Mel Cooke, Freelance Writer
When Professor Mervyn Morris spoke at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, on Sunday morning, he began with gratitude.
He named a few persons, including Seretse Small who had sung on 'Freedom', but gave a blanket thank you to those who were a part inspiring the poems, before reading from his latest publication, I been there, sort of: New & Selected Poems.
Earlier, guest speaker Dr. Ralph Thompson had identified the title of the book, launched in a function put on by the Department of Literatures in English and hosted by its head, Dr. Anthea Morrison, as coming from one of the 'new', 'Toasting a Muse'. "Mervyn is no ivory tower intellectual," Thompson said, noting his emphasis on the importance of nation language.
Naturally, most of the reading came from Morris who started with the selected poems. 'Data' was followed by 'Tournament', a tennis poem which used his sport of choice to address declining years. 'The Day My Father Died', his first poem to appear in a book, Independence Anthology of Jamaican Literature, was written in 1960 in England, 12 years after his father died.
A series of poems from 'On Holy Week' preceded the new poems.
"I had a manuscript that I was flogging that was not accepted. It was called 'Peeling Orange'," he said, before reading that poem, written in Jamaican nation language, laughter rising at the humorous conclusion. 'Toasting a Muse' followed, 'Eve' mused "the garden seemed a proper paradise, until she buck up a serpent talking nice". There was rhythm in 'A Chant Against Death' and he finished with 'A Word'.
It was not the end of Morris' work for the day, however, as after a plant was presented to his wife Helen, there was a dramatic presentation of some of his poems. Kei Miller delivered 'Short Story', Tanya Shirley and Karl Williams exchanged lines and looks on 'Proposition One', Carolyn Allen utilised the width of the stage on 'Operation', Williams returned toting a desk for Boarding School and Shirley ended 'Reunion' with an infectious giggle.
Michael Bucknor walked quietly across the stage and was struck by the sign 'Strip Club' which had been placed on the lectern, reading the closing 'Stripper' ("she took the last piece off that the law allowed/the poet felt his symbol growing hard") from behind the curtain.
There was laughter as Morrison removed the sign with a flourish before giving the vote of thanks.