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Lyrical Fourway at Poetry Society of Jamaica
The Poetry Society of Jamaica served up a hard hitting lyrical four-way on Tuesday, November, 26. It was the last gathering for 2013 and poets and would-be-poets turned out to their monthly fellowship of word and sound at their usual home, the ampitheatre at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. The evening featured a slate of diverse, energetic poetry from Cherry Natural, Dingo, Owen Blakka Ellis and Mel Cooke.
Prior to the guest performances, the open mic segment wound on and on as the poets who had gathered insisted that they wanted to touch the mic once more before the year ended. The performances had been reasonably diverse, but, with the rare exception, while several of the pieces tackled important social issues and the performances were strong, the poetry was often weak.
However, the guest performances certainly made up for that, and hopefully showed the aspirants in the audience the value of privileging the poetry over the performance. Interestingly, two of the poets on the roster, Mel Cooke and Cherry Natural, had launched spoken word albums at the Poetry Society Fellowships earlier in the year.
First up was Dingo, who has been off the poetry scene for several years. Resting easily in the intersection between music and poetry, Dingo was accompanied by Steven Russell on guitar and Tafane Buchsaecab on saxophone. His pieces were witty and insightful. He opened with 'Shopkeeper' then delved into 'Bat up and ketch' a playful dalliance with the punning into those so called "badwords”. He then went to his third and final piece - much to the dismay of audience, as he delivered 'Blouse and Skirt Vibe' - which he ended up aborting as he seemed to have forgotten the ending. Nonetheless, it was a great start to the guest performances
The sole woman of the line up, Cherry Natural was up next. She started with the first piece paying homage to the International Day to End Violence Against Women. The piece exhorts all women to learn to defend themselves pointing out that karate is more effective than tears.
Natural moved from combative to the romantic with ‘Levi Jeans’ a piece with which she wooed Poetry Society president, Tommy Ricketts. She ended with another call to action ‘Poets Fi Get Pay’, calling for economic remuneration for poets. She laughingly told the audience that at this stage in her career she was being paid, but she wouldn’t give up the fight until it was widespread.
Mel Cooke then took over the microphone, turning up the temperature a few notches with his first two pieces which delved into female sexuality. Both poems were based on incidences Cooke had overheard, the first rumination on a woman's comment in Buff Bay, as she declared "Mi no dead yet, life inna mi front mi waa sex", exploring the church’s discomfort with female sexuality.
Cooke had declared that the second piece was potentially raunchy and he probably would never read it outside the confines of Poetry Society. The warning was apt. An ode to the word ‘pumpum’ the poem used a moment in dancehall, where the spiritual and the secular collided in celebration of the female genitalia. Yet, although the poem skirted along the edge of decency, its artistry outweighed the potential raunchiness.
"No the man go hard Jah!" one man yelled. Cooke closed his set on a radically different note delivering a poem about surviving cancer.
The night was closed by Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis.
"Every Tom and Harry kina preoccupied with Dick," Ellis said, explaining that unlike Mel his pieces would deal with men. Ellis started off his set with 'Small' an exploration of size and its relationship to respect.
His social commentary continued with an except of the dramatic poem ‘Tick Tock’, this segment exploring masculinity and violence as he declared "And the only discussion without a weapon is a fist.”
Ellis ended the night on a hilarious though no less insightful note his the dramatic narrative poem ‘Gateman’. It was a great end to a long night, and a fitting close for another year at the poetry society which highlighted that word sound power still resounds in the island.