Tuesday, 28 March 2017

AUTHOR SPOTLIGHT: With Kingston Buttercup, Ann-Margaret Lim reflects on family and legacy, history and memory

PAGE BY PAGE: Lim's new collection explores her roles as mother, daughter and observer of life and nature.

ANN-Margaret Lim’s seven-year-old daughter Kayla makes a cameo appearance in “Night Blooming Cereus,” one of the many highlights in her award-nominated new poetry collection, Kingston Buttercup. The well-behaved little girl made a real-life appearance at Sunday’s launch of the collection inside the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre, UWI Mona, where she was introduced by her proud mama to the early birds sitting up front. A telling moment that underscores Lim’s most cherished role to date: the doting mother.

It’s a theme that recurs in the collection, currently long-listed for the OCM Bocas Prize, as Lim skillfully weaves personal family narrative with ideas, heart-and-mind concerns that resonate universally. Poet Laureate Prof. Mervyn Morris, who taught Lim during her student years on campus, also remarked on this as he shared his thoughts on the work during his stint at the podium. “One of the most important details of personal history comes when she talks about her mother who left her father and went to Venezuela. The absence of her biological mother hangs heavy,” Morris noted, while highlighting such poems as “Venezuela Journal,” “Granmammy” and “Popo.”

Morris also drew attention to Lim’s marked emphasis on colonial history and the legacy of slavery. “In Ann-Margaret’s vision,” Morris told the audience, “history is always present but mostly threatening.” Witness such haunting selections as “On Reading Thistlewood’s Diary,” “Rebel” and “The Artist,” in which she salutes controversial sculptor Christopher Gonzales, with whom she was fortunate to spend some one-on-one time, as the poem testifies.

And that’s another thread that courses throughout this 59-piece collection: the mélange of testimony, memory and every poet’s burden of bearing witness. But it’s a responsibility that Lim takes on with the requisite heft, whether in the guise of parent, sister, daddy’s girl or keen observer of life and Mother Nature. 

When all the all-black-clad Lim finally graced the podium on Sunday morning for a lengthy but evocative reading, accompanied by acoustic musician Wayne Armond, her selections came laced with anger (“An’ at the wake mi aim de gun to the sky and fire” – “Marginal”), gripping and vivid imagery (“The venom of beauty lying under the skin” –“Night Blooming Cereus”) and music in poetry (“And I sing Syvah, syvah, syvah, and I think of you, Phibba, in miserable slavery” – “On Reading Thistlewood’s Diary”). 

But most memorably, we got profound recollections of her close family ties (Lim is part-Chinese) and the beauty of commitment that comes with it. “And I remember you, Daddy, telling me how your parents shipped you off at six to Canton, to know your culture,” she reflects in the Beijing-set “At the Karaoke Bar, 21st Century Hotel.” And then, as the best poets always do, she reminded us that in the midst of life we are in death, but like “the angel trumpets [and the] red ixorias,” hope springs eternal. “Yours the first loss, a stolen grandpa,” she said, reading from “The Score,” “My daughter the first victory – a seedling growing.”

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