Saturday, December 22, 2007

Journals and palenques

Some very good news from Barbados. The literary magazine, BIM, has been revived as BIM: ARTS FOR THE 21st CENTURY. The first edition, "Celebrating Lamming," was launched on December 10, 2007. The Prime Minister noted in his feature address that he was committed to ensuring the longevity of BIM, which will continue to be, as it always was, Barbadian in name but Caribbean in content. Subscription rates are: BD$50/US$25 for CARICOM individuals; BDS$65/US$33 international individuals; BD$150/US$70 for international institutions. Correspondence should be sent to BIM: ARTS FOR THE 21st CENTURY, Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination, The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill, P.O. Box 64, Bridgetown BB11000, Barbados. Also noteworthy are the latest issues of KUNAPIPI and the THE CARIBBEAN REVIEW OF BOOKS. Yours truly contributes a remembrance of Miss Lou to KUNAPIPI, an important journal with strong Caribbean connections edited by Anne Collett and published in Australia. There's an Australian link in this issue of CRB, as well – an article by Ralph de Boissière, who has lived in Australia since 1947. (While we are in Australia, Annie Greet, if you are out there, I'd love to be in touch!) Other goodies in CRB: an article by Jonathan Ali on our very good friend and colleague, the late George John; a review of Kamau Brathwaite's amazing MIDDLE PASSAGES CD, with an introduction by Elaine Savory; a review by Lisa Allen-Agostini of Tobias Buckell's RAGAMUFFIN, and a review by Glyne Griffiths of Mervyn Morris's new collection of poetry, I BEEN THERE, SORT OF. BTW, a question: do folks know (without looking it up on the net) what a palenque (aka palenke, palink and palenquero) is? Actually, the hunt on the net reveals Palenke as a place in Caribbean Colmbia, and a music group – the latter first, of course! Palenques are important to us as marronnage peoples... Wonder if they make it to the high school curricula? In the Caribbean? Here in Toronto?

Friday, December 21, 2007

Back pon spot...

Naw, jdid, me nebba fire de blog. See me ya! Large as life and twice as ugly, as we say in Jamdown. I was away, visiting my granddaughter, who is growing like a weed. Good of you and Fragano to hang in here with me. A lot of things to write about... The conference in Bali. Did it accomplish anything? Or are jdid and fsjl correct in thinking these people nebba gwine face what clock a strike? There's the issue of schools for black students in Toronto that focus on black culture, history, literature, languages, etc., etc. Is it a good idea? Is it segregation? There's the issue my doctor raised today, that I bit my lip and steered clear of... Is health care something for which private citizens should pay or is it the government's responsibility? There's the recent (2000) stats for Toronto that reveal that there are more of the very rich, while the middle class has diminished and the poor and very poor have seen big increases in their ranks. Environment first, because it must be. I have to hope the Bali conference achieved something, though I don't know how getting together in 2009 to talk about a new treaty answers the clear mandate of "Act NOW, or it will be too late!" As an aside, I was utterly ashamed of the performance of the Canadian Government. Me shame, me shame, me shame, me shame, me shame. And the Prime Minister has young children. Does he not want them to grow up into healthy adults? As for the schools for black kids: we do need them, and now. Flip through school books and see who are represented there. Examine the existing curricula and see to what extent it addresses the contributions of black people to the disciplines. There's an imbalance that needs redressing. Now. Matter closed. I'm not sure how come we keep talking about health care as some kind of vexed question. Governments must pay for health care and education in civilized societies, before they pay for roads and buses, otherwise there's no one to use teh transport infrastructure. That's why we pay taxes. What they could also do is be proactive where the cost of drugs and the cost of administration are concerned. As for poor Toronto... I need to think hard about that one, given that the incumbent Conservative Government is not a fan of this conurbation. A great city – maybe because it IS full of poor people? Have a great Christmas, or enjoy whatever holidays you celebrate. Hopefully, I won't stay away so long next time.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


I can't believe that I've written nothing here for a month! My apologies. Lots of stuff happening, too, literary, ecological – and illogical. I'll start with the last first. I thought the idea of tasers was that they could be used to subdue people in such a way that no harm would come to the person. Seems that there have been eighteen deaths in Canada occasioned by the use of tasers since 1999 when they were introduced. Today, a famous case of that use made the news internationally. The tale involves four policemen at the Vancouver airport, and the use of tasers on a passenger, who started acting up, and ended very down, i.e., permanently subdued, i.e., dead. Someone in the airport recorded the event on digicam, which he surrendered to police for their investigation. The police originally said they would return it, then said they couldn't but would give the owner a copy, then refused to do that because the matter was under investigation. The owner retained a lawyer in an effort to recover the tape, which was eventually handed over. The tape is currently on the CBC News website, as is a report of the event. 'Illogical' does not of course describe the event, just the disjoint between avowed and actual use of the tasers – and it's a deliberately understated characterization. Is it that we are now in a state of war at home – a 'shoot first and ask questions after' regime? Is it that our 'freedom' and 'security of person' are whimsical things, depending on whether the guy with the taser is trigger-happy when you and he encounter each other? Is it that we are unwilling to pay the price of freedom, that oft-iterated 'eternal vigilance', because we are too busy gassing our SUVs and driving off for our ski vacations? Or hopping on to planes to pursue the normal (ha-ha!) business of our lives, jet streams being an uglier source of pollution that the SUVs? Of course, when there's no longer any snow, nor any 'normal business,' it will serve us right. So segue to the ecological news, a further sign of impending apocalypse... BC salmon refusing to return upriver to spawn. I keep wondering at what point we quit fouling the environment. Perhaps only when we start falling dead in droves, and simply have no strength to do it any more? It wearies the spirit, and all for the sake of mammon! The literary news, I'm glad to report, is cause for cheering. Olive Senior's new collection of poetry, SHELL, was recently launched by Insomniac Press. I was happy to be reading read with her at a venue in St Catherine's on Tuesday night – perhaps I'll write more about that in due course. Today, I met with some great folks (Stephen Colella, ahdri zina mandiela, Allen MacInnis) at the Lorraine Kimsa Theatre for Young People to talk about a workshop of my play, THE PIG FROM LOPINOT. Allen, who is Artistic Director at LKTYP, says it'll be on in the '08-'09 or '09-'10 season. It'll be great to see it when it happens, but the lead up so far has been a tremendous experience. Thanks so much, Allen, Stephen, Joan (Kivanda) and now ahdri. Start walking and taking the train and public transit, folks, if you love your children and grandchildren.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


My comments on the posts of the villagers who stop by get long sometimes, so, once again, I'm hanging a response to a comment (fsjl's final one on the "Wise Woman" post of October 7), here. We know different groups of people use words differently, even though they all speak the same language. A fave example is the word “bad,” which in African American Vernacular English means something different from it means in Canadian English. So when fsjl wonders what standards the young people he teaches have, maybe we should consider whether the word "standard" means to them what it means to him. A standard is (I think) a measure, a criterion of some kind, a benchmark used to judge. A standard applies when there is awareness and acceptance that it IS a measure, and when there is a sense of accumulating behaviour, the notion that the things that we do add up. (Caution: Even when repeated behaviours appear to signify a standard, they may not. Many people who refrain from eating pork can't tell you why they don't eat it, in which case I’d think it's a "style" or a "habit" (and a blind one), not a standard. If it’s done for religious reasons, or health reasons, or some other reason that the abstainer can name (they may be fond of pigs), then it becomes a standard. The standard in the pig-lovers case would be: “I don't eat animals that I'm fond of.”) But we should consider that some people may simply act, behave, do stuff each day, and repeat the stuff when the next day comes. If this is true, then perhaps those behaviours that fsjl’s students value - wanting "bling", consuming expensive items, using women just for sex – are just (blind?) habits and not measures of anything. When "those who should set the standard" have no standards, younger folks never get to see standard-based behaviour. We all know the best way to recognize a duck: if it acts like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc., etc. If institutions of learning lack standards, businessmen lack standards, governments lack standards, clergy lack standards (preach forgiveness, don't forgive: preach moderation, grab at money, etc., etc.), how are the young supposed to grasp the idea of "standard"? When we were growing up, my father fed us little sayings like: "Genius is the infinite capacity for taking pains;" "Anything worth doing is worth doing well." But he didn't only say those things, he did exactly (or almost exactly) as he said. And so I think I know a standard as well as I know a duck. More anon.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Good citizen responds to other good citizen...

This started out as a reply to jdid, but got so long I figured I'd hang it out here. I agree that the MMP system needs thinking through. That said, I'm convinced that some mix of first-past-the-post AND proportional representation would be better than the present system. For one thing, it could allow folks to vote for a candidate of one party in their riding, and a different party as their party of choice, based on platform, which is what I would have done in the last election, had I been able to. I also agree that a lot of new immigrants remain in "little enclaves or ghettos", as you put it. But that's not something new. Some people in my neighbourhood who have lived and worked here for 40 years still speak no English. It often takes a generation or more for a degree of cultural shift to be effected, and public schools are an important part of that exposure to other cultures, other ways of life, which is why the public school curriculum needs a massive overhaul, so that it addresses Earth of 2007 in the physical sciences, with a strong emphasis on environmental sustainability, and Earth of 2007 in the social sciences and the humanities, with an emphasis on sustainability there as well. Do any schools teach African or Indian or Chinese or Latin American or Caribbean or Slavic History? Are there any that teach Arabic and Cantonese and Swahili? Religion enters the picture, of course, and often, inevitably, not just religion but religious politics, and THAT can create huge problems. Did you see the story about the Samaritans in one of papers in the past couple days? Because of religious rules that oblige them to marry within the group, the Samaritan community has virtually destroyed itself, intermarriage having produced people with all kinds of handicaps because the gene pool is so run down. It's a good, albeit extreme, example of what we are talking about. (In fact, it supports the case that you are making.) There are studies that show that young people are more open to new cultures, learnings and experiences than older ones, and the new technologies open the world to all inquiring minds in ways previously unthinkable. Those two things will inevitably promote a degree of 'mixing of the pot', and, married to a good school curriculum, might achieve something that produces the openness that we have to some degree in the Caribbean. We can keep talking about this for a long time, I know. I just have kept saying, all the time that I've been here, that with an advanced degree, English as my native language, and friends and family in the community, negotiating the systems has sometimes been a huge challenge. If I had not completed high school, didn't speak the language and knew no one at all, I might find getting to know 'the culture' (whatever that is) a daunting challenge.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Good citizen, back on blogspot

I can't believe I've not written anything since 4 October, which is a long time ago – nor responded to comments! So sorry! All kinds of things happening in public and private spaces. We've had an election in Ontario, handily won by the Liberals. A new method of election that would combine candidates chosen by the 'first-past-the-post' method and a number of others selected according to the relative standings of the parties in the overall vote, was defeated. I think it's a sensible way to approach the business myself, and the people in my riding (mainly blue collar folks) supported it, I'm pleased to say. What can and often does happen in first-past-the-post MO, is that the party with the largest number of candidates doesn't have anything like the majority of the people supporting it. When the turnout of electors is small (say, 60%), and of that number only 40% choose the government, then those who run things can't really say with confidence that they represent the people's choice, which makes things difficult for them as well as everyone else. (BTW, the two people who voted in our online poll thought that people should be obliged by law to exercise their franchise, as is the case in Australia.) There's also been some discussion lately about Canadian-ness and what makes a Canadian, and whether immigrants who come to Canada should seek to 'join' the mainstream culture. A couple days ago, I came across a 2004 interview with Elaine Savory (in the journal WADABEGEI) in which I was singing the praises of Canada for being a place where one could come wit one's likl kulcha and make a contribution to this larger whole that seeks to resemble, in its diversity, the demographics of Earth. I left my native land late, when I was a "big, grey-back woman", as we say in JA. I am not likely to be turning into anything else at this stage of my life – I'm too old to suffer a sea change. It's also a source of great pride to me that the Governor General of Canada is a woman of colour originally from the Caribbean. She's very much a Canadian – not one like me, but that's what I've always thought Canada is about. Besides, I'm not sure who is a mainstream Canadian. Is it a First Nations Person? Somehow I don't think that's the popular conception. I shall continue to watch the debate with interest. As for what's going on in private space: my absence from the blog has been in part due to a visit to the incredible Zoey and her parents in Indiana. I taught her, I am pleased to say, an important Jamaican cultural behaviour – to stick out her tongue. I am delighted to report that if you stick yours out, she sticks hers out too! On that defiant Be-who-you-are-and-too-bad-fe-who-don't-like-it! note, I'll sign off. More soon, as well as responses to all who have visited. Walk good.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

First, I'm grateful that more than half of the miners trapped underground in Carletonville, South Africa, have been rescued. I pray that they all get out safely. Next, I know I've got comments I've not responded to, but, once more, please bear with me. We've been away. Before I play catch-up, though, I want to comment on a NY Times article today about “SECRET” government "ENDORSEMENTS" of "SEVERE INTERROGATIONS" (emphases mine) by US intelligence operatives. Ironic, since I watched "The Good Shepherd" on VCR a couple days ago. No point getting into the story, which is about the early CIA years. Enough to say that near the end, the audience are privy to a joke: we hear that the reason insiders refer, not to "the CIA", but to "CIA" without the "the" prefix, is much the same as the reason one refers, not to "the God" but to "God". Not fussing about blasphemy here. God is Cool and can take care of Godself. What I wonder is how anybody, let alone Christians, can stomach this devilish soup? How is it perfectly fine for Some People to treat Other People vilely and without regard for their worth as children of God, ostensibly to secure the safety of the aforementioned 'Some'? As far as I know, there is no religious teaching of any kind that says that any of us is NOT a child of God. One's clear obligation in charity to one's fellow human person has no caveat. For Christians, the teaching (Luke 6:27-8) is "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you...." As a person who believes the whole Jesus foolishness (First Cor 1:17), I find this duplicity both daring and dangerous. Still, it’s the inconsistency that needs to worry ALL of us, Christian or otherwise. How is anybody to trust anybody or believe anything when, on a matter as basic as the integrity and inviolability of the human person, there’s no widely advertised, consistently held moral position according to which states and individuals are accountable? There’s a notion out there that since the Body of Earth has held out this long, the environment will simply continue to take the battering we give it. That is supremely foolish. The same is true for the Societal Body. It won’t keep taking the beating we give it any more than the Earth will. And when we are overtaken by the Absolute Corruption of Absolute Power, it ain’t gonna be pretty. Selah.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Wise Woman...

Just a short post this time. Here's something else to fling into the "aims of education" pot. In her author's note to the 1962 edition of her novel, WISE BLOOD, Flannery O'Connor says: "Does one's integrity ever lie in what he is NOT able to do? (emphasis mine) I think that usually it does, for free will does not mean one will but many wills conflicting in one man." Is an educated person one who can read and recognize these words? One who can read and understand them well enough to dismiss them because they are not easily understood? One who can understand them well enough to arrive at a possible meaning? One who, though he does not understand them to start with, is so determined to understand that he will read them again and again, in pursuit of that meaning? (Actually, it would be interesting to hear what people think they do mean...)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Correction, and more thoughts...

Just a correction in my last comment to Geoff, concerning the "What is education?" post. Among other things, I said: "If we wait to remove motes from our own eyes, nobody would do anything, for we are never going to achieve a state of motelessness, any of us, individually or culturally." That "culturally" should of course have been "collectively." Sorry. It's been a long, arduous week! I was just visiting jdid's blog, and saw some comments on how much students spend, and how much one "stylist" thought they ought to spend, on clothes. I was heartened to see people agreeing that spending $300.00 on one outfit was ridiculous, and to know that uniforms were being suggested as a great idea. One of the ways that people get to enjoy what they are doing is by paying attention to it. Like, if you don't stop to look at the world, you won't see the good things that are there. If you don't stop to savour your food, you won't enjoy what you are eating. If everybody's preoccupied with what everybody else in class is wearing, it's really difficult to attract anyone's attention. Actually, some very forceful, animated, dramatic teachers may succeed, but not every teacher is going to be forceful, animated, and dramatic – nor should they have to be. In one of today's newspapers, there's a front page article on Islamic schools. The students wear uniforms, and as a matter of religious protocol, boys and girls sit on opposite sides of the classroom, with space (lots) left in between. I'd be interested in observing the dynamics in such a classroom. I went to a girls' school myself, and I know that there is some research that suggests that both boys and girls achieve more in single sex schools. These aren't single sex classrooms, just spaces in which the sexes are segregated. One featured headmaster pointed out that the girls were treated no less well than the boys. I'd be glad to hear from anyone who has taught or observed teaching in such a classroom. Also, I'd be happy to hear any thoughts on the virtues, or otherwise, of keeping the sexes entirely or partially separate – in school, I mean...

Friday, September 21, 2007

So what is education for?

What's education for? Fragano Ledgister, in a recent comment on this blog, says its central purposes are: “(a) the preparing of children and youth for adulthood; (b) their integration into society as active, thoughtful citizens.” Fair enough, but hardly news. He explains, however – and here's the nitty-gritty – that: “the model of education we're using sees 'adulthood' as equivalent to 'employment', and 'citizenship' as identical with 'obedience to constituted authority'.” In other words, as it is presently operated, the primary purpose of education is to ensure that we are employed and law-abiding. Child workers all over the world are both these things. Many women all over the world are both these things as well. Yet of that vast number of working, law-abiding international citizens, one group female, the other not yet of voting age, many, if not most, are illiterate and innumerate, and therefore not educated. So education has to offer us something more than a skill of some sort and the opportunity to cower inside our coffles. (Exaggerating, I know – but cut me some slack here.) It may help to distinguish between process and product, one being the teaching and learning thing that we say goes on in the classroom, and the other being what is achieved by that ongoing process, that is, the gain, the knowledge, the skills, the values and habits – those things reported on in the end-of-term report cards that we dreaded as children. What our conversation on this blog (thanks again, jdid, and Geoff and Fragano, and, indeed, Sir Vidia) highlights is how much these two are related. We seem to be missing the significance of that relatedness. Is school meant to be a pleasure? Geoff says, “Perish the thought!” jdid says he didn’t do History, because he feared that classes at school would lead him to hate a subject he loved. Fragano says he’s glad he met T.S. Eliot elsewhere. My contribution is that if I am a writer – and that’s how I’ve been employed for more than twenty years – it perhaps has less to do with school and more to do with the fact that my father read us a poem every night before we went to bed, and I took part in the All Island Speech and Drama Festival Competitions, and I encountered Louise Bennett’s poetry and her work on stage and on radio very early on in life, and I read lots and lots of story books. So I’m proposing two new purposes for education – in fact, I’m thinking of writing a book about them! Education is to make us happy: whatever we are learning should be a source of pleasure, joy, delight, while we are learning it. Teachers should be certified conjurers of that enjoyment. And education is to help us to become who we were meant to be – simple as that. Some thoughts on how we do these things in posts to come – when I’ll get sex in there, Geoff, I promise.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

When the Best Golfer is Black...

When the best golfer is black, the best rapper is white, and a Nobel Laureate in Literature admits that he cannot appreciate poetry, it must be the end of the world. To quote the great man: "English prose was the object of my writing ambition, and such limited feeling as I HAVE NOW FOR THE POETRY came to me later, came through the practice of prose." The Laureate is of course Sir Vidia Naipaul (I use both the 'of course' and the 'Sir' advisedly) and so one should perhaps be on one's guard. There have been various commentators on "Caribbean Odyssey", Naipaul's article in The Guardian of August 25th. (BTW, Kwame, it's Francis Palgrave's GOLDEN TREASURY that PUT Naipaul OFF of his early love of "the rollicking children's verses in the junior reading books at school". Palgrave, a historian and lawyer, not a poet, edited the collection in 1861. It was limited to works by poets who were dead. There have been newer editions since.) It's a sad little piece, and not because of Naipaul's comments on Walcott, who hardly needs defending. I not only write poetry, including poetry for children, and publish poetry (Sandberry Press's Caribbean Poetry Series) but I'm a teacher passionate about how much poetry can do when it is taught well, and how much it can destroy when it is badly taught. QED. I am thinking of sending a copy of the SUNSONG anthologies to Sir Vidia, who imagines that he should be able to "manage" the "argument" of poetry. I fear Sir Vidia, that poems are like sex: abandon is the necessary condition. More on this anon.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Picture or no picture?

I am a fan of detective stories, crime novels, mysteries. Indeed, I enjoy various kinds of "genre fiction" and am at a loss to see why some critics (see Camille Paglia's interview with Margaret Wente in the GLOBE AND MAIL for interesting comment on the state of the art) consider these kinds of writing not quite literature. Ergo, magic realism is in, while speculative fiction is out. (If you don't know the difference, go check your theory book!) Happily, in the hands of writers like Nalo Hopkinson, those boundaries are already giving. I have just read, in pretty quick succession, THE DARLING by Russell Banks (real literature) and Philip Kerr's THE ONE FROM THE OTHER, a detective story, described, not as a Bernie Gunther mystery, Bernie being the protagonist, but as "A Bernie Gunther novel", Mr Kerr's editors being clearly familiar with the runnings. I'm not sure how Kerr, or, say, Mosley, or Simenon end up not being writers of plain old literature – not that they care, for any writers making a living out of scribbling can afford to thumb their noses at the critics. (Stephen King's book, ON WRITING is standard fare in many a writing course. QED) I find the approaches taken by Banks and Kerr by no means dissimilar. Both tales are set in recent historical time, Kerr's novel in Germany, Austria, Palestine and Egypt of the Second World War and the immediate post-war years, and Banks's in the radical underground of the 60s and 70s in the US, and in Liberia in the period of the civil war – "real times" of extraordinary violence. Both tales include characters who are historical figures, central characters who perpetrate the violence. Though Banks is telling Hannah Musgrave's story straightforwardly, so to speak, and Kerr is concerned to have us follow Bernie Gunther as he unravels sinister webs-within-webs, there is considerable converegence in their purposes. Identifying each writer's goal, and considering how successfully each story achieves that goal, and the extent to which these goals overlap, would make for interesting discussion – as literature, in my humble opinion.

Friday, September 14, 2007


Rights, rights! Who can regard them seriously? Take the right to life. I translate that as the right to food, shelter, clothes, clean water, clean air. No mention of health care or education – I'm staying with the basic five. How many of us have these things? And liberty? How many of us can freely choose our leaders? Our way of life? Move unhindered beyond our borders? To make it worse, eexercising our supposed rights can get mighty complicated. Are you, gentle reader, vigilant for your health, exercising your freedom to betake yourself to the supermarket so that you might purchase bottled water and avoid the deadly microbes in the stuff out of the tap, thus preserving that life to which you imagine you have a right? Well, turns out that the plastic bottle won't leach dioxins into the water as that alarmist e-mail has warned. That's an "urban legend". Rolf Halden of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences and the Centre for Water and Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, has, however, advised that "city water is much more highly regulated and monitored for quality... [while] Bottled water... can legally contain many things we would not tolerate in municipal drinking water." Stay with me on this. Freedom to choose the water we drink, and our right to clean water are tangled up here, and furthermore, intertwined with a host of other things, like simple literacy, and less simple access to cyberspace. The moral of the story is that lots of us, rich and poor, are drinking lousy water: some, because there are fewer and fewer clean springs, rivers and uncontaminated aquifers; some because where there is water, those whose business it is to see that it's potable fail to do that job (remember Walkerton?), and some because they go off hunting for clean water in a plastic bottle, which may just be a bad place. In sum, it seems to me that too few people throughout history have had the most basic rights, and so few people nowadays exercise even the palest resemblances of them, that I just don't believe. Relative privilege, though, is another matter, and that I'll tackle soon., if God spare life.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Land We Love

I went to Jamaica for my sister-in-law's funeral on the third of September – Election Day, as it happened. I probably made my booking before the date was announced – I can't remember at this point, for it came as a surprise when someone pointed out to me that we went to the polls on 3 September. (Affected by the same blissful unawareness, I made a booking to return to Canada on the 9th of September.) President Carter didn't come to watch the elections this time, nor the Commonwealth Secretariat. They were confident the polls would proceed peacefully and fairly, which, by and large they did. A few people died, but given the mayhem that might have obtained, things proceeded pretty well – except for the fact that only 60% of the electorate turned out to vote! Perhaps we should make it a criminal offense not to exercise one's franchise, as the Australians do. The low turnout is bad enough, but far worse was the silliness put forward by some as an excuse for their failure to vote. There were people who could not bring themselves to go to the polls because they were "born and bred in X party", and if they couldn't vote for that party, they weren't going to vote at all! It makes nonsense of the business of choosing public officials. Voting is a complex business, and in a country with many cultural groups and many languages, it's a challenge to ensure that everyone understands the issues. In a tiny country where people speak the same language, it is easier for them to have a grasp of things. Most candidates are well-known and priorities stare the voter in the face. Whatever the size of the state, there are many bases according to which one can make a choice. Does the candidate have a solid record of work in the constituency, whether as sitting member or caretaker? How good is their attendance record in Parliament? Their participation in debate? If there's a really good candidate running in my neck of the woods, regardless of party, that's a good reason to support the person. Unless there is an overriding big issue – a party soft on the environment, or inclined to wantonly commit the country's troops abroad, or proposing a significant increase in consumption or income tax. These bigger issues may override voting for the better candidate in my constituency, especially if the election looks to be a close one. But where one puts one's vote must be a reasoned business, done after due consideration of what is best for community, country and planet. If one's vote is a way of maintaining membership in a particular political group, then we are back in the business of reichs, and that is a dangerous business indeed.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Peace on Earth

I have to believe in God. Jah. Allah. Nyame Nankopon, according to the Ashanti. Yocahu Vagua Maorocoti, according to the Taino. The Supreme Being of the Hindus. The God of Gods of so many belief systems. Outside of such a Being, things fail to make sense to me. I believe that this Supreme Being is a Personal God, though I am painfully aware as I set this down that my conception of Divine Person does not begin to approach the nature of this God, this "I Am Who Am". I do know some things about I Am Who Am, however, and those things are well summed up in the Rastafarian greeting, "Peace and love". I Am Who Am is a God of Peace and a God of Love. I Am Who Am is not a God of War, nor a God of Hate. People who make war, who kill, maim and murder, and people who inculcate hate, do not do so in the name of, nor with the approval of I Am Who Am. Regardless of the circumstances. I Am Who Am is also a God of Power – not Anybody I, for one, would want to provoke. We were made by this Divinity so we could love one another, and help one another. Earth was made by this Divinity so that we might take care of it, and it might sustain us. None of us have any entitlements. Indeed, I don't believe we really have any rights. (More on this in due course.) What we have are relative privileges and concomitant responsibilities. And there is no way around any of this. As Martin Luther King Jr. so famously said, "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools." The slaves sang it for us. The gospel singers and the folk singers have kept it firmly in our face. "God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water but the fire next time." Read the news. Seems to me the fires have started. If we don't wake up soon, sell our SUVs, exercise our franchise (more on this soon as well) and choose leaders who know the value of Kyoto, then we all best get accustomed to the smell of roasting human flesh. I'm ending with As-Salāmu `Alaykum (السلام عليكم). It is an Arabic language greeting used by both Muslims and Christians and it means "Peace be upon you." I am reminded of what the angels sang at the birth of Jesus, Jesus being a prophet revered in Islam as well as the Messiah of Christian belief. They didn't sing, "All Hail the Messiah!" They didn't sing, "Behold the Son of God!" THIS is what they sang: "Peace on earth. Good will to human beings." Selah.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Something sad and maybe something to rejoice about...

My sister-in-law, Barbara Preston, widow of the late Aston Preston, former Vice Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, died two days ago. She was a truly good woman, which is the highest compliment I can pay her. As my former headmistress, Sister Bernadette Little, RSM said of her in an e-mail to me, "She is a loss to a Jamaica that could do well with the finesse and charm she exuded, but heaven will be the richer for her presence." Amen, Sister B, Amen. I came across Zerofootprint on the Air Canada website, and thought again of my friend, Thomas. I'm hanging this up here, my fellow poet and writer, as a continuation of our conversation on these matters. Hopefully it's a step in the right direction. The quote comes from the Zerofootprint website. "Zerofootprint is a not-for-profit organization that has emerged as the industry standard for offsets. Our mandate is not only to help individuals and businesses become carbon neutral, but to develop the technology and communities that will help the world rise to the challenge of climate change. SNIP, SNIP... Every flight you take releases carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere and contributes to climate change. When you offset your flight and contribute to certified environmentally friendly projects, you remove from the atmosphere an amount that corresponds to your share of CO2 generated by your flight." So here's a way for all the frequent fliers to compensate in some wise for the price the planet pays for each trip. It's not a perfect solution, but, God willing, it may help.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I'm reading a book called A YEAR IN THE SOUTH: 1865, by a historian of the American Civil War. The writer's name is Stephen Ash, and in the book he tells "The True Story of Four Ordinary People Who Lived Through the Most Tumultuous Twelve Months in American History". The caps aren't mine – this is the book's sub title. I'm not a historian. Chose geography instead, and am grateful to have been spared British history in high school. But I have always enjoyed these kinds of stories, history as it walked and talked its way through the lives of individuals, especially the lives of ordinary folks. Ash's sources in this case are two diaries from the period, a memoir and an autobiography. The autobiographer is the only black person, a slave, Louis Hughes, who managed to secure his freedom and that of his wife and child in 1865. The other three figures, a woman and two men, are rebels, secessionists, supporters of the Confederacy. I'm struck, more than anything else, by how ready "people" (which does not, in this case, include the slaves, whose behaviour is restrained beyond belief) were to do violence, wreak vengeance on one another, white on black, white on white. So many ordinary people in the account are cruel – women and men – or turn cruel as the wind changes. And these are all good, Christian, God-fearing folk. It shed light on the nowadays behaviour of soldiers, peace-keeping or otherwise, in conflicts and hot spots all over the world. It illuminated the behaviour of politicians even better. And it left me grateful that my own emerging story necessitated my leaving the classroom many years ago. I would not have wanted, at this stage of my life, to be wrestling with questions about what my responsibilities were in shaping the behaviours of those who passed through my hands: what I should have done that I didn't do; what I did do that I ought not to have done; whether I prayed, each day, hard enough about what my teaching would help to effect in the minds and hearts and imaginations of those I taught. Don't get me wrong: I'm not saying that you and I are not as responsible as all the teachers, lecturers, administrators and ministry of education staff in the world. But I know my own breast-beating propensities, and had I been a teacher, my bosom wouldn't be able to withstand the wear and tear.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


I just read Nicholas Laughlin's interview with Geoffrey Philp in the issue of THE CARIBBEAN REVIEW OF BOOKS that arrived in the mail today. There's a great picture of Geoffrey (how come so many of these photos lack credits?) and I enjoyed the chat about Geoff's blog, the blog being not just a blog, but a sort of online entrepot, a cyber hub, and at this point, a fine resource. Indeed, given how things are going with other literary ventures in the Caribbean, we may end up with blogs like Geoff's being our only recourse. Nice little mixing image there that I didn't even set out to create. What's a mixing image? One of a taxonomy of "prismatic" images I invented a while back to use to talk about Caribbean literature, rather than ye olde simile and metaphor and so on. But more of that anon. I need to get to the grieving. I had an e-mail from Wayne Brown a few hours ago informing of the closure of CARIBBEAN WRITING TODAY after five issues. If memory serves, Nicholas was not so long ago expressing concern on antilles blogspot about the fate of THE CARIBBEAN REVIEW OF BOOKS. Both publications face the same challenges: not enough subscriptions, not enough ads. I won't attempt any analysis of why we fail to support these things – not just us in the region, but people all over the world who mine our literature for what it's worth. Just happy to say that I subscribe to both, have enjoyed both, think we need them both very much. It's the same thing as with the bees. While we profiling with the cellie, we killing off insects that we need to ensure that we have food to eat. I know there are those of us who don't have much patience with warner women, but I'll risk the label. We need to repent, soon. Of not putting our money where our mouth is. Of being more concerned with appearances than with substance. Of failing to husband the talents God give us. And God not a wise person to select for provocation, for, like my Granny used to say, "Him naaaah sleep."

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bees, and other apocalyptic stuff...

The bees are locking up shop. This collapse of colonies of honey bees has beekeepers fighting to survive and farmers wondering whether there will be bees to pollinate their crops. One professor in Germany has suggested that it's the cells – not anything in your cellphone, but those poles with blinking lights and broadcast equipment on them – that are emitting signals that disorient the bees. There are also reports of organic bee colonies surviving where ‘industrial’ colonies are collapsing. It's apocalyptic stuff: no bees means no pollination; no pollination means no crops; no crops means no other-than-flesh- fish-and-fowl food, except mushrooms and seaweed, I guess. Is there anyone doing anything about this? Can you or I do anything about this? I told my friend, Thomas, the other day, that the jet streams from airplanes were major contributors to pollution, and that I intended to travel as much as possible by train in future, and by boat, if I needed to cross an ocean. He seemed very surprised by the info about the polluting effect of jet streams. It's true, though, as it's also true that there are limits... We can bend things to our wills thus far, and no further, except with devastating effect. We are not entitled. We don't have rights, except perhaps the right to fiddle while the planet burns...

Thursday, August 16, 2007

About Images

I've been aware for some time of shying away from images in my poetry – if that's possible - and opting instead for inhabiting characters, telling their stories, focusing on rhythm and rhyme, for how a poem sounds is where much of its magic lies, for me. I thought I was well outside the fold with this lapse of image – they are what critics comment on, after all, and students get told to look for, since they body forth 'themes', another subject I hope to talk about soon. Then browsing yesterday, I came across these lines from a poem by Marie Ponsot, whom my friend Ricky and I went to hear read at Poets House in NYC a few years ago. (Thanks again, Ricky.)

To see clear, resist the drag of images.
Take nature as it is, not Dame nor Kind.
Act in events; touch what you name. Abhor
easy obverts of natural metaphor.

Of course the poem moves on from there into some fine images, but the lines say what I was thinking so good, I had was to share them. And check out de lady rhyme and riddim... Hot, hot, hot. Look on those spondees roughing up the pentameter. Long time since I buck up spondees doing them thing so good. And a likl rhyme there, just leggo from her pen, unexpected so, like a googlie. Very nice.

from "Pathetic Fallacies Are Bad Science But" in SPRINGING: NEW & SELECTED POEMS (New York: Knopf) 2002, p 33.

The second poem in the book, "Drunk & Disorderly, Big Hair", done in dactyls (Who writes a poem in dactyls? Who CAN write a poem in dactyls?) is worth buying the book for.

Poll results: of five voters, four thought Louise Bennett should be declared a national hero and one didn't. I'd love to hear the reasons of the one...

Stay out of strong winds. Likklemore.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Creole and How and What I write

This is my first post on this blog. Best to just jump in. I'll come back to this subject again, and I think it's a good place to start. I don't think of myself as writing for anyone, on their behalf, because they can't speak for themselves. I believe all of us have things to say – aloud, or in secret, to ourselves. They may be incorrect, misguided, stupid, rash, slanderous, and we may say them in a stumbling, hapless way, and regret them after we've said them. They may of course also be brilliant and well worth saying and unforgettable once given voice. But for sure we have things to say – all of us. As for the community of people who speak in Jamaican Creole (JC after this) or Jamaica Talk or Patois or the Vernacular, whatever we call it, they have always seemed voluble folk to me, people with ready tongues to say many things, people who wield language with relish and imagination and energy and a unique sense of humour. Much of what I write, poetry or prose, is a gift from that earliest community of speakers who in a relatively short space of time created this language, quick and brisk after the slavers brought us across the Long Water, and a gift from all those speakers who have used it since then. People and events, jokes and stories, images and ideas not only come quick to me when I use Jamaican Creole; they also rejoice me in a special way, one that I'll try to describe some other time. Just one story now, tonight. My second book of poetry, DE MAN, which is the story of Jesus Christ's crucifixion told entirely in JC, was written under a deadline of sorts. Lent had started, I'd promised the poem for Good Friday, and I hadn't written a line. Then the first line came to me: "Unoo see my dying trial!" and I knew that the whole poem would come, and that it would arrive in time. And it did. It's a poem that I'm proud of for many reasons, one of them being that a long line of speakers, mouth by mouth, ear by ear, down through "these many historical years" (see "Blessed Assurance", a poem for Louise Bennett, in CERTIFIABLE, published by Goose Lane Editions) caused it to come to be. Sure. I know. You can say that of any poem, about any language in which poems are written. But I know why I say it about this poem in this language. I'm saying thanks. I owe those thanks. Pam Mordecai. 15 August 2007.