You are here

Mervyn Morris is Poet Laureate of Jamaica

Professor Mervyn Morris, Jamaica's first officially appointed Poet Laureate

Professor Mervyn Morris can now add Poet Laureate of Jamaica to his already impressive shelf of achievements, which include his 2009 receipt of the Order of Merit. It seems particularly befitting that the laurels, the nation’s first in 50 years, have fallen to a man who has made significant critical and poetic contributions to the landscape, as well has had his eyes and mind assaulted by the earnest rhymes of the numerous would-be poets who seek his appraisal of their work.

“I feel as though a vision has descended upon me,” Prof Morris said during his brief acceptance speech which culminated with his reading of his poem ‘Peeli Orange”. He remarked that he hoped that he would be able to fulfill the role, but admitted to being a little uncertain how he would be able to influence tourism, a link that had earlier been made during Minister Wykeham McNeil’s address.

“I’m especially keen on putting many poets in contact with the potential Jamaican audience,” Prof Morris said. “If we can put Jamaican poets, not necessarily new poets, before a wider audience than is currently available to them, I think this will be a major achievement,” he would later continue.

Kingsley Cooper, Chair of the Entertainment Advisory Board addresses the audience "Don't worry, we won't make you sing and dance in any hotels," Kingsley Cooper, Chair of the Entertainment Advisory Board and the morning's host said.

The ever distinguished professor, is the author of The Pond, Shadowboxing, Examination Centre, Vestiges and Is English We Speaking, and has a career that has placed many poets before new audiences. His essay ‘On Reading Louise Bennett Seriously’ is credited with making many scholars take important second and third looks at the Honourable Louise Bennett-Coverly, highlighting that there is significant method to her satire. Morris’ look at Michael Smith also rescued Mikey Smith and other dub poets from possible ignominy. 

Along with being the island’s first Poet Laureate in 50 years, Prof Morris is also the island’s first officially sanctioned one. Thomas McDermott, who wrote under the moniker Tom Redcam and JE Clare McFarlane had previously held the post, then created by the Jamaica Poetry League. The current incarnation, however, is the result of the combined efforts of the Ministry of Youth and Culture (through the NLJ) and the Ministry of Tourism (through the Entertainment Advisory Board).

“It is a truism that a country that does not embrace its culture will never be economically prosperous,” Min. McNeil said, a damning declaration on the meaning behind the state of Jamaica’s woeful economy.

McNeil went on to outline that the creation of the Poet Laureate role was one in a line of strategies that the Ministry of Tourism was pursuing in order to strengthen the entertainment sector. He named the Arts in the Park, Reggae Month and the 90 Days as initiatives using culture to strengthen the tourism product.Prof Morris with emerging poets Yashika Graham (left) and Ann Margaret Lim

“Jamaica’s Poetry Laureate Programme will help to positively position the island as a key cultural tourism destination by helping to revitalize the arts and preserve our rich literary history,” McNeil said. The programme has received funding of J$3.4 million from the Tourism Enhancement Fund, for three years.

The announcement of Morris’ selection was made at the National Library of Jamaica, the agency in which the post is invested, on Tuesday, April 15. Dahlia Harris, Principal Director of Culture, brought remarks. Professor Morris will retain the post for three years, and the official investiture will take place on May 21, 2014 at Kings House.