- The Honourable Olivia Grange, Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport,
- Members of the Cabinet,
- Senator The Honourable Tom Tavares Finson, President of the Senate
- The Most Hon. P.J. Patterson – Former Prime Minister,
- Your Excellencies and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,
- Mr. Wickham McNeil – Member of Parliament
- Honourable Custodes and Spouses
- The [Right Rev. Howard Gregory, Diocesan Bishop of the Diocese of Jamaica and the Cayman Islands,
- Mrs. Winsome Hudson – National Librarian and CEO, National Library of Jamaica
- Ms. Lorna Goodison – Poet Laureate designate and family,
- Professor Emeritus Mervyn Morris – Immediate Past Poet Laureate and Mrs. Morris
- Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
A very Good evening,
[HE apologised for Lady Allen’s absence and conveyed her congratulation]
I extend a warm welcome to all of you who are here at King’s House to celebrate the investiture of world acclaimed Jamaican poet Miss Lorna Goodison, who has been named Poet Laureate. Over the next three years she will be charged with creating an avenue for public involvement in the spoken arts, by stimulating the writing of poetry and improving youth appreciation of poetry.
Ms. Goodison’s investiture is well timed; as it is taking place in the year that Jamaica is celebrating its fifty-fifth year of independence and also as the City of Kington, on August 1, is celebrating its 145th Anniversary. Of course, that she is the first female to receive such a high literary award in Jamaica cannot be overlooked.
I read somewhere that if you are in touch with life it draws poetry from you. I presume this is what happened born Una Marson and others like her, as they try to stay in close contact with their Jamaican sensibilities while living overseas:
“June comes again and Poinciana trees
Now blossom in my sun kissed isle.
And I am here in London, and the flowers
Of dainty shades and delicate perfumes
Stir my heart and wake my love.
But it is the flaming glory
Of Poinciana trees in fair Jamaica
That my lone heart is homing.”
Mason wrote in the poem entitled ‘Jamaica.’
No doubt our Poet Laureate 2017 has had those experiences living abroad, although the distance might have been a respite from being compared to her sister Barbara, who is a renowned thespian and media practitioner in her own right.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is well known that much of our history and culture, and the struggles and triumphs of our forebears are captured in literary works. They include publications by well-known Jamaicans such as Roger Mais, Andrew Salkey, Sylvia Wynter and many others. By interpreting and providing literary commentary on social events, oftentimes even as they were unfolding before them, they have recorded our history in a medium that can be easily deconstructed and that will also remain for posterity.
Of course, the publication ‘From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island,’ by this evening’s awardee, ranks among the best; chronicling as it does, the involvement of women in the growth and development of our nation and in roles that are the cornerstones of our society.
Societies of yesteryear are defined by their surviving heritage and cultural practices which, among other things, include architecture, music and art. The historical and archival significance of poetry is expressed by Claude McKay who wrote in the poem ‘Heritage’:
“Now the dead past seems vividly alive,
And in this shining moment I can trace,
Down through the vista of the vanished years,
Your faun-like form, your fond elusive face.”
Sadly, poetry is not held with the same esteem. Many literature students do not pursue the discipline post high school as constraints occasions by scarce resources and the drive to realize economic outcomes take centre stage. With the revival of the Poet Laureate award and associated programme of activities, hopefully this trend can be reversed.
Already there are interesting signs on the horizon that if we keep at it, poetry will once again regain its rightful place in Jamaica. Kei Miller, Ann-Margaret Lim and Marlon James who won the Man Booker Prize in 2015 are among the literary artists who have carved out a niche for themselves and are providing a glimmer of hope to this important aspect of our culture.
There are also young and emerging writers whose talents need to be nurtured. Writers like Christena Williams, recipient of The Prime Minister’s Youth Award for Excellence in Arts and Culture in 2013. In her poem titled The Youth of Today, she urges us to:
Embrace the youths
Teach them history and roots
Teach them heritage and culture
Facilitate their growth
In addition, they will bear bountiful fruits.
As you embark on this new phase of your literary career Miss Goodison, I am sure that the young people will be foremost in your consideraion.
Ladies and gentlemen, as we celebrate our Poet Laureate 2017, I extend thanks and appreciation to Professor Mervyn Morris for his contribution to the development of a re-emerging appeal for literary arts in Jamaica.
I enjoyed reading Christine Craig’s poem Butterfly Season at St. Hugh’s – an experience with which the incoming Poet Laureate is not too unfamiliar – which was featured in your weekly newspaper publication entitled ‘From Our Poetry Books.’ Your Poet Laureate Presents Tours which featured the musings and writings of contemporary poets, as well as your rap sessions with school-aged children, together added spice and variety to your tenure.
To borrow from the title of one of your own anthologies, your publication ‘In this Breadfruit Kingdom’ is a testament that you have been there and for this we are truly grateful.
But this evening belongs to Miss Lorna Goodison who I congratulate most heartedly on receiving the award. We look forward with much anticipation to your contribution over the next three years, to the rich tapestry of cultural expressions that have earned the City of Kingston UNESCO’s recognition as a Creative City of Music, and also placed it on the New York Times list of Best Places to Go in 2017.
I hope they will like bask in the poetry of Jamaica.
Ladies and gentlemen, I now have the pleasure of inviting you to come forward and be invested.