driver.

I’ve been practicing, Derek, holding each word

like a dancer before the dip, in the backyards

where we boys readied ourselves for the girls.

I did not paint at an early age, as you did.

I looked at the living portraits of uncles and aunts,

what the sagaboys made of their rough-stitched,

determined selves. These are what

I sent you, Sir, in disguise, hoping they would

get through, that the winds might carry them

to where you sat facing the sea. I had no idea

they had already arrived, and you had

thrown up your hands, impatient

with one small error.

Corona Song

This is the dying season, everyone

confined to his house, children at

the window, singing an old folksong,

Every time you pass, you tickle me.

Their faces are bright, like the sun over

the Savannah, where huts and tents

remaining from Carnival wait to be

dismantled till this time next year.

By then I should have finished my

own calypso, and my voice should

have returned, as strong as ever,

thanks to the air, and these hills.

             Mervyn Taylor

For more information on Mervyn Taylor:

Interview at the Sangre Grande Public Library for World Poetry Day:

Interview & reading with Susana H. Case on Bar Crawl Radio:

Mervyn Taylor is a Trinidad-born poet who divides his time between Brooklyn, NY, and his native island.

Mervyn Taylor

Instagram- mmervthegoat


devorah major: moves through different genres

For me poetry is a word song that is distilled language using rhythm, word choice, line breaks and tools like metaphor and rhyme to create the score of each song.    devorah major

she could see too much

i veiled her eyes

                                    but she still saw

i locked her indoors

                                    but she still saw

i blackened all windows

                                    but she still saw

i cut out her eyes

                                    but she still saw

i cut our her heart

                                    but she still sees

me. I tremblee

Poetry need not be narrative, but it should capture a moment, give a vision and touch the heart.  Prose is a wide cloth that has many of the ingredients of poetry, good word choice and a certain rhythms or flow but it depends more on story, real or imagined, and relies on solid sentence construction and a consistent voice.

I write poetry, fiction, novels, short stories and essays. That said, I am not sure what kind of writer I am. I move through different genres because I feel each one has its own magic and possibilities, much like a lake, pond, river, and sea are each a kind of water yet have their own uniqueness.

As a writer’s daughter, I began to write at an early age. although that was not my career destination. I write because it the gift and curse that has been given to me, a certain obsession with language, a need to communicate, to connect through these abstract symbols pressed on the page. In college others claimed me as poet when I called myself dancer and actress.  It was a few years before I accepted that mantle and more before I wore it confidently and truly entered the house of writer.

I grew up a lonely child in a house full of books. I read voraciously. Coming into my teens during the Black Nationalist Movement and entering young adulthood under the Black Arts Movement I understood that the act of naming oneself and one’s people was a serious undertaking. Having seen my father crowded behind a Royal typewriter throughout my childhood I knew that It was a habit that could claim all one’s attention. Having a godfather who wrote and orated pointed me towards the power of the word. I wanted to have a command over words that could cast spells, transport one to other places or times, answer questions, create dreams and sometimes even heal.

The place I was born, the islands that my father’s people came from and the lands I have travelled have shaped my vision and given me a firm foundation and deep roots that shape and manifest in my writing.

To write honestly, compassionately and with courage demands that one address and indeed embrace social justice as a part of that process. The Covid epidemic besides birthing a few poems on that topic has in its isolation gifted me with more time to write and a certain increased focus. As always, I have several projects, expanding my collection of science fiction stories, creating a poetry play tentatively titled Mother’s Howl about the pain that mothers are enduring all over the globe and a memoir/history of my father.

I want the world to know me as a writer.  What they will discover will be revealed in my text.

usa fire alarm

the house is burning

we can smell its smoke

sparks singe the curtains

our eyes water as growing fires

sizzle at our front and back doors

on the top floors

some of the residents

are in a thick fog sleep

others are trapped

in the darkened basement

straight-backed and frightened

i sit in the living room

i am not alone

the house is burning

the arsonists say

they will rebuild the frame

with our bones

glue together ashes for the walls

they have no need to

replace the windows

the house is burning

and we are inside

i have a bucket of water at my feet

where should I throw it

Returning home


a boy in  khaki shorts and sandals,

loped down the packed dirt road

black skin sweating years of sun kisses

a large package balanced on his head

as we rode to aunt margaret’s new providence house

with her avocado trees weighted with ripe fruit

africa i queried my father, who drove the tree-lined narrow street

bahamas he answered, but yes in many ways the same, home


eleuthera rocky and green, dressed in smooth white and pink beaches

adorned with empty conch shells humming deeply, home

the ancestors accepted this long thin island as their home

despite hurricane whirl and growl, our family was planted

and we grew thick and lush, spreading branches

bearing fruit under her skirts  until she gently urged us out 

devorah major


Woe to the downpressors:
They’ll eat the bread of sorrow!  Bob Marley

you walked on our bones for centuries

turned them to sand

poured into sandboxes

for your children to build sandcastles

and when the sand became translucent

filled with the sunlight

burning your eyes

you found more to sacrifice

sent vultures to strip away our skins

and built ladders formed

from our ribs, limbs and skulls

on which you climbed

to get a better view of the lands

you planned to conquer

and now we rise

joined by

some of your children

and grandchildren

who have eaten of shame

and refuse to travel

on the rails you laid

with our bones

and each of you

who blocks our path

tries to press us back

will be blinded by our brilliance



blinded by our brilliance

From devorah’s poetry collection

 califia’s song

my heart does not sing songs

of hate, fear, or regret

for my name will be braided

into the lightening of time

califia, daughter

of sea‑faring mandinka

queen of amazon defenders

tamer of wild beasts     

i have ridden the backs of griffins

to come to these rocks

where clothed in sea crystals

draped gold and the evening’s wind

i savour freedom’s harvest

Califia’s Daughter is about family and loss, the cosmos and the earth, love as an underpinning of all of it.

California was named after the possibly real but absolutely mythic African Queen Califia.  Born in California I am one of Califia’s daughters, hence the title.

This book is much more personal looking at family and seeking to place it in the vastness of our universe.  Poems on the death of my parents were searing, poems on my relationship to my body or silence revealing, poems on my understandings of the universe, wind, the earth, difficult. I’m not sure there was a feeling of triumph on completion, but instead satisfaction in presenting a palette with a range of colors and textures that worked well together.

I don’t have a specific audience. I sought to create a balm for harsh times.

I am pulling the I out of my work and focusing more on the we while writing again with a certain urgency.

I am working on a poetry play “A Mother’s Howl” investigating the pain of mothers worldwide due to war, famine, scourges of racism and oppression and have these howls points to ways to return to times of celebration.

Sometimes a line is a key. I sit with it and simply write. Sometimes there is a question I chew on.  I write with flow and then leave the piece to rise, like a bread with yeast, and then return to knead it, let it sit and return as needed until it is ready for a final edit.

My aspirations as a writer is to write what needs to be written in a way that it will be read and understood and help to inspire others to action or ease some pain or provide some laughter and respite and to be able to support myself economically with these offerings.

I write at midnight, I write in the morning, sometimes I am deep into words in the middle of the day. I have no consistent pattern to my writing, just a discipline to write often and well enough to continue to call myself a writer.

Devorah Major is a friend, a co-creator and a writer whose critique and advice I deeply respect. I met her shortly upon moving to the Bay Area, California in 1980 where I moved to pursue graduate studies.  She was then the poet in resident at The African American Historical Society, where among other things she hosted a poetry/open mic series. A  friend told me I should check it out and also meet her, devorah.

I met her and connected and we decided we wanted to do performance together. In my last year in the MA program at San Francisco State University,  a poet from New Orleans, Mona Lisa Saloy, got accepted into the program and we three quickly became friends and comrades and began performing together.  When Mona completed the program and returned to New Orleans, devorah and I continued to perform as Daughters of Yam with a number of prominent Bay Area musicians such as percussionist, Babatunde Lee, cello and bassist, Kash Killion and tenor, Richard Howell.

Our friendship has outlasted marriages, raising children, travelling, and is as constant ss our writing. We still meet vis internet to critique each other’s work, 40 years later.

For moreinformation:

For more on Daughters of Yam:

African- American Haiku Master: Lenard Moore

“Poetry is figurative language with rhythmic, emotionally-infused, shaped literary work; it is also textured with imagery and symbolism.” Lenard Moore

I met Leonard in 1998 at Cave Canem. I had been writing Haiku and wanted to meet the African American Haiku master; we hit it off instantly, and have been friends ever since.

In recognition of his commitment, promotion, teaching, and integration of  haiku, the American Haiku Archives advisory board has appointment Lenard D. Moore as the 2020–2021 honorary curator of the American Haiku Archives at the California State Library in Sacramento. Moore was o the recipient of the Haiku Museum of Tokyo Award in 2003, 1994 and 1983and was  the first African American president of the Haiku Society of America, a post he held in 2008 and 2009.

Lenard D. Moore  is also the founder and executive director of the Carolina[DB1]  African American Writers’ Collective (CAAWC), which began in 1995. The objective of the CAAWC  is  ‘to make literature available to members, to encourage reading and thinking about literature, and to generate writing by members.”

Below is Lenard Moore’s interview.

OPA: What kind of writer are you and in what genres?

LM: I am always trying to do something new with my writing. I take risks with my writing. I am a compassionate writer of contemporary issues, sense of place, interdisciplinary arts, environmental concerns, social justice concerns, family and farming spotlights, the literary movements, imagery-infused writing, musical writing, and textured writing. I write poetry in more than 30 different poetic forms, including persona poems, dramatic monologues, sestinas, villanelles, pantoums, triolets, minute poems, Kwansabas, blank verse, acrostic, syllabic verse, cinquain, sonnet, haiku, senryu, haibun, tanka, prose poems, free verse, ghazal, blues poems, jazz poems, limerick, concrete poetry, sequences, envelope verse, lyric poetry, narrative poetry, odes, tanka prose, and Afro-futuristic poems. I have also collaborated with several poets to write renga, renku, rengay, and tanrenga. I am sure I am leaving out some poetic forms in which I wrote poetry 35-to40 years ago. Yet, most of my poetry writing is haiku, though I write lots of jazz and blues poetry. Writing is a way of life for me. When I lost my daughter almost seventeen years ago, I turned to my poetry writing because writing is healing.

OPA: What factors in your childhood influenced your decision to write?

LM:   I loved listening to my maternal grandfather’s storytelling. I also enjoyed listening to our preacher’s sermons. In addition, I enjoyed listening to our choir. I have been singing in two choirs, except for during the pandemic.

OPA: What role does place (geography) have in your writing? 

LM:   A sense of place is a major part of my writing. In fact, my book Forever Home (St. Andrews College Press, 1992 and 1996) depicts family, farming, and my hometown. The book is long out-of-print. It would be an honor to have it back in print.

OPA: How do you see your writing in relation to social justice? 

LM:   I have written some social justice poems, though most of my poetry deals with other topics, including racism and poverty. Of course, those topics are part of social justice. 

OPA: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your writing/craft/process? 

LM:   I have told many people that I have turned the pandemic or lockdown into a home writing retreat. To that end, I have written numerous poems. It has impacted my writing in the topics with which I have written poems. For example, I have written several poems about the COVID-19 pandemic, including several blues poems and haiku. I have also written more gospel poems and gospel haiku or my coined word gospel-ku.

OPA: What are you writing now? 

LM:   I am still writing poetry and essays. I plan to write another book review, too. During the past few years, I have read other manuscripts to write blurbs. Before the lockdown because of the covid pandemic, I wrote lyrics, mostly in rehearsal with jazz bands. I hope to make a difference in the world with my writing, teaching and mentoring. I also hope to do more collaborations. In addition, I hope more Black writing will be included in curricula and on the syllabus. Moreover, I hope more Black writing will be included in textbooks. In fact, I would like to experience more diversified textbooks with writing from many different cultures and geographies.


for Trayvon Martin

We can’t believe the mouths

that bore the three syllables against our prayers,

as if they didn’t know

that blues would climb the town hall

and nothing could crescendo

over the invited crowd.

We can’t stop all this marching

into the city streets,

though it lifts half-closed shutters

of more than a hundred officers’ eyes,

occupying this summer heat,

this sun-astonished evening.

We can’t stop carrying signs

in the bright stiffening air,

our burden undeniably raw

though the gunshot,

having got your teenage light—

your story still shines.

Copyright © 2013 by Lenard D. Moore

NOTE:  “We Will Not Be Stilled” was previously published in Pluck! The Journal

            of Affrilachian Arts & Culture. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


Our churches are burning

beneath locust black skies.

Empty pews hiss

the names of silent thieves.

Cracking stained windows reflect

the faces of thieves

who haunt the rafters

on rural southern roads.

Shadows bow

like Sunday congregations

to preachers holy-ghosting sermons.

Our churches are burning.

The graveyards’ spirits are quiet.

Bats dip and swerve

like flames.

Our churches become charcoal aftermath

and cornfields are full of smoke.

The willows wail and weep.

Ferns fan themselves.

Wind erases footprints

of thieves who stalk by night.

Our churches are burning.

No one searches the woods.

Thieves slip in and out.

No sirens scream, no alarms go wild.

Our churches are burning.

These are bad times

bad times

bad times

Our churches are burning.

The bells do not peal.

The covenant still speaks

to our people’s weary hearts.

Copyright © 1996 by Lenard D. Moore

NOTE: The poem “Bad Times” was originally published in One Trick Pony; it was reprinted in bum rush the page (Three Rivers Press, 2001).  Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Below are links to scholarly essays  and special appointment on his work here:

Lenard at Haiku North America 2019

Lenard D. Moore and the Matt Kendrick Trio perform Geography of Jazz.

The Satire Project: Goldsboro, NC Apr 12 2016

Lenard at Quail Ridge book store in Raleigh, NC in 2019

Photos of Leonard Moore, credit  Dave w. Russo


Leading through words for International women’s Day

I am a poet, a writer, a wordsmith and that is one of the primary ways I lead. this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Women’s Leadership and #ChooseToChallenge

In some ways leading and challenging are easy for me as I grew up with a mother who was a leader and a person who was not afraid to choose to do what she thought was right and just, not just for herself, but others less fortunate.

My mother knew the power of her voice, and used it to protect my sister and me, as well as her place in a society, which during that era did not appreciate dark skinned and certainly not women. There were many hurdles, including overt sexism and colourism that my mother had to jump over, and she did, and as a result she modelled defiance, independence and commitment to community to me.

I am tempted to say I am a natural leader, but that might not be totally accurate. Growing up, I had good examples, my mother and other women who gave me a tapestry of what it means to be an independent woman, a woman who leads by example, and who is committed to a cause that helps others. I have always wanted to loan my voice to help others, and I believe I have done this best through my pen as a poet, and a writer in general.

Words are my platform and my voice. Words are my truth and my commitment. Words are the building blocks that make a bridge that connects me with others in the struggle and that provide us with a vehicle to be heard and seen.

I lead with words

heated with a torch and raised

to shine light on various injustices.

I lead with words kneaded as supple as dough

that nourish and replenish

I lead with words that rip off

the excuses that leave people

hunger at the doorway of a bank

I use words and words use me

to be consistent, to care and to work

daily to make a difference

I lead because words do not recognise

or bow to power other than their own impetus.