Category Archives: Caribbean Literature

Put on Lipstick

FullSizeRender (2)I just put on luscious plum, one of my favorite colors, that accentuates my lips.

I love my lips, their perfect fullness and shape. I mostly wear dark colors, and I don’t spend a lot of money on lipsticks, but I have one in every purse, and I almost never go out without adorning my lips, for moisture, but also for appeal.

Men have always complimented my lips, all my lips, say I have kissing lips.

FullSizeRender (1)A few years ago while in the bank, one of those old fashion, charming Caribbean men that can talk you to step out of your underwear, even in a bank, I did not, started to chat me up, he said, “Darling, your lips so lovely if I had them I would be wealthy and own this bank, and I know if I were to kiss them I would be transported to heaven.” Talk about sweet talk. I must admit I smiled, even blushed – he was so into talking me up, saying he could spend more than a year just on a lips before his eyes adore my neck and the rest of my body. It made my day, and writing it now makes me smile.

 

When I was twenty-one years old another Caribbean man did adore my lips, while in a working meeting, that resulted in him getting into my pants, and the attention he paid to my lips during the course of our flirtation was divinely satisfying, running his fingers and tongues… okay enough.

This is actually about writing. I have lots of writing projects that need my attention –completing the edits on my forthcoming short story collection, Love’s Promise, proofing galleys on my children’s books, Look, Moko Jumbie!, drafting and editing interviews, completing a play, poems about my father, a daily guide, lots to do and this morning I woke up ready to go, but the words were reticent so I had to put on lipstick.

I discovered over three decades ago that there are times I need to put on lipsticks to initiate the writing process. It doesn’t matter if I have washed my face or bathed, or if I am in pajamas or wearing a sarong, if my lips are pretty, then I am ready to write.

The writing process of a writer is often idiosyncratic, and depending on what I am writing I need different things, a lit candle (the color and scent are important), a cup of tea, fresh flowers on my desk, always being able to see outside –trees, water, sounds-, walking around the house, taking a break to sit on the patio and visualize a scene, doing what is necessary to do the writing, which I love.

FullSizeRender (3)This morning my lips shouted, girl, adore me. So I went through my pouch of lipsticks and tried on several different shades. My lips are ecstatic!   They love the flavor and of plum… They feel loved. They are vain and admire themselves. They can feel a tongue tracing them. They remember the pleasure of being sucked into a mouth. Now I am ready to write what I need to write!

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Sisterhood and Letters: That’s What the Association of Caribbean Women Writers & Scholars (ACWWS) Represents.

ACWWSSuriname2 we are wrought from salty foam

rising from the surface of the ocean

we are rocks and limbs

meeting the swell

like mountains pushing

back the storm

I had the fortunate pleasure to be among the 50 invited writers at the first international gathering of Caribbean Women Writers conference, held at Wellesley University, April 8-10, 1988, organized by Selwyn Cudjoe. My short story collection, Bake-Face and Other Guava Stories, had been published January 1986, and was praised in the New York Times. That initial gathering changed how I thought about myself as a writer, and introduced me to a supportive community of women who, like me, were seeking to tell their unique stories of the Caribbean and share them with the world.

As a result of the above gathering, The Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars (ACWWS) was born, spearheaded by the late Helen Pyne Timothy, founder and inaugural President. I invite us to stand in a moment of silence to honor the passing of this sweet spirit. Pyne Timothy was at various times Dean and University Dean for the Faculty of Arts and General Studies at the University of the West Indies St Augustine ,Trinidad; also, she had been the inaugural Chair of the Department of Language and Linguistics at that institution. Pyne Timothy saw the need for a women to come together to celebrate the works of Caribbean writers and scholars so founded ACWWS.

Throughout the years, I made sure to attend almost all of those bi-annual conferences in order to see and share with my sisters and learn what was trending, gain insight about new works and theories, but also to experience the warm, comforting feeling of being in a community of brilliant women, who were about supporting, but also interrogating each other, probing and pushing one another to go further, dig deeper, write more, network, create space for new voices and growth and come together to share and expand our insights. And it was with this keen realization of this important mission, why I agreed to be president of ACWWS.

ACWWS is still needed as an organization, and still provides a vital platform for Caribbean women writers and scholars. We need young scholars to step forward and grow this association so that we can continue to host bi-annual conferences that focuses on the work of Caribbean women writers at home and throughout the Diaspora.

  words fill our handbags

heavy as any fisherman’s net

each an endless puzzle

we shuffle to stitch meaning

ACWWSOpal2010 copy

we are women of the same

mother who jumped ship

but did not sink instead

held firmly to yemoja

 

scrap paper from magazines

wall paper our walls telling

a story not our own yet one

as familiar as our own life

 

no more will we be invisible

our voices roam freely and loudly

we are the architects of our future

moving beyond glass confinement

 

color us multi ethnic   name us

madonna and jezebel we are twins

who have run through fields and found

the other side  a place of our own making

 

If you are a Caribbean writer and/or scholar I urge you to become a member of ACWWS -http://www.acwws.org/

Tribute to Jamaican-American author, Michelle Cliff (11/2/1946-6/12/ 2016

mcliff copy 

Color ain’t no faucet

You can’t turn it off and on

I say, color ain’t no faucet

You can’t turn it off and on

Tell the world who you are

Or you might as well be gone

(Excerpt from Within the Veil) by Michelle Cliff 

Michelle Cliff’s Abeng came out in 1984. Browsing a book store in Berkeley, I saw the title and wanted to know who was this person writing about my Jamaican culture. The Abeng horn was connected to freedom and liberation in Jamaica, especially among the Maroons. It announced, called the people to action and was a signal to unite and fight the enemy. I bought and devoured Cliff’s first novel, in the bildungsroma genre, and could well empathize  with the young Clare Savage, the protagonist of that novel that is set in colonial Jamaica. I wanted to meet this Michelle Cliff.

When my short story collection, Bake-Face and Other Guava Stories, was being published I asked my publisher to reach out to Cliff for a blurb, and she very generously wrote:

“I greet this collection of writing by Opal Palmer Adisa with enthusiam and joy, and a touch of awe…Adisa’s stories chart the experience of island-women with a deep understanding and compassion, and a true sense of their terror and pride, the ghosts that dog their tracks…Adisa makes Jamaica and her women live for us as few before her have done.” Michelle Cliff

I was blown away by this endorsement as we had not yet met or had contact, but I was determined that this would happen.

I sought out Cliff, and we became friends, especially after she moved to California in 1999, where I had been living. Cliff always encouraged and supported me and my work. When I was working on my doctorate on Caribbean Women Writers at UC Berkeley in 1987, Cliff was one of the first writers I interviewed, and after I completed my degree an excerpt of the interview was published

Journey into Speech-A Writer between Two Worlds: An Interview with …

https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/10.2307/3041999.pdf Among the subjects Jamaican born writer Michelle Cliff ex- … The following text is based on two separate interviews: one … 01994 Opal Palmer Adisa .

The Michelle Cliff I knew was shy and soft spoken, a gentle soul, who wanted to lead a very private life, despite being the partner of the very famous and late poet, Adrienne Rich. Although she felt estranged from Jamaica, and refused to return because of Jamaica’s homophobia and violence, Cliff was nonetheless deeply in love with Jamaica and researched its culture which is the setting of both Abeng and No Telephone to Heaven, her first two novels.These works, like her other works explore the very thorny issue of race and class in identity formation, and the impacts and residual effects of post-colonialism.

I spoke with Michelle Cliff about a month ago. She said she was not feeling or doing well, but thanked me for the call, and like always asked about my children. I promised that I would visit with her in the fall when I will be in California, and perhaps do another interview, a continuation of the first. Michelle Cliff’s works are important contributions to the Caribbean canon, and her death will leave a void. Her poetry/prose collection, Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise, 1980 is an important work that I have taught, along with her other novels.

I hope you are rocking in the arms of peace and the cool breeze from the Blue Mountains, our island home, enfolds. Be well my sister in letters and friendship –Michelle Cliff, you will not be forgotten.

Michelle Cliff is the author of the following books:

  • 1998:The Store of a Million Items (New York: Houghton Mifflin Company). Short stories
  • 1993:Free Enterprise: A Novel of Mary Ellen Pleasant (New York: Dutton). Novel
  • 1990:Bodies of Water (New York: Dutton). Short stories
  • 1987:No Telephone to Heaven (New York: Dutton). Novel (sequel to Abeng)
  • 1985:Abeng (New York: Penguin). Novel

Prose poetrymcliff2 copy

  • 1985:The Land of Look Behind and Claiming (Firebrand Books).
  • 1980:Claiming an Identity They Taught Me to Despise (Persephone Press).

 

 

 

A Lioness in My Study: My Dream

ilionessAdisa2015KAs I drove into my driveway I observed two, maybe three lioness, backs to me, feasting on a large animal. They were on a knoll on my property and, they were so engaging especially against the backdrop of the sun that was about to set.

I wanted to capture them so decided to go inside my study to get my camera.  I though what an amazing image!  I must share it with others.

I was neither afraid, nor did I think it odd that I live in St Croix where no lioness roam freely, and certainly not on my property. Nor did I think I should call someone for help. I mean, after all there were three lionesses on my property.

Calmly, with no sense of rush or panic I went inside to retrieve my camera, and somehow got distracted.  After a while, with camera dangling from my hand, I became aware that I was being observed. I looked towards my office door and there before me was the largest lioness and most beautiful creature I had ever seen.  Her head took up the entire width of my office door, and her eyes were gentle and comforting. I remember saying to myself, should I talk to her or should I hide? I sensed she was about to enter, and I quietly entered the inner camber of my room and watched as she used her paws and opened the door.

Should I photograph her or call for help, I thought.  I was sure she was not here to harm me.  In fact, I am certain she was harmless and only wanted to talk with me. I was awed by her largeness, beauty and gentleness.

That is the dream.

Backtrack to last July when I visited Kenya for the second time and went on a Safari.  It was a cold early morning; we left about 5 am as we were told the earlier we went, the more likely we were to see an abundance of animals, especially lions.  Although we had on sweater and jeans, July in Kenya is winter and can be very cold. In the pop-up roof jeep we were freezing, but thankfully our driver had blankets for us to drape ourselves. Among the numerous animals we saw, and I photographed were these lions, who were less than 20 feet away from us.  They did not appear to be ferocious killers.  They were having a normal day and we were, if anything, annoying, trying to get close to photograph them.

Of course, the lion has gained its killer reputation from experience, and I am sure if they were hungry and we stepped out of the jeep, they might have just decided to sample us for a meal.  But I have never feared them, and still don’t as my limited experience with them, including in dreams has always been one of spirit guides.

There are many interpretations that dream guides offer, so I have selected that which seems most fitting for my dream, and where I believe I am currently in my life.

Pride: Lions live in prides, and in dreams a lion can often mean pride. Is there anything in your waking life you are proud of?

 

Control/Power/Leadership: Lions often also known as the “king of the jungle” can also be a great symbol of control, power, and leadership.

 Strength: A lion in your dreams can symbolize your own strength. Strength can be physical, but often is emotional in our dreams.
If in a dream you see the sunset, it portends that soon you will finish your important work and you will start a completely different life.

I am so grateful for the lionesses that visited me and I pray they will continue to guide me as I embark on this new path.

2lionesses.adisa2015K

 

The Shad Series: Jamaica’s Detective by Gillian Royes

OPA:  The Rhythm of August Rain  is your 4th title in your detective series that is set in rural Jamaica. Are readers to believe that Shad, the bartender who plays an amateur detective, has real skills to seek out facts, or is he to be perceived as one who dabbles – this is just a hobby?

 

GR:Shad’s true vocation is being a detective. In another culture or time, he would have made it. However, due to his prison term and his lack of formal education, he is limited to working as a bartender and practicing his vocation on the side. He has few skills when the series starts out but tries to educate himself as it goes along. Above all, he is immensely curious.

 

OPA:  What distinguish this series as a detective genre?

 

GR: The series was created as a Caribbean parallel to Number One Ladies Detective Agency. Both fall into the category of “cozy mystery,” not the typical blood and guts form of mystery. There is more character and plot development than mystery to this genre.

OPA: How did you arrive at the title, which has a very poetic ring?  How does the title connect to the central story of this novel?

GR: The title came to me one night in Ann Arbor in a dream. A woman in a bright blue dress said the words and told me it was the title. I got up and wrote it down.

OPA:  There are at least 3 competing stories, Shad and his impending marriage, his boss Eric and his relationship with Shannon, the mother of his daughter, and his daughter, and then the story of  Katlyn, the missing woman from Canada 30 years ago and her affair with a Rasta who is/was a member of one of the Rasta sects. Was it challenging during the writing process to juggle these three story lines and keep each going?

GR: No, I’m used to having one main plot and three subplots, part of the formula I use for the series. The subplots are ongoing, i.e., Shad’s relationship with Beth, Eric’s haphazard life, and the development of the hotel. The main plot differs with each novel. In this case, it’s the story of Katlyn and her entanglement with the Rasta community. By the way, I did know a Canadian woman who went into a Rasta community and came out dying.

OPA: What research did you do to writer about the Rastafarian community?

GR: I read several books written by Rastafari or about them. Barry Chevannes, Yasus Afari, Gerald Hausman, Leonard Barrett were some of the authors. I also discussed the philosophy and lifestyle with Yasus Afari.

OPA: What do you want readers to learn/take away about Rasta culture, it’s various sects?

GR: The point of including Rasta culture and history was to set the record straight, particularly for foreigners who don’t understand or appreciate the origins. I also wanted to show that prejudice has existed toward the group since its inception and, to a certain extent, continues today. Jamaicans are proud of the music, but many still would not want their daughter to marry a Rasta.

OPA:  Eric has not reached out to his daughter, Eve since she was born, and while you do reveal some initial tension between the two when they are reunited, she is a teenager, and Jamaica is very different from her Canadian environment, but it seems that all is forgiven rather easily.

GR: The relationship between parents and child is a complex one, in all cases. Eve is at an age where her emotions are heightened. She hates her absent father, but she’s curious about his world and wants his acceptance. She begins to see that he’s not a bad guy after all. I think a big part of her coming around is that she likes Jamaica and wants to return. Adolescents tend to be very egocentric.

OPA:   Classism and colorism are big social issues in Jamaica still, yet  it seems non-existent in the novel, in that Shad is accepted by Eric, even though American, his best friends are brownnose Jamaicans, who appear to be also accepting of Shad and his family? I don’t know if I have a questions so much as I would like to hear your opinion of these social constructs that impact relationships in Jamaica.

GR: In each novel, I have attempted to deal with a single social issue. I think it would make it too confusing if I’m following several plots and subplots and trying to introduce all the problems existent in the island. In my first novel, The Goat Woman of Largo Bay, the issue was political corruption. The second  — The Man who Turned Both Cheeks — discussed homosexuality and homophobia. The third was The Sea Grape Tree. I went into class and color prejudice in that book.

OPA:At the close of the novel, everything is resolved amicably, and all puzzles  are in place.  Given the context of Jamaica, would it be that easy to solve a 30 year mystery of a white woman in rural Jamaica who goes missing?  And given that tourism is such a big part of Jamaica’s economy, would the government have just brushed that case aside, like it apparently did?

GR: Fiction is not real life, just a reflection of it in the lens of a writer. I always leave things unresolved that are not going to leave the reader with an unfinished feeling. In August Rain, I tried to wrap most things up, in the event that I would end the series. Unfortunately, we never had a real resolution to the death of my friend Sharon.

www.gillianroyes.com

Jump and Make It Happen

You dream must be bigger than your fears.

Your reason must exceed your own limited world.

Do support: Ay-Ay: Junior Caribbean WriterPrint

My beloved California College of the Arts mentor, Opal Palmer Adisa, is creating a magazine for kids in her home of Jamaica. Even though she has made a full life as a writer and academic in the Bay Area and around the world, she constantly finds ways to give back to her home, her place of origin. She is a true inspiration! If you have any amount of money to donate, I assure you, it will be put to good use. Before I traveled anywhere beyond South East Texas or South West Louisiana, I traveled the world through books and stories. Putting a book in the hand of a kid gives them a key to the world. This is your chance to help make that happen.

Growing the Next Generation of Caribbean Writers and Improving Literacy | Crowdfunding is a democratic way to support the fundraising needs of your community. Make a contribution today!
INDIEGOGO

Marion Bethel, Bahamian Poet: Caribbean Sensibilities

 

authorMarionBethel-09 (1)

Marion Bethel was born and lives in Nassau, The Bahamas. She read law at Cambridge University, England and has worked as an attorney since 1986. She has two collections of poems and is currently working on a third manuscript of poetry and a novel. In 2012, she produced and directed the documentary Womanish Ways: Freedom, Human Rights & Democracy, the Women’s Suffrage Movement in The Bahamas 1948 to 1962, a documentary on the struggle to gain women the right to vote in the Bahamas.

 OPA: You are an attorney, a poet, and a mother. Have you always written?

MB: I started writing seriously in 1986 during the final year of my Bar examinations.  I deferred my Bar exams in order to spend a full summer writing poetry.   During this period I wrote the draft of Guanahani, My Love, my first poetry collection.

OPA: How does the job as an attorney feed or distract from your writing?

MB: The time spent as an attorney often feels to be in conflict with time needed for my creative writing process.  On the other hand, I see that there is enough time for me to do my writing if and when I am committed.  I can waste a lot of time procrastinating and getting ready to write instead of just writing.  I really thought that practicing law & the pursuit of justice could satisfy me.  However, I feel closer to & am more coherent with social justice in writing poetry.

OPA: How does motherhood figure into your writing?

MB: While being a parent or mother takes lots of time within any one day, the major part of that time is now behind me as my two daughters are in their twenties.  But yes, when they were young, I felt torn between taking care of them and paying attention to my writing.  It is interesting that both of my poetry books were started and completed when my daughters were still principally in my care.  It may be then that the tension facilitates focus, productivity and attention when I actually sit down to write.

OPA: You have been widely published and recognized in the writing world, what has that journey been like?

MB: It’s been an uneven journey, that is, there have been and continue to be productive and unproductive periods, focussed and unfocussed time.   My expectation of myself is much higher than my actual productivity or production.  It’s been a journey of great gifts to me.  I must give thanks for the opportunity to attend the Caribbean Writers Summer Institute at the University of Miami in 1991 where I attended workshops with George Lamming and Kamau Brathwaite.  Coming out of that experience I worked on Guanahani, My Love. It was so wonderful to be awarded the Casa de Las Americas prize in 1994 for Guanahani, My Love.  I was then invited to participate in the Miami Book Fair.  Further, I have been a guest speaker at several colleges and universities over the years.  In 1996 I was fortunate to gain a fellowship at the Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. This was one of the highlights of my journey where I spent twelve months at Harvard University with 39 other women artists, scientists doing our individual work.  Another highlight was my time at Cave Canem (2007 – 2009) under the direction of Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady. I loved this experience in the company of brilliant young, African American poets who challenged me to sharpen my poetry skills. In 2010 I founded a writer’s institute with Helen Klonaris here in the Bahamas.  This was also a gratifying part of my journey.

OPA: How does your new collection, Bougainvillea Ringplay, differ from your first?

MB:  Guanahani, My Love was the direct result of the poetry workshop with Kamau Brathwaite and my attempt to employ specific poetry forms in the service of telling the history of The Bahamas. Bougainvillea Ringplay was more politically personal.  In BR I felt infinitely more confident both in technique & content to explore different forms and subject matter.  There was tremendous growth in BR.  The poetic voice is sharper, bolder.  The poetic imagination is more expansive.

OPA: Of course this poem is as much about the characteristics of the bougainvillea plant/flower, personified as a girl, as it is about a girl/woman who is as tenacious as the plant. Can you talk about the stance in this poem, and the parallels you are drawing about the rootedness as well as resistance and determination evident in Caribbean people?

MB:  The poem, BR, really evokes for me childhood memories of fluidity, wild abandonment, freedom even in the face of overwhelming restrictions in regard to colonial education & curriculum, church traditions, family and social expectations.  This freedom came ironically in the school yard where we played ring play games every day in between the rigidity of learning and supervised behaviour.  Bougainvillaea were everywhere from the time I left home in the morning en route to school and church.  The colours and the expression of the bougainvillea evoke for me the resilient spirit of childhood that transforms and matures into the spirit of young womanhood.  It is rooted, affirmative, resistant and eternal.

OPA:  In the bougainvillea tree, I catch a glimpse of freedom, physical, emotional, mental & spiritual. This is the beauty of the Caribbean spirit at its best in music, dance, and poetry. Is it important that Caribbean writers use local imagery, fauna, flora, culture?

MB: Yes, I think it’s imperative that I use Caribbean local imagery, fauna, flora.  The physical world has shaped our sensibility and spirituality and we have humanized our physical world.  At some point in our existence we are one, i.e., the physical and human environment.  I affirm the Caribbean presence in the use off Caribbean imagery.

OPA: The belief is, the more you do something, in this instance writing, the more proficient or better you become. Can you chart your development as a poet? Do you see the growth in this collection, and if so in what ways?

MB:  This poem felt so me, integrally me. And a me that I would hope is so Bahmian, so Caribbean and so whole.  I felt entirely connected to my centre, my self and ultimately my universe when I was writing this poem.  This poem is the one from which all the other poems pivot.  The other poems are in dialogue with BR in regard to authenticity of expression and their reach for freedom.

OPA: As a child growing up, we played ring games, I don’t know if that happens so much these days. What was your process of writing this collection?

MB: The poems in BR were written over a period of 10 years.  My attention was divided between my family, work and political activism in civil society in The Bahamas.  My best work was done under great discipline i.e., getting up at 4a.m. & writing before going to work. I know the best productive process is to write every day.  I have not always followed this

OPA: I read this poem in Spain, and it was translated, but at the end of my presentation a few of the participants asked me what is ringplay? How would you explain it to a non-Caribbean audience?

MB:  Ringplay is a childhood game of dance, song and drama that is performed in a circle.  One person jumps into the ring & shows her bodily rhythm, sensuality and sexual energy in dance while the circle claps & sings her on sometimes to the point of a frenzy.  Ringplay may have religious origins in African spirituality.

Bougainvillea ringplay front cover copy

http://www.peepaltreepress.com

 

BOUGAINVILLAEA RINGPLAY

By Marion Bethel

 this me right here inside the ring

in March April May springing

from concrete tar sand parading

passion purple ungodly colours waving

cores of pink cream orange showing

my motion to you unsolicited

in months of dry rain sighing

ring centre I come to you straight

shaping vision beyond sugar-in-a-plum

winding my waist tight in your face

clinging to your fence I aint shame

mounting it from rock and gravel

unhedged hips fall and rise

spreading limbs all over your wall

 

this me now right here outside the ring

even in June July August fixing

to catch the colours of your dream playing

biggety with your emotion working

up myself round edges of islands cascading

even when poinciana throw bloodclots unconsoled

in full seagreen I just keep on coming

 

jumping back in the ring I aint shiftin for no one

limboing under the shade of a dilly tree

climbing up womantongue and guinep

wrapping arms around cerosee vine

rushing to inventions of a lonesome conchshell

fixed by tongue-tied conga drums

spinning we move in circles driven shaken freed

 

 

 

Thar She Blows: Nancy Anne Miller’s Star Map

nmheadshot_1_29_edit.jpg -2. (2)

OPA: Nancy, in this your 5th collection of poetry, do you notice any changes in your poetic, and if so in what ways?

AM: This particular collection is one written over a period of decades, poems I’ve been writing while living in Northwestern CT as a response to the seasons, thus there is a variance in voice and tone.

The earlier work is more about capturing an image, exploring it without a narrative. The poem “Sticky” is a good example of that. Of late, my work is more voice driven. I unpack the image metaphors more and incorporate them in a going narrative as in “Let’s Not Pretend.” This makes the poems less stiff and opens up the reach of the metaphors. They perform their duties more completely in the thrust of a story.

OPA: Are you a stargazer, and does the constellation affect you work?

NAM: Not at all, and I’m not even a horoscope girl although I came to America in the 60’s. However, I am always thinking of my sea captain ancestors out on the sea with the stars overhead to guide them. It is a permanent archetype in my psyche, one I am strengthened by.

OPA: This new collection is entitled, Star Map, how did you arrive at this title?

NAM: The book is about my interpretation of the seasons as a Bermudian, seeing my environs from the perspective of an islander. My writing about such is a way to locate myself, place my body in the landscape.

I had a grandfather who traveled a lot and kept a log of his everyday life much like former sea captains in my lineage. He sent these diaries around to the entire family. I think of my writing poems as keeping a log of sorts, as a place I locate my being like one might out at sea. The star map metaphor comes from the line “The frost on my windshield with/ connecting white stellar shapes/ is a star map to guide me.”  Yes! To guide me in a new country, to guide my journey in my car (Such an American metaphor for being!), and to announce that my poems are the maps that make my journey happen, possible.

OPA: The last line of the title poem intrigues me, “its slit eye, a tongue slips through, speaks.”  It’s vivid, revealing, yet mysterious. I am curious about the tongue that slips through and manages to speak. Sounds like a coup. Can you speak about the trajectory of this poem?

NAM: A coup is a good word here. I had to learn to speak about the loss of my island as when I first came to America the transition was an invisible one. I did not have to learn a new language for instance, and Bermuda was a known to the community I moved into. However, that knowledge was in a skewed context. It was the knowledge of a privileged tourist destination that postcolonial writers, myself included, write against.

There was no concept of the backstory of slavery in that perception, nor an awareness of the true complexities of colonial life because of the silence around my home country caused by a lack of island literature to bear witness to it. Thus, people would often say to me “I didn’t know anyone came from Bermuda.” It was such a dislocated and trivialized place in their minds –one that existed only for touristic exploitations by consumers. So when I began to write about Bermuda there was a lot to write against and for. And like many writers what I had to say, put down in poems was sometimes uncomfortable for my longstanding family there. In that sense I must say writing in exile from afar had its advantages.

OPA: The poems are primarily about winter and snow, with a few scant references to you home, Bermuda.  What is the setting, and where does Bermuda reside in these poems, in your life away from Bermuda?

NAM: Bermuda is my North Star. The location all other locations are seen from. The Bermuda landscape is inside me. The New England landscape is outside of me, although my poems have mapped my way into it. Thus I, of course, see the bucolic environment around me through a semitropical one, and hence a comparison is always present. I’m employing contrast by what Coleridge referred to as “the likeness within the unlikeness.”

As a poet, I generally think of writing about the seasons as comparable to life drawing. It is a really good place to improve one’s skill as nature is so immense and already very daunting to approach. And in the case when I’m writing about Bermuda as a direct subject, winter itself provides a vacuum for memory, creates an almost sublime aesthetic distance, a removal from the lush island life which hones one’s skill to recall it, bring it back into being. Exile has its perks.

OPA: Is poetry your first and primary medium?

Yes! Although painting orders my mind and there is a way that my Semitropical Paint Huts bring the island environment stateside. Keeps it close so that it facilitates my writing poems about Bermuda. My poetic language is highly visual because photography taught me to observe the world, and painting to physically embody it. Both inform how I take it in and write about it.

OPA: How do you know when the poem is done?

When it is satisfying enough in carrying a narrative, an observation and also when the formal aspects of it, tone, diction, imagery, are doing the best job they can and are” bringing things together into a unity which is original, interesting and fruitful” to quote Schwartz.” The judgement that it is good enough, happens on an intuitive level when I am mostly satisfied, and hence can let it go.

I am an advocate for sending poems out because that final read before you send poems off to another editor will make you really hone the poem in the manner Wilde describes as “spending the morning putting the comma in the paragraph, and then spending the afternoon taking it out.”

OPA: Which of the senses would you say is strongest or more dominant in this collection?

NAM: I would definitely say the visual as I start poems from image metaphors that I log in my notebook. The sense of sight carries the weight of the poem. It is the cell that Rilke speaks of when he says: “Somehow I too must discover the smallest constituent element, the cell of my art, the tangible immaterial means of expressing everything.”

OPA: The poem, “Summer’s Beggars,” has a nostalgic tone, walking on the beach, collecting shells, idle and idyllic. But life is never that simple or is it?

Summer’s Beggar

It all points to going to the ocean at the end

of the season where wave by wave summer

is covered, buried taken into the deep. Shells

are scattered at the edge of the tide, loose

change falling out of the rim of a skirt

for me to pick up, summer’s beggar. I will

bring a large conch back, itself a whirl,

a turning. Place it on my shelf to stay still,

slow. A snail crawls endlessly through winter.

If it was that simple, there would be less art in the world!

 

NAM: To quote Cernuda: “The poet tries to fix the transitory spectacle that he perceives. Each day, every minute, the urge to arrest the course of life falls upon him, a course so full at times it would seem to merit an eternal continuation. “In “Summer’s Beggar” the collecting of shells, the hoarding of that which held something as the shell itself is imprinted with what it contained, all of this is a metaphor for writing poems, collecting the imprint of the world in language. The conch in my work (ever since my first chapbook titled Conch), is a container for the voice of the subconscious (i.e the ocean.) So bringing the conch back is bringing back the voice for my work which unfolds, unravels, spins, yields slowly through the absence of place as Simone Weil notes when she states: “We must be rooted in the absence of a place. We must take the feeling of being at home into exile.”

OPA: Are you currently working on a new collection?

NAM: I am sending around a collection to publishers titled Island Bound Mail with some interest so far. I am beginning to start another collection titled Boiling Hot. So yes, I am busy and am forever aware of what Eliot implied when he said: every attempt/ Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure/ because one has learnt to get the better of words/ For the one thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which/ One is no longer disposed to say it.

https://www.amazon.com/author/nancyannemillerpoet

Star Map Cover 002_1_1 (1)

 

 

 

Writer/Teacher: The Importance of Play

Anyone who knows Winifred “Oyoko” Loving will confirm that she is a happy, inviting person, who loves to laugh.  Hence it comes as no surprise that her second children’s book, My Grandma Loves to Play, 2013, has a jolly, inviting tone. An ideal book for a grandmother to read to her grandchild, it is also a great read for any adult to read to any child, especially as it is about togetherness and having fun.

bio picture from cruise_BwOPA: You are a poet, a children’s writer and a retired teacher. What grades did you teach and for how many years?

WOL: I taught all elementary grades from Kindergarten through 6th grade over a period of 31 years.   In preparation for working with young ones, I received a Masters in Early Childhood Development from Wheelock College in Boston back in 1972.  I am ancient!

OPA: You have written 2 children’s books, most recent, My Grandma Loves to Play. I know you are a grandmother. Was this book inspired by your grandchild?

WOL:  I have three granddaughters who are the inspiration for most of my writings, and for this book in particular.

OPA: In the notes at the back of the book, you say you emphasize play and family time?  Why is the value of both?

WOL: Time spent having fun is more precious than gold to little children.  Many life lessons can be said in a funny, animal voice, making it engaging and non-threatening to communicate with a child.

OPA: The book is beautifully illustrated by Niarus Walker, a local artist and teacher, can you talk about how that collaboration came about?

WOL: I went to an art exhibit here on St. Croix, and Niarus was the featured artist.  I love her work, so it was only natural that I re-introduce myself a year or so later when I needed an illustrator for My Grandma Loves to Play.  Without hesitation she agreed to the job.  Niarus has two, beautiful daughters of her own and I do believe she has images in the book that “vaguely resemble” Keren and Rayna!  Even her puppy is featured in the story line!  I am so grateful that we were able to find time to work together on this book.

OPA: The entire tone of the book is playful, one of patient exploration, and it rhymes.  Was the use of rhyme a deliberate choice?

WOL: Oh, yes.  It is always fun to rhyme with little ones.  If I say hickory, dickory DOCK; the mouse ran up the…(pause)  All the kiddies will (more than likely) yell the word CLOCK!  Of course, if the class is unfamiliar with Mother Goose, I can begin slowly by teaching rhymes and the meaning of rhyming words.  Rhyming poetry is another fun vehicle for learning vocabulary.  Memorizing poems at an early age helps the children gain confidence in other learning areas.  My story offers a look at a Caribbean grandmother and grandchild, which is a change from mainstream rhyming stories.  All my stories, so far, are based in St. Croix, I’m happy to say.  This is my home.

OPA: Was there a particular memory or incident that prompted this book, maybe an unmade bed…?

WOL: My own grandmother, rest her sweet soul, taught us manners, the books of the Bible, how to sing three-part harmony, and our bedtime prayers.  Those lessons instilled so much confidence into my siblings and me that I now find myself  doing the very same things she did!!!  To this day I can sing and recite all 66 books~~both old and new testaments!

OPA: How has your years as a teacher, helped you to capture the right tone that would appeal to children?

WOL: Be prepared.  Be flexible.  Keep it short, keep it sweet, make it fun.  Laugh a lot.  That’s it!

OPA: When can we expect your next children’s book, and are you willing to share what it is about?

WOL: Most definitely, Opal, my next book will be about a boy who is eagerly waiting for an important event.  (I will leavethat for your readers to imagine!)  I would like to publish it in 2016.  I already have Bethany Kennedy~~an awesome illustrator! (Finally,  I have yet another idea looming in my imagination about  a book I began while visiting the Philippines last summer.)  LOL   I am laughing out loud, indeed!

51t3YBKteNL._SX384_BO1,204,203,200_ Available @ amazon.com and from author:

oyoko_viayahoo.com

Force Ripe: A Painful Slice of Girlhood

Cindy McKenzie’s Force Ripe (2015) presents a poignant tale of parental neglect, community indifference, sexual abuse, isolation and ignorance of  Lee and her brother, Rally. Told through the eyes of Lee, who is not yet six years old when the books begins, and ends when she is in her teens, this story of Caribbean life in Grenada is not one you have likely read before. Honest and revealing, Force Ripe takes you on the journey with Lee, and you get to witness first hand, the uncertainty that is her life and world, replete with verbal and other abuses. It is sure to make you cry.  I recommend it to be included in Caribbean literature and sociology courses.

cover pic01

OPA: This is your first book, what have you written before and where have you been published ?

CM:   Apart from a response to a letter published in Mslexia Women’s magazine and a star letter in Woman & Home Magazine- for which I won a hat box of lovely French Chocolates and allowed myself to bask (just a little bit) in the novelty of seeing my name in print – I had not been published before Force Ripe. Previous writings include bits of prose, some poetry and short stories prompted by various online Writing Courses.

OPA: Roughly speaking, how long did it take you to write?

CM:   It was a long process. I can’t remember how long, but I think I completed the first draft in a few months. I started writing – what I then titled “Celestial Shades,” back in 2001. I have a “registered to myself”, two hundred and ten pages, double-sided first draft, dated June 2005. So much has happened along this journey I have travelled with this book.  And what took me a few months to write, took me fourteen years to publication.

OPA: Can you share your process of writing this novel? What are some of the ranges of emotions you experienced?

CM: The process. Hm. Writers have so many theories and rules about what works, how it should be done, when it should be done. And I have tried some of them. For me, it was handwritten notes of memories, ideas and then I drafted the chapters. Next, I typed them onto the computer. I still do it this way.

I knew nothing about rules or the fundamentals of writing at the time [I began the novel.]. What I had was this story. And I was very determined to tell it my way. I learned along the way –from the first terribly written draft– which I sent to Ian Randle Publishers, to the creative writing classes taken after the first draft, to revising, dealing with critique etc. And the learning continues.

Writing Force Ripe was therapeutic for me. I had to make that journey, all the way back and step inside Lee’s head- see through her eyes, listen with her ears, feel what she felt, talk the way she talked, walk with her again, so readers could also make that journey with her. And this journey evoked every kind of emotion in me. These emotions changed with every corner I turned, and every chapter I wrote.

OPA: This is not an easy subject, what prompted you to write this novel?

CM: This story has lived in me for as long as I have lived with it. And for a long time it has been nagging me, begging to be voiced. So I listened.

OPA: Force ripe is a Caribbean term that I heard it growing up in Jamaica.  How would you describe that term for non-Caribbean people, in particular as it relates to Lee, the protagonist?

CM: To Force ripe something, for example a fruit, is to ripen it prematurely, before it is fully matured and ready. In the Caribbean, the term Force Ripe is used to refer to girls who try to be mature, who act like grown ups, too early. In many instances, as was the case with Lee, the child has been forced ripe, having to grow up too quickly, not by her own doing or choosing, but because of circumstances, choices made by the adults in her life and because of neglect. Perhaps unintended, but neglect all the same. Lee was forced to do adult things, have adult experiences, look after herself way before she was ready, before she was mature enough.

OPA: Who do you see as the audience?

CM: Because of the language, and topics presented, I see Force Ripe as suitable reading for a wide audience – from the young adult, to the very senior. I believe Force Ripe has a little bit for everyone, especially our Caribbean audience, who will be able resonate with the scenes, characters, the places, the culture and the language. I want readers to want to read this book and want to share it with others. Selective parts can even be read to the very young audience.

Cindy McKenzie reading from Force Ripe

OPA: Are you inspired by other writers from the Caribbean, especially Merle Collins, a fellow Grenadian?

CM :I am not as widely read as I would like, however, I am inspired by writers who are bold and brave enough to step outside of conformity and write the truth, write about the taboo stuff which are unspoken and frown upon. I admire those who are not afraid to use our “Nation language” and to quote you on that, “… there are just some things that don’t have the same sense of intimacy or color if not said in Nation language…. I use nation language… to say what I mean from the center of my navel… to jolt readers to listen and read more carefully, to glean from the language the Caribbean sensibilities that I am always pushing, sometimes subtly, other times more forcefully. Nation language allows me to infuse the poem with all of the smells and colors of home…” I too believe this to be true. I thoroughly enjoyed Bake Face & other Guava Stories and Merle Collins’ Callaloo poem. When I was writing this someone very close said to me, “enough bakes and cocoa tea stories.” Am glad I didn’t listen, because bakes and cocoa tea to me is like roast beef and Yorkshire pudding to him! And I still Love my bakes and cocoa tea.

OPA: Are you currently writing or thinking about writing  another novel?

CM: I have to. I already have a few chapters, which I had cut from Force Ripe, so I have a start. I would like to get right to it now, but life happens in between.

OPA: What are you hopes for this novel — in other words who do you want it to reach, which in my mind is different from audience, what place do you hope it will have?

CM: I would like to see Force Ripe in the schools, especially the secondary schools. It would be great to have it on the school curriculum, and not just in our local Grenadian schools, but as far as it can reach, throughout the Caribbean. I really hope it will find a place on the shelf of book stores, in-spite of the self published taboo which hangs over it. And I would love to see Force Ripe as a movie.

OPA: Your children certainly were involved in the production of the book, how does being a mother inform the writing of this book?

CM: Being a mother has made me look at the characters with different eyes, especially the main character Lee. As I wrote about Lee’s experiences, I was able to compare her with my own daughter at different stages in her life, particularly at the age of 10. Being a mother has made me look at myself and where my children would have been had I make different choices, like my own parents did.

An excerpts from Force Ripe

“The convent girls gather up the front gate and line up the steps like a firing squad when they hear the Rastaman daughter coming. Me legs tremble. Me chest get heavy with fright. So I pull meself inside me like a soldier crab. I could do it real good now. And sometimes, I does even forget to come back out (p.272)”

Website:http://cindymac.info

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Cindy-McKenzie-Author-295573863938027/timeline/