Verandah reading from Breeze’s collection
The connection between the title and consistent theme of Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze’s collection and the place where some of the poems were presented on Saturday morning was inescapable. Published by Bloodaxe Books, Breeze’s latest book is named The Verandah Poems and the gathering was on the verandah of the Pouyatt’s home in Cherry Garden, St Andrew.
However, the verandah that Breeze gets her views from – physically and mentally – is far from the one where the poems were delivered by herself and a trio of readers. Still, many family members came into Kingston from western Jamaica for the occasion, making it a family affair. This was in addition to the sense of family among those at the most recent renewal of a regular Saturday morning gathering, where the literary fare follows breakfast.
Poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and Jamaica’s poet laureate Professor Mervyn Morris gave some background on Breeze’s work before the excerpts were read. Johnson met her more than 30 years ago in Jamaica. Mutabaruka, poet and broadcaster, was at Tuff Gong doing an album and, when Johnson went there: “She approached me, ‘I am Binta Breeze, let’s do breakfast’.”
That turned into a long-term collaboration as, in 1985, Breeze was invited to perform in England at the fourth International Book Fair of Radical Black and Third World Books. Included in her reading was the celebrated poem Riddim Ravings and, Johnson said, “it took England by storm.” Later Johnson and band leader Dennis Bovell worked on Breeze’s album Tracks.
“Since she made her debut in England in 1985, she has not looked back,” Johnson said.
Morris traced his awareness of Breeze back to the 1980s at the School of Drama, where “she could perform in the whole range of Jamaican speech, including very standard”. He then had the opportunity to enjoy her first book, Riddim Ravings (1987). He described this latest collection as “very accessible” and “very attractive”.
Breeze was the last to read from The Verandah Poems, Denise Cole, Pablo Hoilett, and Fae Ellington (who doubled as the morning’s host) preceding her with one poem each. Cole read ‘New men’, Breeze’s observation of changing masculinity (“but now/young men carry babies/precious dear things/trembling on their chests”). Hoilett read ‘Football’ on the verandah, in which Breeze interprets the behaviour of men at a bar across the road watching a game involving Brazil at the 2014 World Cup. And Ellington read ‘Priming’, the poem about a woman who resists the consistent charming of a man intent on a sexual relationship.
Before her reading, Breeze said that when she was invited to the Pouyatt’s home previously to read Riddim Ravings, she had just finished formulating the idea of The Verandah Poems. She started with ‘Breakfast Surprise’, coming out of an experience where, during dining on the verandah, she was asked about plans for her body if she died in England. While her response satisfies the person, who continues eating, Breeze says, “I have to wait/for my appetite to return.”
The casting of the roof redirects a family tiff over new construction on the land to Breeze’s appreciation of the well-built young men who come for the roof job. When they leave, Breeze rises “to an empty yard/no not empty/just manless/and full of concrete.”
No ghost preceded her final poem of the morning, ‘Departure of a daughter’, where the sense of loss at a child leaving home is finally juxtapositioned with the mother’s sense of stability on a verandah where “the sky/and the changing patterns of the waves/is all the difference I need”.
Conroy Cooper played the keyboard before and after the readings. Vilma Morales Daley read ‘Discipline 101’ from her collection Reflections From Harmony Hall, Phillip Jackson did ‘The Fugitive’ from Ras Kildare, Shanique put expression and energy into a dub poem by S. Robinson, and Jennifer Garnots did ‘Intruding Upon Your Isolation and Brutality’.
Then Dr L’Antoinette Stines of L’Acadco explained the concept of her company’s upcoming dance season, for which she has incorporated dancers from other companies. The realisation of a long-standing objective to have a show with dancers from several companies is called ‘L’Antoniette’s Dream’ and one section, ‘Quilted Memories’, has poems by Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze.