Wednesday, 22 April 2015

BOOK OF THE MOMENT: Poet Shelly-Ann Harris delivers a satisfying debut with The Goodies on Her Tray

WELL VERSED: Harris' breezy debut explores the roles and concerns of Jamaican women.

Jamaican women have always led dynamic and complicated lives, subject to their fair share of struggle, heartache and, fortunately for some, contentment. Emerging poetess Shelly-Ann Harris does a fine job of capturing some of their stories in The Goodies on Her Tray (Breadknife Productions), her breezy debut collection of 30 poems that are as lyrically potent as they are sensitively crafted.

In her writing, Harris, a 2008 Redbones Poet of the Year and JCDC Literary Arts awardee, shares hard-learned lessons and poignant observations about the Afro-Caribbean experience and local traditions as she explores how our women set about “developing a thriving career, accepting ourselves completely and ultimately living a fulfilling and happy life” – simultaneously drawing particular attention to “both the spirit-filled and vexing undercurrents of Jamaican culture and history.”

The results, in large part, are noteworthy testament to trials and triumphs, with Harris’ soulfulness, wit and capacity for Scripture-quoting and spirituality echoing throughout the book.

From the beauty of childbirth (“Conception”) to the satisfaction of hard and honest labour (“Cleaning day Lady”) to the complications often attendant to intimate relationships (“Cold Return”), Harris smartly employs vividly descriptive language to reel us in, as she gives voice to an assortment of circumstances. Passion and grace notes dance together in pieces like “Butterfly Waitress”, “Rose Petals for Bruises”, “I Rest My Dreams” and “Abundant Life”, in which the poetess offers such memorable lines as, “Knowing that suffering is beautiful is the doorway to abundance.”

In his endorsement of The Goodies on Her Tray, Professor Edward Baugh lauds Harris for her effective use of sharp imagery and refreshing insight. “These poems will attract and hold the reader’s attention. Their feelings and ideas are grounded in specific situations realized with some imaginative verve and striking images,” Baugh reports. “There is a pleasing range of subject matter, personal and social, and the concern for craft is to be commended.”

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