PHENOMEMAL WOMAN: The iconic actress and author, pictured with musician M'Bala (below), shares her joy and pain in a new poetry collection.
Like the consummate schoolteacher, Jean Small has maintained close ties with several of her students well into adulthood. Carolyn Allen, who was among the impressionable first-formers that Small taught at Immaculate Conception High back in the day, is a fine example.
The bond and mutual respect between these two very accomplished ladies is so pronounced that Allen didn’t hesitate to accept Small’s invitation to deliver the keynote address at the launch of her new self-published poetry collection, Send Me No Flowers: Poems of Loss, which drew a sizeable audience to the Pages Café, Hope Gardens, last Sunday evening.
“I felt that at this stage of my life I needed to put together the things I’d written over the years and put aside. I wanted a hard copy for myself and for friends and family,” Small told TALLAWAH. “Something to give to people.” At Sunday’s launch, the books (beautifully printed by Xpress Litho) sold like hot cakes ($1000 each), and almost everyone in attendance took home a copy.
For the record, Allen had nothing but kudos for her former teacher’s 15-poem collection that began as a DIY project. “In this collection, the lady sings a full rainbow of the blues. We also hear the sound of music recalling the work of Kamau Brathwaite and Mikey Smith,” Alllen noted. “It is quite clear that this lady, at 82, nuh done at all. She jus’ ah come.” Added Allen, “These may be poems of loss but they affirm life and meaning.”
When time came for Small to give a reading from the collection, she dove in head-first, reeling off selections like the lacerating “I Am This Woman”, “For Seretse” (about the bully who stole her son’s toy as a child and refused to give it back) and “Trapped” (written during a workshop given by the late Trini-Jamaican poet and instructor Wayne Brown).
Even more powerful and deeply affecting were the self-explanatory “Car Crash”, “Lament” (dedicated to Brathwaite, her former mentor back in her native Guyana) and “For Mikey Wallace,” a tear-soaked elegy for the Chalice musician who was gunned down in the vicinity of the Bob Marley statue across from the National Stadium. Then there was the lover’s lament “Waiting by this Window” and the title poem, led by the rib-tickling line, “Send me no flowers; give me rum…”
In short, the collection is a testament to the enduring wit and wisdom and remarkable life experiences of an octogenarian who has seen it all and done the rest. “I think I have accomplished a lot. I was a very successful schoolteacher. I maintain good relations with many of my students who are now my friends. And whenever I call on them, they always come to support me,” shares Small, who is Guyanese by birth. “I’ve worked in Nigeria and other countries, and what I want to do now is sit down and write about it all.”