Readings, reunions at 'Riddim and Riddles' launch
From an opening group reading by Owen 'Blakka' Ellis' former students to his closing delivery of the popular Gateman (which he promised would be the poem's final outing), Tuesday's launch of Ellis' Riddim and Riddles was chockful of emotions. Among them was brotherly love, as Blakka's brother, Ian 'Ity' Ellis, hosted the launch and their older brother Aston was introduced to the audience.
The major emotion flowing from the podium at Redbones Blues CafÈ, New Kingston, was one of joy, as Ellis expressed delight in his first full poetry collection, put out by Blouse and Skirt Books. He recalled coming from Trench Town Primary and sitting with his aunt (who sold first at a street corner) and her friends, reading The STAR aloud to them. Now a columnist in the popular tabloid, Ellis said, "to me it is a big thing, from reading The STAR to writing for The STAR."
Naturally, the joy in writing extends to Riddim and Riddles. Ellis' previous poetry publication was the chapbook Gateman, done through the Calabash International Literary Festival Trust. "For me, it is an amazing thing to move from reading words to writing words and sit down and hear some absolutely wonderful people read it," Ellis said.
Those readers, who put obvious joy into their delivery, covered a wide span of Ellis' life - and the full house expressed their delight in the occasion by greeting Ellis with a standing ovation when he came to the stage. Donald 'Iceman' Anderson was the first guest reader, huffing and puffing in macho manner, appropriate to the context in which Ellis put "man". Fae Ellington was eloquent in "not crying tears", Oku Onuora dedicated his reading on Ellis' poem to and about marginalised youth, which turns on the saying that, when plantain waan dead it shoot, to a young man who was killed two weekends ago in Delacree Lane.
Leonie Forbes was all class and, while there was laughter at points in Tony 'Paleface' Hendriks' delivery of, At Aunty's Funeral, there was pain from the podium as well, from a poem which described the emotions at the send-off of a relative who cared for the young Ellises, abusing as much as she supported.
Ellis said that he had long decided he would not read at his book launch, as he is a much better writer than reader of his work. Sill, he was pressed to do Gateman (which is not in Riddim and Riddles) and acceded, to very good results.
LEAVING A LEGACY
Revelling in the outpouring of support at the event, Ellis said "one thing mi know from this evening, when mi dead, mi funeral sell off!" He noted that there were many other persons who could have read, and gave respects to Honor Ford-Smith, who taught him at Excelsior High; Edna Manley College and York University in Canada.
Dr Sonjah Stanley Niaah, gave academic context to Riddim and Riddles, in the process identifying some of the numerous topics Ellis addresses, such as the vagina and the holy herb. They are in a collection shaped by the body, history, Jamaica, the self in consideration of the self, among other influences in what Stanley Niaah described as "an intimate collection".
She made a connection between collection and Africa through Anancy and, noting the book's size, encouraged "there is clearly room for more in the next collection. In the meantime, buy dis ya one ya."
There was applause as Tanya Batson-Savage, of Blouse and Skirt Books, in giving thanks all around, said that it is the imprint's fifth publication.
And a major reunion was between Ellis and Winston 'Bello' Bell, a comedic duo formed at Ford-Smith's suggestion, which will celebrate 30 years this year.