Love Affair With Lit 4 starts Kgn Book Week
Equal weightings of poetry and prose, as well as gender, started off Kingston Book Festival 2015 yesterday, a substantial audience turning out at the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona, for Love Affair With Literature 4.
The poets, Professor Mervyn Morris (who is Jamaica's Poet Laureate) and Tanya Shirley have strong connections to the Department of Literatures in English, which hosts Love Affair with Literature annually. They were at either end of the high-quality affair, with Roland Watson-Grant and Trinidadian Sharon Millar in between.
Watson-Grant read from his novel, Skid, before the harrowing, yet beautiful, short story, Cursing Mrs Murphy. It was the tale of a boy whose mother deliberately veered a pick-up off Flat Bridge, plunging into the river with her children - who, miraculously, survived.
That happened in 1983, when the narrator was 10 years old. And 30 years later, when the tale gets to the present, the general cursing of Mrs Murphy lasted. Then there was the silence they would have liked ("Nobody thinks it is a good idea to just sit beside you with a box of tissue and shut the f.... up") and the lack of words from their father (who just advised them to stand tall) which hurt.
There was funny in the funereal, as the murderous Mom was generally cursed as "the wickedest woman in Jamaica" - that is, until the West Indies cricket team lost to India and "John Public found 11 people to hate instead of my mother".
A particularly acute moment of crisis came when he went on his first job interview at 17 years old and the interviewer, seeing the last name, started speaking about the dead woman and young Murphy heard his "... mother's name being mangled in someone else's mouth".
There was also death in Millar's Spelunking, a heartbreaker of a story in which a character named Naomi went from the point of her encounter with the deeply spiritual in Miami back to her time as a 23-year-old doing a doctorate, going into a cave in rural Trinidad.
A white Trinidadian, Naomi was a stranger among her own people until she gets pregnant. Then, "the women of the village mother me like one of their own". What they do not know is that the father is 17-year-old Daniel, her guide to the cave for research, and Naomi "... knew the day I got pregnant I had been thinking of blind catfish."
Millar drew the strands of the story together, the daughter Naomi had given away to a young girl who had been at the same clinic she attended - who lost a baby fathered by Daniel, had by then gone missing.
Tanya Shirley closed off the Love Affair with aplomb, reading from her first collection, She Who Sleeps With Bones ("Inheritance was about a mother dreaming about her children's destiny") before moving to the recently released The Merchant of Feathers.
Giving brief context to the poems, Shirley read 'Spell Number One', 'On The Other Side of Madness' and the hilarious look at competition between women in 'Matey Shall Not Conquer'.
She closed with 'Don't Let The Fluffy Fool You', a poem about women's weight with a superbly supple touch - sparked by a picture of herself in a limber pose. When it concluded "we fluffy women do not drown in the world's disdain of fat", there was applause all around.