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Official Poet Laureate of Jamaica to be Appointed

Jamaica is on the cusp of having its first officially sanctioned poet laureate.  While the post of Poet Laureate is not completely new to Jamaica, this will be the first one sanctioned and created by officialdom. Thomas MacDermott (aka Tom Redcam) had been posthumously declared by the Poetry League of Jamaica. Claude McKay has also been referred to as a poet laureate.

The creation of the appointment was announced during Minister Damion Crawford’s parliamentary address. The project was initiated by the Entertainment Advisory Board (Ministry of Tourism) and its execution is far from complete.

Justine Henzell, chair of the EAB sub-committee with responsibility for film and the literary arts explained that the process will be managed by a committee coming under the auspices of the National Library of Jamaica. This committee, which has not yet been convened, will be responsible for outlining the responsibilities of the poet laureate as well as the eligibility criteria.

“We have many living poets who are a credit to the nation and who do not get the recognition that they deserve,” Henzell said, explaining the rationale behind the creation of the post. Indeed the country has amassed an impressive cadre of poets including Lorna Goodison, Olive Senior, Edward Baugh, Mervyn Morris, Linton Kwesi Johnson, and Kwame Dawes, many of whom have acrued more accolades abroad than at home.

Henzell remarked that poet laureates promote the writing, reading and enjoyment of poetry, and the intention is to make the post relevant. She also explained that one of the envisioned roles of the poet laureate would be to create poetry commemorating significant events.

“If we stop to think of Bob Marley as a poet, which he was, then every Jamaican can see the significance of making this appointment,” Henzell said.

Executive Director of the National Library of Jamaica, Winsome Hudson, underscored the importance of ensuring that once instituted, the poet laureate is relevant and promotes poetry amongst the populace.

According to Henzell the organizers are working toward having the first appointment made during 2013.