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Intimate Farewells: An Evening of Poetry by the Caribbean Poetry Project

Professor Edward Baugh reads in the setting sun at An Evening of Poetry

With the Blue Mountains as its backdrop and birdsong as musical backing, the University of Cambridge and the School of Education at the University of the West Indies unfolded pleats of new and old poetry while saying goodbye to their literary collaboration, the Caribbean Poetry Project on Wednesday, April 8, 2015. 

The Caribbean Poetry Project was launched in 2010 to develop engagement with, and understanding of, Caribbean poetry among British and Caribbean students. Project Director Professor Morag Styles of the University of Cambridge delivered greetings at the event, which was hosted by core members Lorna Down and Professor Beverly Bryan, both from the University of the West Indies.

Lorna Down of the University of the West indies, Mona shares a few wordsDuring its time the project produced two books, Give the Ball to the Poet: A New Anthology of Caribbean Poetry and its companion Teaching Caribbean Poetry. As the Project approached the end of its tenure, it seemed only fitting to present an Evening of Poetry.

With a line-up that featured Jamaica's Professor Mervyn Morris, Poet Laureate, Professor Emeritus Edward Baugh, Dr Velma Pollard, and Tanya Shirley, Guyana’s Mark McWatt and St. Vincent’s Philip Nanton, the evening promised to be an entertaining one. And beautiful, too.

The historical ruins at the UWI Mona Visitor's Lodge provided a pleasing frame for the event, its well-worn arches and discreet lighting adding an atmosphere of intimacy to the occasion. That is, if a one hundred-person gathering can be called intimate. The comfortably packed surroundings was complimented by a musical interlude from Dr. O’Neale Mundle (Music Lecturer in the School of Education) and refreshments designed to appease the sweet-toothed. The result was a relaxed environment for the Project’s swan song. Yet sweetness, was not only found among the refreshments. 

"A sweet tooth / is no respecter of persons," Professor Baugh observed humorously in the poem ‘The Ice Cream Man’, written from the perspective of an ice cream truck gliding serenely among gated communities, a comment on contemporary Jamaica. 

As each poet took the stage there were sometimes thematic convergence, but there was also great diversity. 

Baugh's reading also explored the issue of migration and the relationship between those who leave and those who remain at home through the poem 'Choices'. 

“I didn’t say I would never leave / But if that’s what they call ambition / Then for now I sticking with love,” read Professor Baugh.

It was a theme also picked by Phillip Nanton in the piece ‘Ms. Thorpe Goes Travelling’, creating an interesting contrast as Nanton expressed a more abrupt comical frustration.

“So Ms. Thorpe, be still / then come back and answer the damn phone nah?”The audience sits framed by the Ruins

Nanton also delighted the audience with a poem about St. Vincent’s carnival queen, a satiric take on what happens when we privilege beauty over intelligence, and beauty must speak.

“Her opinion on global warming was administered with a self-assured ring / I personally think is a good thing.” Nanton read.

The gleaming upper class perspective was darkened in Tanya Shirley’s ‘Insomnia, Imperialism and a Few Good Mongrels’ a derisive reproach for the writer of a supercilious Letter to the Editor.

"Quick, quick he pushed the black body that blocked out sound / off the bed and off the bankroll,Shirley read.

Shirley would go on to examine the events surrounding the end of Caribbean life and the various ways people bear the burden of death in the poem ‘To the Man Who Tends My Grandmother’s Grave'.

Fun and jokes were not put aside in Velma Pollard’s consideration of the more concrete aspects of language, with pieces such as ‘Cot Language’ the persona wants her children to be fluent in Creole and Standard English and so declares, "I saw the lightning leaping through the house / I heard the thunder clap / an Nanny bawl out Jeesas Christ".

In ‘At the Hortobagy near Debrecen’ from the collection Leaving Traces, Polloard creates a animalistic metaphor of language describing Creole as the impossible creation brown sheep as the offspring of black pigs and white sheep. "Creole I say / mixed breed / hybrid / high breed / of language,she read. Pollard also touched on the beauty of the landscape and it was striking that as Dr. Pollard uttered the lines "peerless mountain beauty / leaping my heart anew" from the poem 'Roads' she was framed by a solemn silhouette of the Blue Mountains.

Mark McWatt also explored this theme through 'Wildflowers and Married Life'.  Mark McWatt continued the amusement with his poetic commentary in ‘Three Bras Chat on Line’, about a triad of surprisingly loquacious undergarments.

“She went for a mango-gram / you ever hear bout it? / A machine does crush de breast like if it juicing mango,” McWatt read.

The audience was also moved to chuckles by the dry resignation of Professor Morris’s ‘Peelin Orange’, a poem about the difficulty of getting things right. “An if you have the time / you can come see me / in me old clothes / peelin.”

Then, like the earlier sunset which gave way to darkness, the speeches eventually gave way to silence and Professor Morris dedicated his last poem, the final poem of the evening, to the Caribbean Poetry Project. ‘Checking Out’ was a contemplation on the finality of parting. 

"We never leave / we always have to go," Prof. Morris read.