Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
The Poetry Society of Jamaica recently presented three poets, representing a younger generation of the persons who have presented their work at 1 Arthur Wint Drive, St Andrew, over the past 24 years. They were Abbebe Payne, Racquel Jones and Samuel Gordon, reading in that order as 'Three the Hard Way'.
The featured visual artist was André Morgan, whose work was mounted in the performance space and formed a backdrop for the evening's featured guests.
Payne has a fluent, sometimes rapid-fire style of delivery, which he established from his greeting.
Especially strong on word play, he tends to make dramatic leaps in meaning, words, parts of words and phrases used as springboards to create unexpected connections. So when in his first piece Payne used a snatch from a popular song in the lines "is corn Sammy plant/is corn Sammy reap", chances are he was not referring solely to food.
Then there was the dismissive "ol' news anchor, get drop like you ratings".
He explained some of his personal background, saying "I am part of a privileged generation. I grew up Rastafari." Noting that his father had to run down to a gully to smoke his sacrament, Payne addressed the no-smoking law - but not in the expected defiant way.
"Is long time I say use the steam ... . We going put down the smoking and start steam," he said. It was the introduction to 'Puff Puff Blow', which included the line "dem cyaa tell di time like Cross Roads clock".
There was a caustic look at the structured world of work "9-5, 6-10, you come off the slave an' you back again". "Struggle remain in capitalist chains/slavery no done," Payne said to an enthusiastic response.
Emphasising food security, Payne referenced 'Tenement Yard' and was encouraged through a couple lapses in the flow by members of the audience - and a 'Selassie' from himself. He closed with a poem about his personal experience of Rastafari as an "original fire", with Rastafari so strong that "all outa concrete man a bus".
Change of pace
Jones fit her introduction. She was outspoken, presenting her work with changes of pace which helped to keep the audience engaged.
"Is the new generation," Jones said, before a piece that spoke to friendship and enemies - and declared that "the only box I fit is your TV screen."
There was a graphic life experience in 'Ghetto Soundtrack', a place where someone "sign him name with bloodstain". "I come from a time of coppershot and blue steel," Jones said, marking the divide between uptown and downtown by the existence of plenty in Cherry Gardens while "a white squall deh pon mi mout'".
'Depth' was a cynical look at being judged ("You are so deep/yet you judge me by my surface").
Gordon was the only featured guest who read from paper - and he had a lot to say, very well put. He read a poem for Sonika, who was shot by the police, Gordon describing the place the shooting took place as "the lonely corridor of road where he entered heaven". He followed with a love poem and feelings of loss of another kind, telling a lady "every night we spend apart, I remember missing you before you were gone".
One poem, about self-definition ("I am Judas/I am Jesus"), meandered through states of mind and actions ("I am using water to cry") and the poet's angst ("I am taking pain for a stroll").
His tone, though at times verging on histrionics, reflected his mood on the night. Gordon said that while he writes "everything", he wanted to read some serious pieces on the occasion. He spoke to media's general focus on the negative ("we want to hear the head count of the good-hearted"), took a crack at an interesting woman ("if only I could see you instead of your make-up") and ended with one of his older poems, again on the theme of male-female relationships.
However, more was required and Gordon acceded with another piece to close off the night.