Friday, 2 June 2017

LETTER FROM TREASURE BEACH: Talking Trees 2017 was alive with lyrics, riddims and warm southern hospitality

FRONT & CENTRE: Goodison read from her Collected Poems and shared reflections on Walcott and her family history.

AS expected, Saturday’s staging of the Talking Trees Literary Fiesta in Treasure Beach, St. Bess, delivered a cool combo: accomplished writers and other artists offering memorable selections from their bodies of work; food, fun and fellowship galore – against an easy-breezy south-coast backdrop. 

Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison graced the stage early (perhaps because she had to jet back to the city for another engagement), opening her presentation with “Guinea Woman,” a lyrical homage to her great-grandmother, before delving into poems from her just-published Collected Poems (Carcanet Press), a 500-page volume so thick “it could stop a door,” she quipped. The vigorous, vibrant verses flowed. “Road of the Dread,” “I Come From a Land,” and “Some of My Worst Wounds” were just a few of the highlights eliciting strong applause. 

Goodison spoke of her mother Doris, a beautiful and classy do-it-all lady. She read a few food poems and remembered her cousin Joan, the Canadian who had them, on one occasion, “feasting from night till morning.”

The simplistically beautiful “I Am Becoming My Mother” connected, and so did “Heartease” and “I Shall Light a Candle of Understanding,” before she ended her stage time with fond recollections of Derek Walcott – mentor, friend and inspiration to whom she personally “owes a big debt”, a wordsmith who set the bar for poetry sky high. In the end, Goodison conceded, “He was very complicated, but so are all geniuses, and that he was.” 

Of course, Goodison was a tough act to follow, but the brilliant Yashika Graham held her own, offering poems steeped in potent imagery and rural Jamaican life, while referencing everything from roast breadfruit and other tropical-isle delights to a mother “who made me fall in love with taste.”

Roland Watson-Grant, a super-talented scribe making great strides in his career these days was up next. With his commanding voice and a very assured delivery, the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize finalist read from his acclaimed, bayou-set debut novel, Sketcher, followed by passages from the short story “Cursing Mrs. Murphy,” an evocative homage to his sister and St. Catherine’s Rio Cobre Gorge. Looking chic in black, Margaret Bernal (wife of Ambassador Richard Bernal) also graced the big stage, sharing samples of her deeply introspective prose. 

After the lunch break, poetess Ann-Margaret Lim appeared, winning us over with her engaging delivery, as she shared well-crafted poems from her sophomore anthology, Kingston Buttercup. In between reflections on her Chinese heritage and family tree, Lim paid glowing tribute to Walcott, Christopher Gonzalez, and Mervyn Morris, among other legends living and dead. 

A dramatic reading of Fabian Thomas’ two-hander Daddy and a mini fashion show featuring Mutamba designs made way for the day’s featured artist: Olive Senior. She took us down memory lane with “You Think I Mad, Miss?” (from her nostalgic short story collection Discerner of Hearts), “My Father’s Blue Plantation” (from the widely praised anthology Gardening in the Tropics) and a mix of lyric and lament, with “Hurricane Story 1988” and “Dead Straight” (among others), poems that elucidate her fine gift for fusing humour and hubris. 

Rhythmic sets from a trio of performance poets and musicians – Malachi Smith, Ras Katri and the incomparable Mutabaruka – brought the day to a fitting close. In other words, cool reggae vibrations mixed with sly poetic riffs sending us off to our Knutsford Express buses for the long ride back home.

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