Sun | Dec 8, 2019

Jamaican Poets School Tour 2019 a great success

Published:Friday | November 22, 2019 | 12:28 AMMichael Reckord/Gleaner Writer
Andrea Dempster Chung, the keynote speaker at the launch of the 2019 Poets Tour.
Andrea Dempster Chung, the keynote speaker at the launch of the 2019 Poets Tour.

The figures tell only a fraction of the story, but they do indicate the success of the Jamaican Poets School Tour 2019. Led by Florida-based, internationally acclaimed Jamaican poet Malachi Smith, over a period of 10 days, 29 poets had readings and workshops in some 20 venues, mainly schools, in nine parishes.

At the closing session at Bookophilia bookstore last Friday night, Smith told the audience that the response from participants was “fantastic”. Among other things, he said, the session at Campion College led to the start of a writing club. Looking forward, he said that there definitely would be a tour next November and that he hoped that by then a collection of the poems read and written would have been published, perhaps as an album. He was also looking forward to the establishment of a foundation to fund poetry readings here and abroad.

“Poets are the conscience of the society,” he said, “and as we seem to be losing our moral compass, poets have a crucial role to play in guiding the people.” He added that the poetry he plays on his two-hour-long show on an FM radio station in Florida every Wednesday gets a positive response.

Another poet said that some of the material produced by last year’s tour was on YouTube and that “the impact of the tour is greater than just the public appearances”.

tour launch

The tour was launched on November 5 at the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA), with the main presentation being a speech by Andrea Dempster Chung, co-founder of Kingston Creatives and founder of Bookophilia and Go Global Art, an online art gallery. There were also readings by some of the poets who went on the tour.

In her speech, Dempster Chung stated that Kingston Creatives, a two-year-old non-governmental organisation, regarded Kingston as the creative capital of the Caribbean and Jamaica as a cultural superpower. Its intention was to help the city to continue to grow and develop through culture.

“Jamaicans are way too talented to be poor,” she continued, “and the brand of Kingston should not be crime and violence.”

Revealing that two major projects that Kingston Creatives is working on are developing an art district and a creative hub in downtown Kingston, she explained that the former would be a space with murals, sculpture, art walks, marketplace, festivals, performances, and tours of cultural spaces.

The creative hub, she said, was for the development of creative entrepreneurs so they will be able to take their art global. Through the hub, there would be workshops and training for creatives, affordable art studios, incubators, and retail spaces for creative products.

13 new murals

“We’ve launched several projects in the short time,” Dempster Chung said. There are 13 new murals in downtown Kingston, including those in Water Lane. The largest is on the old Gleaner building on Harbour Street, and [there are] murals in communities like Wray Town.

“We’re using augmented reality to animate these murals to have a self-guided walking tour of downtown – combining technology and artistry,” she said.

Dempster Chung described the creative economy as being literature, the visual arts, painting, theatre, fashion, TV and radio, and film, as well as also new media, which includes gaming, animation, and podcasting. It includes traditional arts and crafts, as well as services like cultural tours and museums and festivals.

Answering her own rhetorical question, “Why is the creative sector so important?”, she said that many people think that the serious issues in Jamaica are being looked at in corporate boardrooms and that creative industries are trivial, just for entertainment.

Actually, she said, the creative economy is a fast-growing sector worth between US$2.25 trillion and US$3 trillion and employs 30 million people globally. In the United States, it contributes US$760 billion to the economy and employs more than 400 million people. The United Kingdom earns £11 million per hour from the creative industry – some £101 billion per year – with the employment of almost two million people.

“Now,” she continued, “Jamaica is arguably the most creative country in the world, and our culture’s popularity is undeniable. We’re best known for music, but we do many other creative things. Our writers and our poets are world-renowned.” She mentioned Kei Miller, Marlon James, and Olive Senior as outstanding examples.

She reminded the audience that Kingston was named a Creative City of Music by UNESCO. “We have an abundance of creative talent, but are we leveraging it, or are we still forcing young people along the traditional paths of doctor, lawyer, and engineer?”

Creativity and culture is a vast renewable resource that can bring great benefit to Jamaica and solve some of our most pressing social issues, especially in downtown Kingston, she said, concluding with the statement, “Creativity is way more than entertainment. Change and revolution is possible, and you, the artists, the poets, the wordsmiths, are the ones that will make it happen.”

A couple of days later, while the tour of schools was going on, in partnership with the Department of Literatures in English at The University of the West Indies, Mona; JamCopy; and the Poetry Society of Jamaica, the tour organisers hosted a free poetry workshop at the university. The main facilitator was the university’s Professor Opal Palmer Adisa, a distinguished Caribbean writer and scholar.