SISTERS WITH VOICES: Carolyn Allen, Tanya Shirley and Sharon Leach having girl time in Treasure Beach.
Combining the warm southern hospitality of Treasure Beach, the great outdoors, and the creative genius of some of Jamaica's pre-eminent literary voices (and the up-and-comers they've inspired), this year's leg of the Talking Trees Literary Fiesta (the fourth anniversary) at the Two Seasons Guest House on May 23, yielded a belly-busting feast of the written and spoken word and a day to remember chock-full of highlights. Herewith, TALLAWAH's top five:
> MASTER CLASS: Listening to Professor Mervyn Morris recite classic poems like "The Day My Father Died" during his afternoon appearance at the podium afforded his longtime admirers a nostalgic reverie and powerfully reminded us of poetry;s timeless tendency to captivate and provoke thought. The reigning Poet Laureate delivered other memorable selections as he reintroduced the anthologies that long cemented his status as one of the most revered literary voices in the Anglophone Caribbean.
> THE FLUFFY DIVAS: During a breezily entertaining segment dubbed "Belly Root", poetess Tanya Shirley and fiction maven Sharon Leach offered up readings equal parts provocative and reflective. With excellent diction and radiant charm, Shirley (She Who Sleeps With Bones, The Merchant of Feathers) began with pieces like "Don't Let The Fluffy Fool You" and "Flower Girl" before getting into the meat of the matter, while Leach, all chick-lit cool, won everyone's attention with a juicy excerpt from her debut short story collection, What You Can't Tell Him.
> THE ELDER STATESMEN: The "Man Peaba" session, meantime, featured three distinguished Jamaican men of letters - Easton Lee, Victor Chang and Prof. Edward Baugh - all sharing selections from bodies of work that suggest writers at the height of their creative powers. Baugh ("I hope the breeze don't blow me away") offered vivid pieces like "Hurrying Across Hill Country" and "Out of Stock"; Victor Chang conjured up a domestic dream team with the lively story "Miss Daisy and Miss Chin" (about a dutiful housekeeper and her employer) while Lee carried us on an adventure across the diverse landscape of folklore and tradition with a sampling of his poetry.
> THE SISTREN COLLECTIVE: Intellectual bad gyal Cherry Natural stayed true to form as she combined radical social commentary with red-hot word-sound power stylings on pieces like "Slanguage", "Compatible" and "Fight Back"; talented poet on the rise Peta-Gaye Williams made a solid connection with her passionate delivery, at one point recalling the grandmother in the turquoise dress "who made words neither Oxford nor Webster could define"; and ace storyeller Amina Blackwood-Meeks struck gold as she humorously heralded the return of Likke Miss Jing Bang with "Kiss Mi Granny" and bid adieu to Mas Jabez ("Jackass Pallbearers"), adding the timeless refrain "Ye who are weary come home." Williams, Blackwood-Meeks and Cherry appeared during a near 40-minute segment called "Lemon Grass."
> PHENOMENAL WOMAN: You know you'll be left wanting more when Lorna Goodison graces the microphone, so the 'encore' requests came as no surprise. Whether reading from her prize-winning memoir From Harvey River (tracing her family ancestry), reasoning with the crowd (on Jamaica then and now) or gliding from one gem of a poem to the next ("I Am Becoming My Mother" still mesmerizes), Goodison gave a lip-smacking lesson in satisfying appetites primed for inspiration and empowerment.
>> Goodison at Talking Trees: The poet enlightens and entertains festivalgoers
>> Easton Lee interview: The cultural icon on aging, children, and his message for Jamaica