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Kei Miller and His Creative Kingdom at the Philip Sherlock
“You’re coming into your creative kingdom and your name will be hallowed,” said Dr. Michael Bucknor. The words came as a part of his closing remarks introducing Kei Miller’s Writing Down the Vision: Essays and Prophecies. The words seemed to echo the sentiment of much of the Jamaican literati (and then some) who had charted the path toward the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts at the UWI Mona (on Sunday, December 21, 2014) for the double launch of Miller’s Writing Down the Vision and The Cartographer Tries to Map A Way to Zion.
The two award-winning titles, one non-fiction and the other poetry, have helped to cement Miller’s position as one of the literary world’s most important contemporary voices. Writing Down the Vision earned the 2014 OCM Bocas Prize for non-fiction while The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion won the 2014 Forward Prize for Best Collection. Earlier in the year, Miller's work had also been included in the South Bank Centre's list of 50 best love poems of the past 50 years.
“This is most definitely not a wagonist occasion,” declared Dr. Brian Heap in his welcome address to the the almost packed house, who laughed in response. “Kei is no stranger to the Centre,” Heap said, explaining that Miller had been through the Philip Sherlock while an undergrad and had also delivered the 2013 Annual Philip Sherlock lecture, during his tenure as Writer in Residence in the Department of Literatures in English.
Indeed, the morning’s launch was coordinated and hosted by both the Philip Sherlock Centre and the Department of Literatures in English and the books were introduced by Bucknor and Dr. Norval Edwards both of whom presented insight into the significance and aesthetics of the works.
In his profound, engaging and revealing introduction, Bucknor explained that Writing Down the Vision showcases the “re-winding and wheelings and comings again” of Miller’s mind, showing its complexity as well as that of contemporary life. He described Writing Down the Vision as a “treasure trove of reflection” that simultaneously provided laugh-out-loud entertainment.
Bucknor spoke to the distinctiveness of Miller’s voice and described his style as a “slant-eyed poetics”.
“These are essays that will engage both the mind and the heart,” Bucknor said.
Though his own style was significantly different, Edwards took to the podium with no less praise than Bucknor.
“[The Cartographer] consolidates his position as one of the finest, if not the finest contemporary poets,” Edwards said of Miller.
Edwards described the collection as both “profane and inspired” and “ordinary and poetic”. He explained that The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion sits well within the postcolonial engagement with mapmaking as a tool of colonization, and so presents a “subversive critical engagement with cartography”. Edwards pointed out that Miller moves beyond binary opposites, instead complicating them, as the poems reveal that despite the seemingly opposing ways of which the rasta man and the cartographer see the world, they are different sides of each other.
“Miller gets down into the mud, in the dirt, in what I will call the thickness of place,” Edwards said. “This is a profound immersion in the poetics of place,” he said.
Miller, accompanied by Carolyn Allen, rounded out the morning with textured readings from The Cartographer Tries to Map A Way to Zion. Their poetic conversation presented an entertaining, engaging entry into the penetrating insight and breath-catching depth of Miller’s poetry.
The readings also highlighted the musical and lyrical engagement manifested in the poems. The morning’s selection of music sweeping from reggae to Nyabinghi and through to Jamaican gospel performed by Djenne Greaves accompanied by Tafane Buchsaecab (saxophone) as well as Kemar Outar and Stephen Sinclair on drums, presented another point of entry into the cultural landscape mapped by poems.
At the end of the presentations, the audience seemed to have been swept up and lost amongst the curves, turns, hills and valleys of Miller’s mythical and poetic language. They rose to their feet, lifted their hands in thanks giving and showered him in applause and praise.