Wednesday, 7 June 2017

TIME TO REFLECT: Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison casts a keen eye across Jamaica – and looks ahead

ONE OF OUR OWN: “My poems have always gone ahead and opened the way,” the cultural icon notes.

Stepping into the role of Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison relishes the opportunity to champion and promote arts-based projects and impact young lives as never before. Here, she talks to TALLAWAH about vision, gratitude, and her message of hope for Jamaica.

SHE’s always ranked high among our favourite wise women, but poetess Lorna Goodison will be the first to tell you that some things give her pause. Still, the heart-and-mind concerns she has for her native land, a country grappling with numerous social ills, are never far from her thoughts.

“I don’t have all the answers, but I’m very optimistic about Jamaica’s future. It’s just a feeling I have, my instincts,” the Canada-based Goodison tells TALLAWAH, seated in the sparsely populated lounge area of the Liguanea Club on this balmy Thursday night, a day after being officially installed as Jamaica’s newest Poet Laureate during a King’s House ceremony. “I’m not one of those writers who get a major award and then think I have the solutions for all the problems of the world,” she adds with a chuckle. “As a country we have our problems, but we are facing our problems and looking for solutions. That’s admirable. No one is denying that problems exist, but we are dealing with them.”

What’s more, Goodison, whose many accolades include the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize and the Gold Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ), feels that in spite of the challenges, we’ve been making remarkable strides as a civilized 55-year-old Caribbean society. “It seems to me that we have mercifully moved past some of that intense tribalism,” she notes. “And I think that as more and more of those international centres, those metropoles, become less hospitable, people will have to return home to build up a place like Jamaica.”

The arts is a great place to start. Goodison returns home at least twice yearly, but given the big job, we’ll be seeing and hearing from her a lot more. As she tells us, she is wasting no time embarking on projects that will span her three-year tenure (as Poet Laureate) – projects that will chiefly benefit the youngsters. “I’m very interested in working with schoolchildren. I did a workshop today with some Grade nine students at Windward Road; tomorrow I’ll be at Hillel, and at St. George’s [College] next week. So already I have a lot lined up. And I have a couple of other things I’ll be announcing soon,” she tells us.

One of her upcoming projects will include a special prize, and she’s hoping to collaborate with local visual artists on initiatives that will fuse the best of both worlds – poetry and fine art. Already, she’s teamed up with retired School of Art director Petrona Morrison and iconic photographer Howard Moo-Young for an ‘Art and a Postcard’ project that’s poised to spread islandwide and, hopefully, reach the Diaspora.

Every now and again, there’s an exciting bit of news to announce from the Lorna Goodison orbit, and we are pleased to report that the brand-new Cambridge Companion of Postcolonial Poetry has been dedicated to her. It’s a show of appreciation for her contribution to postcolonial poetry over the decades. For Goodison, who has published 12 collections of poetry, a couple of short-story collections and a bestselling memoir (From Harvey River), the honour was “unexpected” but “terrific.” 

For the record, she immensely enjoyed the “lovely” installation ceremony held on May 17 at King’s House, where she got to reconnect with relatives and old friends, including a few who braved the adverse weather and journeyed to Kingston from Harvey River, Hanover. Some of her former St. Hugh’s High colleagues came out to support, and instrumentalists Peter Ashbourne and Rosina Moder served up delightful musical selections. 

Reflecting on her journey after 60-odd years on the planet, Lorna Goodison exudes graciousness and a resolve to continue chronicling today’s Jamaica with her trademark candour and conviction. “I think I’ve been writing for and about Jamaicans for most of my life, and I intend to keep doing that,” she says. “My poems have always gone ahead and opened the way, and they have led me to places I wouldn’t have been able to experience. I am extremely grateful. I am filled with gratitude.” 

“As a country we have our problems, but we are facing our problems and looking for solutions.”

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