Saturday, August 6, 2011

Celebrating everyday things ...the joy of a poetry book

This is about things turning up after all, and then time and again. I first met Carib Breeze by Dorothy Whitfield in its cylcostyled version, (I believe that's what we called it in those days - in the 1980's, before computers and printers you could just use as you please), when I was in the Publications Unit in the Ministry of Education, here in Jamaica. Dorothy Whitfield had hoped we could publish her poetry manuscript. That would have been a good thing, because there was a need for local poetry books for the primary level group of children, poetry about us, about our lives, about the simple things that go towards creating happiness. But the funds simply weren't there. I felt the sadness so often experienced in our attempts to publish here, of knowing the need and not being able to meet it. And over the years, I sometimes wondered what had happened to the manuscript.

And then in 1993 Ian Randle Publishers published it, with the delightful cover you see here, and other illustrations done by children. And so I had my copy with my favourite poem, John Connu Dance, with it's wonderful pulsing beat, "T-rrum! T-rrum!/The congo drum/The John Connus are coming down the street/T-rrum! T-rrum!/The congo drum! ... They spin! They twirl!/They leap! They whirl!/And the white dust swirls about their feet ...". I had found something that actually replaced Robert Louis Stevenson's Windy Nights of my childhood (not that I wanted to replace it, because new joy need not replace old joy, but it was good to have our own poem that I loved as much). And of course, I remembered well the exciting John Connu bands dancing along the street at Christmas time, and like the children in the poem, we would want both to run to see them as well as to run away in fright.

Fast forward; I'm in the year 2000, plus a little bit, and I'm doing research for my MEd. at a primary school in one of our innercity communities, where often we believe children are deprived of beautiful sensory emotions. The grade 4 teacher, to my delight, is reading to her class from Carib Breeze. Most of the children are enjoying the poetry reading, even the boys. The poem is The Secret. It starts: "I told my secret to a rose/Beside the garden wall /'Tell no one else', I said to her/'Tell no one else at all' ...

I notice one girl who has no expression on her face, as if she does not truly know what the poem is about or even what the class is about - and then come the last lines, " my lovely secret/Will be known to one and all,/And just because I told a rose/Beside the garden wall". This child raises her arms in the air as if to embrace the world, a smile envelopes her face, and as the poem ends, she slowly lowers her arms. She has been transformed, and I too, from watching her experience

Fast forward yet again, to this year. I am working with some primary school teachers. I introduce them to Carib Breeze, which turns out to be a delightful for them. The teachers discover all sorts of poems that they like. I wonder at coincidence - how often this book creeps back into my life. More importantly, I hope that these teachers will reintroduce this book, share it with their students and other teachers - the simple joys of poems that celebrate our lives.

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