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Talking Trees 2015: A Few Fine Moments But Less Than the Sum of Its Parts

Lorna Goodison closes off Talking Trees 2015

The Labour Day weekend journey from Kingston, through the hills of Manchester and winding down to the St. Elizabeth seaside has become a tradition for many of Jamaica‘s lit lovers. Usually, its to get to the Calabash Literary Festival, which is now unfortunately biennial. The Talking Trees Literary Fiesta has been trying to give the literati a reason to some back to the seaside town in the off years.

Talking Trees, held on the front lawns of the Two Season’s Guest House in Treasure Beach, had a reasonably rich line-up with several of Jamaica’s iconic and emerging voices on the line-up. Interestingly however, the day was less than the sum of its parts, producing a less thrilling day than the line-up suggested. This may have been because the readers were a little too uneven or at best not complimentary to each other, leading to a disconnect. Even so, there were several good moments through out the day.

Professor Meryvn MorrisBy the time we arrived, the sun was already halfway across the sky and the heat was climbing. The day’s heat was mildly tempered by the wind, which seemed to have the tent under constant threat as it groaned and moaned in the wind.

Professor Mervyn Morris took the stage shortly after noon. The Poet Laureate delivered several pieces which covered life, death, love and politics. His reading opened with ‘Birthdays’ followed by the poem of farewell ‘Walk Good’. Morris also delivered ‘Dreamtime’, ‘Meeting’ and ‘To an Interviewer for Usain Bolt’.

The latter half of his delivery was particularly focused on death and departures. In this segment Morris read ‘Transitions’, ‘The Day My Father Died’ and ‘Farewell Function’. He closed with ‘Legion’ and ‘The Pond’. 

Having sated themselves on poetry, the audience was invited to engage in lunch before the second half of the programme which returned with Fabian Thomas’ short drama Devon. 

Interestingly, the latter part of the day featured only female voices. First up, in the segment dubbed Lemon Grass Peta Gaye Williams, Cherry Natural and Amina Blackwood Meeks. Williams, who described herself as a “certified write-aholic” is a budding poet coming who has begun carving out her name through the University of the West Indies Poetry Clash competition, of which she is the reigning champion. Her performance included ‘Creatures of the Canopy’ and ‘Turquoise Dress’.Cherry Natural

Cherry Natural then took over the podium from which she delivered some witty repartee moving from social commentary, to romance and back again. Describing herself as a purveyor of ‘slanguage’ she positioned herself as a poetic warrior constantly ready to do battle. 

“I bury the skeleton with the hatchett/ Right ya now is only clothes in my closet,” Cherry Natural declared. With her final piece, ‘Fight Back’ she turned her attention to domestic violence. 

“A better you talk to the judge than the undertaker” Cherry Natural chanted as the poem moved towards the troubling lines “First time a victim/ Second time a volunteer.”

The storytelling prowess of Amina Blackwood Meeks rounded out this segment with two stories. She opened with ‘Jackass Pall Bearers’ a story that had the audience laughing along, but it was her second piece ‘Kiss Mi Granny’ which touched on the sexual exploits of ‘Miss Lady’ that had the audience breaking into uproarious laughter especially, when Miss Lady chanted:

“Holy Mary Mother of God, ye who conceived without sin, help me to sin without conceiving.”

Annie Paul, Tanya Shirley and Sharon Leach provided the penultimate trio of writers, bringing a combination of non-fiction, fiction and poetry. Paul opened the segment by reading from her blog post Emperor Haile Selassie’s 1966 Visit to Jamaica, Coral Gardens, Kerala and more’. While Paul was right to have selected one of her most popular posts for this reading, the choice though certainly informative, was not sufficiently engaging for late evening. 

Tanya ShirleyTanya Shirley’s reading from her latest collection Merchant of Feathers proved much more satisfying. Shirley opened with ‘Don’t Let the Fluffy Fool You’ followed by ‘Flower Girl’. She also read ‘Recompence’ and ‘On Route to Negril’. Sharon Leach closed the segment with ‘Midnight Love’ a piece from her second short story collection Love It When You Come, Hate It When You Go.

Lorna Goodison’s rich lyricism, evident in both her poetry and prose brought the 2015 edition of the Talking Trees Literary Fiesta to a close. Goodison opened with her poetry delivering pieces such as ‘Guinea Woman’ and ‘I Am Becoming My Mother’ delivering a hearty serving of poems which she closed off with ‘Road of the Dread’. 

Goodison was hesitant to deliver some of her prose, but on the audience’s insistence she proffered up a small slice of her memoir From Harvey River. However, when the audience still clamoured for more she returned to poetry.

“I don’t know what I’m doing here but I’m trying to do something here,” Goodison said with a light laugh before delivering the poem ‘For Margarita Mafood’ whom the poem tragically defines as one of those “born to love to death”. She rounded out her time at the podium wiht ‘We’ and ‘Advice to Amy Jolly From My Seat in the Balcony’ and ‘Heart Ease’. 

The 2015 Talking Trees Literary Fiesta was hosted by Fabian Thomas and took place on Saturday, May 23, 2015. The event also featured readings by Prof. Edward Baugh, Dr. Victor Chang and others.