Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
The occupancy level in the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre (NI), University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona Campus, mid-morning yesterday was high - and so was the quality of the material being delivered, discussed and, to some extent, dissected.
It was not, however, a lecture, but the launch of Dr Velma Pollard's poetry collection And Caret Bay Again: New and Selected Poems. Still, the academic pedigree involved in the event underscored its academic as well as aesthetic value.
Dr Michael Bucknor, head of the Department of Literatures in English, was host, with Dr Anthea Morrison doing a brief analysis of And Caret Bay Again and officially launching the book. Before Pollard read, Professors Edward Baugh and Mervyn Morris read selections from the book.
Bucknor's experience as an undergraduate in the late 1980s, when he was mermerised by Pollard's reading, was an indication of her impact and longevity. And, after music from Norman McCallum and Rosina Moder, in her launch address Morrison also pointed to that literary history, as the collection spans work over 25 years. However, Morrison said while the title would seem to indicate the "return to a familiar landscape", it is a journey that includes "fresh discovery", even as the reader goes over familiar pathways.
The book covers "a plurality of concerns, both personal and political", Morrison pointing to Pollard's 'linguistic resoluteness', 'independence of spirit' and what could be described as a wicked wit.
Starting her brief analysis of And Caret Bay Again with Roads, Morrison said she was reminded that Pollard never allows the reader to go to sleep. And, with her inclusion of the popular 'Jamaica to the world' in Roads, Morrison said Pollard is "always sensitive to contemporary idiom".
Pollard is also not restricted to Jamaica, the poems covering Montserrat, the Virgin Islands and Cuba. War Child and While TV Towers Burn are about 9/11 and the subsequent invasion of Iraq. Fellow writers Baugh, Morris and Goodison are referenced as well. The airplane observations of an experienced traveller come out in Not in the Loo, a humourous look at a woman refreshing her make-up in preparation for landing.
Morrison noted Pollard's deep sense of gratitude and concession to mortality, though not going into the melancholy, as well as her "ability to marry the deeply personal and the political". So, throughout And Caret Bay Again, there is "a resolute wish to embrace life and love", Morrison said.
The readings brought that home, and Baugh, Morris and Pollard (in that order), being able to read several poems each spoke to the volume. Baugh, using typed and printed pages as he does not like to read from books, read Sunday Thoughts - Frenchman's Cove, the complete Roads and Stokley (which included travel, as it started at Grantley Adams Airport, a flight heading to Cuba). Morris chose Caret Bay Again, Messiah and Cut Language (about a grandson and the interplay of standard English and Jamaican language, where Pollard observes "didn't I tell them everytime bilingual is the lick?").
A Kind of Dying I is about the death of her father ("My father, as his muscles fell away ... ") and Morris ended with Benedictus.
Pollard put some context in her reading, which started with Country Music, a poem of pain about the attraction to country music of those who were victims of violence of the era that music evokes - and who were told that mento was unsuitable. Ego (or I wish the woman would keep quiet) was for a voluble woman at a lecture, while Montserrat invoked the quiet of Old Town after the volcano explosion, when "the ash is piled in heaps/where flowers and weeds fight for supremacy".
The final poem Pollard read, before she said thanks, was for someone who had 'slipped away' last Wednesday morning.
In giving thanks, Pollard said the English Department has adopted her and treated her exactly as if she were born to them and also thanked her family for turning out.
"I have enjoyed the morning more than I can say and I thank anybody who has done anything to make it possible," Pollard said.
Next Sunday, starting at 11 a.m., the Department of Literatures in English will host the launch of Dr Ralph Thompson's Taking Words for a Walk at the Philip Sherlock Centre for the Creative Arts, UWI, Mona.