Monday, 4 March 2013

LORNA GOODISON: The author-poetess on her latest collection, the writing life, and discovering her true voice

THE READER: As you go along you start seeing through windows.

With her sharply amusing prose and consistently evocative poetry, Jamaica’s Lorna Goodison is the consummate Caribbean storyteller blessed with vision, decades worth of critical acclaim, and prestigious honours to her name. Goodison, who is set to publish her umpteenth poetry collection later this year, was among the quartet of writers who delighted the sizeable audience at “Love Affair With Literature” this past Sunday morning at UWI Mona. Following the presentation, she chatted briefly with TALLAWAH

TALLAWAH: Tell me about your much-anticipated new collection of poems. 
Goodison: It’s called Supplying Light and Salt, and it’s being published by McLelland & Stewart in Canada, and it’s gonna come out in the States next year and by Carcanet in the UK. It’s very much a book about what you’re searching for, what you’re questing for. A lot of them are religious poems because I think that at the time I was just questioning my relationship with the Divine. 

You paid a visit to Spain and Portugal sometime last year. How much of an eye-opening experience was the trip? 
Well, it was brilliant because as Jamaicans we are always conscious of the fact that our first connection with Europe was with Spain and Portugal. I travelled with two friends and we were just amazed at all the wealth that was taken over from the “New World.” The presence of Africans was also very, very strong. I’m tearing up just talking about it. If you watch the film Biutiful, it gives you an idea of how the Africans live on that side of the world. So I loved it, and I was just thinking about some of the struggles the young people go through but also how beautiful it was. 

In what ways have you seen your writing evolve over the course of these last few years? 
I want to quote something that my friend Dennis Scott once told me, and it’s something I always tell my students: In the beginning, if you’re really developing as a writer, you start by seeing through your own eyes, and then as you go along you start seeing through windows. So if any development has taken place, it’s basically me seeing myself connected to the wider world. 

During your reading this morning, you mentioned a girlhood desire to one day become a sort of Billie Holliday. How fascinating! 
Those images can be very seductive. Everybody knows that. I wish I were a blues singer, but I can’t sing. (Laughs). What I meant was that I don’t think I had a clear idea of who I was going to be as an artist. I had to make it up as I went along. So I’m very glad now when young people say to me, ‘I’d like to do what you do.’ I didn’t want my poems to sound like Englishmen, and I didn’t want my poems to sound like African-American women. But I knew I wanted my work to be political and very musical.

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