WELL VERSED: “I believe that you must love your art,” shares the poetess.
Hailed by Jamaica’s Poet Laureate Mervyn Morris as “a significant Jamaican poet,” Winsome ‘Monica’ Minott stakes her claim as a breath of fresh air to the local literary landscape, crafting poetry that mines the riches of our island culture while exploring universal themes that run the gamut from friendship and family to death and longing. With Kumina Queen (Peepal Tree Press), her first full-length collection (launched on Monday at UWI Mona, drawing a fair-sized turnout of well-wishers and members of the local literati), Minott is offering readers a solid introduction to a distinctively Jamaican voice with something meaningful to say.
TALLAWAH: Your poem “Easter Sunday Morning” is a moving tribute to the late Rex Nettleford. What was your connection to him?
Monica Minott: As a dancer, I grew up at the School of Dance. I was there for 10 years, so I studied with him, and he inspired me a lot. Rex is very special to me, and as you can see, members of the [dance school] came out to support [this launch] as well. They are a part of my family, and my daughter dances with the [NDTC] company now.
TALLAWAH: So you do have an inner kumina queen!
Monica Minott: (Laughs). Put it this way, I’ve always danced, but after I had my child I could not do all the things I wanted to do, like do my business and put in the hours for dance. So I really started to write about it instead.
TALLAWAH: So this is your debut collection.
Monica Minott: This is my first full-length collection, but I have other things that are out there.
TALLAWAH: “Good Hair” captures some nostalgic family moments. Writing it evidently took you down memory lane.
Monica Minott: Oh definitely! My sister [who combed my hair] would mash mi up every week, you understand? (Laughs). So I definitely went back into my childhood for that one.
TALLAWAH: Tell us about one of the best books you ever read.
Monica Minott: I’d have to go back to Atlas Shrugged [by Ayn Rand]. I read it so long ago, but it’s very memorable to me. It’s a hard business book. It’s about a guy who was striving to become the best architect, and the business forces were against him. They wanted him to conform. But I believe that we should not necessarily conform to everything that is given to us, but we should embrace change. That is the only way you grow.
TALLAWAH: You’ve said that Prof. Eddie Baugh incited in you “a wanting to write.” How so?
Monica Minott: About 15 years ago, a pastor came into my office and asked me what my talent was. I decided that because I love writing I was going to see if this was my true talent. Then I started to have concerts and I would invite poets, and then I realized that this was what I really liked. A few years after that, Prof. Edward Baugh took me under his wing, and then I was also in touch with Prof. [Mervyn] Morris. And between the two of them, they adopted me. They made me feel special. And, in fact, people thought I was a member of the Department of Literatures in English, but I was at that time a Business and Management Studies graduate. But they treated me as one of their own.
TALLAWAH: What’s your advice for Jamaica’s aspiring poets and storytellers?
Monica Minott: I believe that you must love your art. To do so, do not be afraid of exploring; do not be afraid of failing. I like to say, ‘You fail forward.’ Do not become static. Learn from your failures and keep on moving forward.