Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
The downside of Tuesday night's tribute to poet Mikey Smith, who was murdered on August 17, 1983, was that three of the persons slated for the Poetry Society of Jamaica's monthly fellowship were unavoidably absent.
However, the three persons who honoured the man who was stoned to death in Stony Hill, St Andrew, on Marcus Garvey's birthday (as Owen 'Blakka' Ellis, underscored) were able to give perspectives from being fellow students at the then School of Drama.
So, after the open-mic session, it turned out to be more of a personal than poetic tribute, with Poetry Society president Tommy Ricketts introducing Ellis and M'Bala, and adding his tribute as well. Ricketts put Smith's time at the School of Drama in the context of the other noted poets who were emerging at the same time. Among them were Oku Onuora, Jean 'Binta' Breeze, and Mutabaruka.
Smith's best-known work is probably 'Mi Cyaan Believe It'.
Ellis, indicating the physical space, said "it begins here and ends here, thanks to all of us, it continues here". The beginning was not only Smith's, but the time period, as Ellis said "it's around this same time in 1978 that I came in for orientation". And while the second-years were generally enthused about the rite of ragging the newcomers, there was this one second year student who was adamantly opposed to this 'colonially backwards' practice. It was Smith and, Ellis said, "he dropped some claat".
"That is my first memory of Mikey Smith," Ellis said.
Then there was Ellis' role in Smith's final-year production, an improvised play on Smith's poem 'Yard'. Ellis was still able to recite the first lines: "Yaad is Mumma, pon grung yu sleep".
Then there was the end, as Ellis said, he was part of a rehearsal for a production of Black Jacobins when someone rushed in and said that Smith had been murdered. The manner of Smith's death was connected with the unflinching stance for what he believed in, which Ellis remembered from his first encounter.
Smith voiced his opposing opinions during a political gathering and, Ellis said, "dem mark him face and, couple days later, them say 'see de bway deh whe cuss off de MP'. And them stone him".
He read two poems, Objectified. about how women are referred to and hence their identity constructed, often with "violent verbs made common by repitiotion", as well as Smith's celebrated 'Mi Cyaan Believe It'.
M'Bala made an adjustment to the physical starting place, which was not where the Edna Manley College of the Performing Arts now is at 1 Arthur Wint Drive, St Andrew, but a shed in a garden on the grounds of the Little Theatre. It was an evening programme and M'Bala and Smith were part of a group of four persons who would walk to Cross Roads in the evenings, making up poems and stories as they went along.
In Cross Roads, M'Bala said, they would allow buses to come and go, then take the last bus home.
M'bala spoke about an improvisational piece where he was a dog and Smith shot him then proceeded to hold him by a leg and pull him all over the ground. "I was a dead dog. I couldn't do nutten," M'Bala said, to laughter.
There was sharing of poetry as well. One of Smith's well-known poems is 'Roots' and M'Bala said he had written a poem entitled 'Roots', which he shared with Smith. "He came a few days later and he said he wrote 'Roots Part 2'," M'Bala said, adding that he told Smith it was not a part two - hence the change of title.
Summing up Smith as "intense", M'Bala said that while people miss him for his poetry, "those of us who knew Mikey, we miss him and him little dropshot walking". It was a distinctive walk which Ellis had demonstrated earlier for, as one of Smith's legs was shorter than the other, he always walked "like him was climbing stairs".
Ricketts noted the presence of someone else at the time when the institution produced so many outstanding creative artists. "Part of the reason why so much of what took place was magical was that the head of the school was magical - Dennis Scott," he said. He closed off with a poem about the once suggested removal of Bob Marley's remains to Africa, closing with lines from the Gong's 'Satisfy My Soul'.
Yashika Graham, who hosted the evening, had the final words on Smith, "a man whose life was his art".