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Monica Minott Launches Kumina Queen
If one was to believe in stereotypes, accounting would seem the profession least likely to produce a poet. Yet, Monica Minott, accountant by day, has been steadily and quietly crafting her poetry and gaining a modicum of attention since winning the Small Axe Poetry Prize in 2009. Her recently unearthed collection Kumina Queen makes a great account of her place among contemporary Jamaican poets.
“We thank you Winsome, as accountant and writer for taking full account of Jamaica’s artistic expressions,” Dr. Michael Bucknor, head of the Department of Literatures in English said. Bucknor was delivering greetings on behalf of the Department which was staging the launch. Bucknor described his expectations of the poetry as “Nettleford poetic choreography”.
The collection was introduced by Professor Mervyn Morris, who spoke to the breadth of the poetry and its diverse range. He noted that Minnott commands a range of voices.
“It is a rich varied collection,” Morris said. He noted that Jamaica folk cultural forms are central to the collection even though it is often contradictory to colonial education. Morris argues that the collection implies a need for cultural balance which requires the undoing of “too much passing of exams” that is “book learning”.
Morris also noted that women are a central focus of the work, an idea certainly evoked in the title.
The women in the book are often abused, Morris said. “They are often deceived, neglected or otherwise mistreated.” Even so, women’s experiences and ways of seeing are central to Kumina Queen.
The launch event also included a series of readings from the collection. Maureen Denton started the segment with readings from ‘Belly Pain’, ‘Right to Die’, and ‘Jemina’s Wit’. Despite Denton’s overly emphatic reading, the ease and dramatic breadth of the poems shone though.
Poet Shara McCallum was the evening’s second reader. She opened with the sensuous poem ‘Fisher Man’s Net’ followed by ‘White Roses (For Rosa Who Stopped Buying White Roses)’ showcasing Minott’s exploration of darker issues.
McCallum ended her reading with her own poem ‘Calypso to Penelope’, specifically requested by Minott.
“It’s so great to read this poem in Jamaica,” McCallum said, “because I don’t have to gloss anything.”
Professor Edward Baugh then followed with his readings of ‘Live and Direct’ and ‘Easter Sunday Morning (For Rex Nettleford)’.
Minott closed the set of readings. Before beginning she gave particular thanks to Professors Baugh and Morris, noting that her journey to a full collection was indebted to their encouragement.
Minott’s reading included ‘Sister Bernice’, ‘Shabba’, ‘Penelope to Calypso’, and ‘Meeting a Fake West Indian at Yale’. She ended with the title poem ‘Kumina Queen’ which was augmented by drumming from musicians of the National Dance Theatre Company, while dancers from NDTC closed the evening with Kumina.
At the end of the reading, the poems had indeed expressed the “Nettlefordian poetic choreography” Bucknor had admitted to anticipating.
“Monica Minott is a significant Jamaican poet,” Professor Morris said. “I recommend Kumina Queen.”
The launch was staged by the Department of Literatures in English, UWI, Mona on Monday, November 28, 2016, at 6:30 pm and hosted by Dr. Anthea Morrison.