Mel Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Last Sunday afternoon, Professor Edward Baugh's reading from his new publication, Back Sand: New and Selected Poems, was preceded by an extensive analysis of what Dr Michael Bucknor described as "Baugh's poetics of the unnoticed". When he read from the collection at N1, Neville Hall Lecture Theatre, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona campus, on Sunday afternoon, Baugh was sparing in prefacing the poems, but what he said before beginning the reading was telling.
"I never thought I would live long enough to be so honoured. I did not see the programme until this morning and was surprised to see that a display was going to greet me. I hope I do not let the concert down," Baugh said.
Of course, he did not, even though with a writer of Baugh's calibre, who is also a master of the art of delivery, it is easy to take excellence as passť. He started with a reflection on his writing, which was as much autobiographical as self-deprecatory, a comment on balancing quantity and quality in 'Nearly'. Written after another writer asked for an opinion on his collection of 100 poems, Baugh reflected that after two slim volumes and 50 years, "I have nearly reached my hundred".
It was the beginning of a reading in which, time and again, the poetry showed what Bucknor had termed "Baugh's attention to the extraordinariness of the seemingly ordinary moment". This, Bucknor said to laughter from the near full house, extended to "people who may not necessarily be photographed for page two". And, Bucknor pointed out, there is more than one poet persona in Black Sand, including Baugh's "cheeky" side. Included in that is Baugh taking in editors, reviewers and interviewers.
So there was a poem 'To the Editor Who Asked Me To Send Him Some Of My Black Poems', Baugh saying in his poetic response "my poems are so black they are invisible to even me". Then there was a poem about Amadou Diallo's mother, who put the personal perspective on the 1999 police killing which is infamous for its racial overtones. For his mother, though, as Baugh writes, "he was my son/he was just a boy going home".
The pain in 'Monumental Man', about George Washington having his dentures made from wood and the teeth of dead slaves, yet willing that his slaves be freed upon his death, was quietly searing.
"There is a range and breadth in this collection," Bucknor said in launching Black Sand. And there was in the reading as well. Baugh taking a humorous look at his attempts to beat back guinea hen weed from his garden; taking on the capacity to pay attention in 'The Listening Dead'; addressing the need to dress up mortality in 'Obituary Page', and the import of life-changing decisions in 'Choices'.
There were other voices delivering Baugh's poetry at N1 last Sunday, as part of the concert which Baugh anchored. Dr Jean Small led a spontaneous choir in How Great Thou Art to begin her dramatised presentation of the celebrated 'It Was The Singing', while Paula-Anne Porter Jones wrapped her warm tones and excellent elocution around 'Running River Water' and 'There's a Brown Girl in the Ring'.
There was music too, Rosina Moder, Jeremy Ashbourne and Peter Ashbourne including a merry Christmas medley. Professor Carolyn Cooper hosted and Dr Anthea Morrison gave thanks all around at the launch of Black Sand: New and Selected Poems, while Tanya Shirley introduced Dr Bucknor.