Sat | Oct 19, 2019

Jamaica Poetry Festival honours Professor Edward Baugh

Published:Sunday | August 18, 2019 | 12:28 AMPaul H. Williams - Sunday Gleaner Writer

As his citation was being read, The University of the West Indies’ (UWI) professor emeritus of English, Edward Baugh, stood very still with his eyes fixed to the ceiling of the Louise Bennett Garden Theatre in St Andrew.

He did not fidget. It was like poetry not in motion.

What was he thinking? What was he conjuring up from deep within his expansive intellect? His response to being the recipient of the 2019 Jamaica Poetry Festival Lifetime Achievement Award?

It was the ninth staging of the festival called, ‘The Annual Feast of Poetree’, and Mutabaruka was the patron on Sunday, August 11. Yet the accolades were reserved for the poet, educator, scholar, literary critic, orator and actor who was born in Port Antonio, Portland, and attended Titchfield High School in the same town.

His intellect earned him a Jamaica Government Exhibition Scholarship to The University College of the West Indies to study English, an R.S. McLaughlin Fellowship to pursue a master’s degree at Queen’s University in Canada, and a Commonwealth Scholarship to the University of Manchester, England, from which he obtained a Doctor of Philosophy degree in English in 1964.

From the cold climes of England, Baugh returned to the tropics to teach. In addition to his role as educator, public orator and administrator at The UWI (Cave Hill 1965-1967 and Mona 1968-2001), he has done professional stints at other institutions, such as the University of California, Dalhousie University, University of Hull, the University of Wollongong, Flinders University, Macquarie University, the University of Miami, and Howard University, where he was the visiting professor in Caribbean literature for the academic year 2001-2002.

Creates what he teaches

Baugh is not one of those academics who taught and did not produce.

He creates what he teaches, poems, and is known the world over for them. Part of his citation reads, “Professor Eddie Baugh has carefully cultivated an international reputation as an authority of Anglophone Caribbean poetry. He has created a diverse and exceptionally outstanding body of work, which has rightfully cemented his place among the literary icons and giants of Jamaica and the Caribbean.”

Apart from his three collections of poems – A Tale from the Rainforest, It was the Singing, and Black Sand: New and Selected Poems – he has also penned I was a Teacher Too, Derek Walcott: Memory as Vision, Critics on Caribbean Literature, and West Indies Poetry 1900-1970: A Study in Cultural Decolonisation. His poems have been published in many journals, books and anthologies, and he has read his poems in the Caribbean, USA, Canada, England and Australia. He has also recorded his own poems on two compact discs, Edward Baugh Poems from It was the Singing, and Edward Baugh Reading From His Poems.

Prior to receiving the Poetry Festival award, Baugh, a Jamaica national honouree (Commander rank of the Order of Distinction – CD), has been bestowed with many honours – some of them being the UWI Vice-Chancellor Award for Excellence in Teaching and Administration (1995), Institute of Jamaica Silver Musgrave Medal (1998), the UWI Guild of Graduates’ Pelican Award (1999), and the Institute of Jamaica Gold Musgrave Medal in 2012.

He is highly regarded as the editor of Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott’s Selected Poems.

Bearing in mind all of the aforementioned achievements, and more, SenYAcum, the producers of the festival, said, “In light of his inspirational, unprecedented, and resourceful enrichment of Jamaica’s literary wealth, we are delighted to bestow the honour of the Jamaica Poetry Festival Lifetime Achievement Award 2019 to a most deserving recipient, the one and only Professor Edward ‘Eddie’ Baugh.”

In his very brief response, Baugh thanked the organisers of the event, which also commemorated Louise Bennett-Coverley’s centenary, 1919-2019. He said, “I also feel specially honoured by being put to stand beside Miss Lou and in the shadow of her greatness. She has been a mother to all Jamaican poets since her time, even to those of us who may not be aware of the relationship.” The honouree then shared some personal anecdotes about Miss Lou before reading some of his own poems.