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Of Poets and Crickets: The Drawing Room Project

Christine Craig

“Bring yuh blanket” the poster for Reading Nights in Air advised, warning of the cool St. Mary nights. It was good advice, and though there were no blankets about, the poets in the audience had instead armed themselves with their verse. So along with Christine Craig, the night’s main reader, the evening swelled with poetry, some good and others best left to the night air.

Tree frogs and other night time critters competed for dominance of the night’s sound while bugs danced around the lights, put in at the Country Thyme retreat house. Reading Nights in the Air was the public reading accompanying the inaugural writers’ retreat staged by The Drawing Room Project and facilitated by poet and short story writer Christine Craig (Quadrille for Tigers, Mint Tea and Other Stories).

The night’s readers includedAnn Margaret Lim, Emma Lewis, Yashika Graham, Phillipa ‘Saffron’ Sauterel, Jamel Hall, Leslie Ann Wanliss, Norman Gordon and Kurt Brown, comprising writers from the retreat as well as others who had journeyed from Kingston and Clarendon to bear witness and participate in the inaugural staging.

Craig and two of the participants of the Drawing Room Project Writers RetreatCraig, provided an engaging set as she delivered several poems including ‘Prodigal Son’, Toss Salad’, ‘Jamaican Grief’ and ‘Going Home’, bringing the night to a close.

For three days, seven new and emerging poets, mainly from Jamaica but a few from further afield, had flocked to the small house and surrounding cottage in Highgate to work on their craft, taking time away from their daily lives.

Millicent Graham, one of the founding partners of the Drawing Room Project (along with fellow poet Joni Jackson) explained that the retreat was an important mile stone along the goals that the DRP seeks to achieve. 

“We wanted to focus on the creative process and we wanted to give writers the opportunity of time,” she explained. Indeed, time is one of the most precious commodities for writers as for many, culling it from their daily lives proves quite difficult. Poet and co-founder of The Drawing Room Project Millicent Graham

Jackson and Graham had met during a Calabash International Trust writing workshop where they had also met one of the DRP’s trustee’s and the woman behind Country Thyme, Sonja Harris.

Graham explains that the DRP is committed to creating a space where writers can help each other to grow. The DRP had started with closed one-day workshops with poets M’bala and Ann Margaret Lim. The three-day retreat was a natural progression.

“Really what we’re trying to do is create a space for social creation and elaboration,” Graham said.

She admits that having the founders of the Calabash International Festival to look up to, particularly Justine Henzell and Kwame Dawes makes sticking with the Drawing Room Project even easier. Even so, there were challenges. Yet Graham made sure to point out that the Highgate community was supportive and seeing satisfied writers makes it all worthwhile. 

“When I see a group of people feeling so inspired it really gives me something to push for,” Graham said. She noted that the country setting had been deliberately chosen so that the writers could interact with ordinary life and use it to fuel their writing.

"We want to wrte about the everyday but we want to make it new," Graham said. And the crickets seemed to chirp their agreement.