Monday, 31 August 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Jean Lowrie-Chin – Souldance

SOUL FOOD: Lowrie-Chin offers a fascinating debut collection

Title: Souldance (2009)
Author: Jean Lowrie-Chin
Publisher: Ian Randle Publishers
Pages: 170

The endearing photo of two youthful angels on the cover of Souldance: Poems & Writings (Ian Randle Publishers, 2009), Jean Lowrie-Chin’s absorbing debut collection of her columns, prose and verse, is an excellent indicator of the nature of the book’s content. Touching, sensitive and captivating, Souldance is brimming with universal themes of love, family, community and struggle. The care and quality with which Lowrie-Chin crafts her pieces equally appeals to readers.

Souldance captures the work that has flowed from the pen of one of Jamaica’s recognizable public relations professionals and newspaper columnists for nearly 30 years. Lowrie-Chin’s affection and concern for her homeland, the inimitable bond she shares with relatives and her thoughts on life and humanity are showcased through sterling prose and poetry.

Among the standouts that gripped me is “A Dad for All Seasons,” a moving account of the life and legacy of J.E. Lowrie, the author’s accountant father who we are told took his last breath (he died of an arthritic condition) in 1977 while whispering prayers in the company of his darling wife.

While shedding light on a rich family history, the piece also powerfully captured a striking father-daughter bond. “Dad threw himself into the role of father with a gusto that I have rarely seen in biological fathers. Every Saturday was library day, and after we carefully selected our books, we would be taken to the old Oxford Pharmacy for ice-cream. No wonder we all went into communications – he made the written word sweet for us,” Lowrie-Chin writes. Her ‘daddy tribute’ is a perfect companion piece for “My Mother’s Working Love,” a salute to her mother, Maisie Lowrie, now in her eighties.

Meanwhile, selections like “Jamaica: Treasure Island,” “Best of Times in Beijing,” and “A Vision of our Men at Risk” illuminate Lowrie-Chin’s devotion for her island home and her tirelessness in championing our people. Her poetry, written mostly in free verse, is peppered with truisms and her reflections on an existence too many of us take for granted. In “Let’s Fly,” for example, she observes, “One day it hits you/You know the bitter truth/That nothing lasts forever/Especially your youth.”

She’s also not afraid to take a proper look at the woman staring back from the mirror: “Thirty grabbed me round the waist…in thirty’s twirl I found no time for bitterness or regret.” (from “Thirty”) or feel like a girl again, enveloped in the love of her beloved husband, Hubie: “Now the poinciana through the window/ Is beautiful again/And Neil Diamond sounds sexy again/And I can understand a sentence/Without reading it again/I can smile in the dark/You love me…/Again.” (from “Again”).

At a modest 170 pages and split into three sections, Souldance is a valuable and breezy read. My only quibble? The poems could have been interspersed throughout the book instead of packed to the front to make for a more balanced arrangement. But that takes away nothing major from the overall enjoyment of Lowrie-Chin’s writing. At it's best, Souldance chronicles the experiences and ideology of a woman, a “breathless messenger” intensely in love with God, family and country.

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