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A Promise to Be Herself - Lorna Goodison Invested as Poet Laureate of Jamaica

Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison is pinned and sashed by Sr. Patrick Allen

Lorna Goodison recently took over the mantle as Poet Laureate of Jamaica when the investiture ceremony took place at the King’s House Ballroom. In her short and frank address, Goodison made a simple promise, that as Poet Laureate she would keep being herself.

A poet, short story writer, and memoirist, Goodison is the second officially appointed Poet Laureate of Jamaica and will remain in the post until May 2020. The ceremony was hosted by Fae Ellington, with performance tributes in music and word by The Pimento String Quartet and Tribe Sankofa among others. 

The evening also featured remarks by the Hon. Olivia Grange, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport as well as Mrs. Winsome Hudson, National Librarian who gave the history of the Poet Laureate Programme, which is housed at the National Library of Jamaica. 

In the citation, read by Professor Emeritus Edward Baugh, Goodison was described as a “superlative poet with a high international reputation,” whose work has “charted a song of resilience”.

“I felt absolutely elated and totally terrified,” Goodison admitted with great candor about the twinned emotions she felt on hearing the news of her appointment. She explained that she quickly turned to only two female poet laureates she knew to ask their advice. They, along with her husband, advised her to ‘keep being herself’.

“So, I’m here to inform you that as Jamaica’s first woman poet laureate, I intend to keep being myself.”

This promise seemed to bear out in her Poet Laureate address itself, which was given a relaxed delivery as Goodison often interrupted herself to acknowledge the many friends and family members on the audience.

“I will keep on being myself because for many years the writing of poetry was its own reward,” she said. “Had nobody ever read one of my poems I wold have written them anyway.”

Goodison went on to explain, that a key part of that, means she will keep writing poems about Jamaican life and would continue to “bully and cajole” English into sounding like Jamaica speech.

“Poetry has been my friend, my demanding and controlling companion...” Goodison said, going on to describe the art as her North Star, often bringing her back to herself.

“I thank poetry, and I thank you for reading,” Goodison said bringing her address to a close.

The 2017 Poet Laureate of Jamaica Investiture took place at Kings House on Wednesday, May 17, 2017.