Yashika Graham delivers at poetry fellowship
Melville Cooke, Gleaner Writer
Yashika Graham is quite accustomed to being in the central space at the Drama School Amphitheatre, Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts, on the last Tuesday of the month. For the past four years, she has hosted the Poetry Society of Jamaica's monthly fellowships and, on Tuesday night, she maintained the central position, but adjusted her role, to very good results.
Graham was the night's featured poet, with Tommy Ricketts reverting briefly to the hosting duties he has done for much of the Poetry Society's 25 years, showing clearly that he had lost none of his well-known near severity.
Among the comments which Ricketts made in marshalling responses to poems read in the standard open-mic section, which precedes the guest poet, was a reminder to writers to present their best to those who have come to listen. "You don't want their listening to have more integrity than your words," Ricketts said.
He introduced Graham as "definitely someone who is a real poet, not a poser" and Graham's poetic integrity saw her referencing her rural upbringing extensively. "Good evening, Poetry Society. Different perspective now," she said, after welcoming applause had accompanied her to the microphone.
"The first is about poetry and the journey. The rest is about ol' bush, because I am from the bush," Graham said. That opening poem included both the writer's purpose ("we write because we write to remain sane") and responsibility ("we write so they may know of what to speak").
It was a good start and Graham built on it with the 'ol' bush' poems, starting with the delightful 'Directions from the Border', instructing all who would come "when you reach Pizgah, pause".
A community named in the poem, Greenwood, would reappear in the reading, Graham ending the poem with "these are directions from the border, my heart to yours".
The inter-poem narrative was generally brief, Graham saying that in Greenwood the visitor would hear about her grandfather, a man who would lend out his fork but never his machete, that personal tool which he would "walk tenderly through the pathways of seedlings".
The family connection in Greenwood continued with Graham's mother and her relationship with the soil. "My mother is a Greenwood woman, bred of the bush," Graham read, resting pages at her bare feet as the lines ended.
'Kitchen' concentrated on food and family, while the first of a few untitled poems was a sensory voyage into near drowning. Graham's engagement with experience made poetry through the senses was narrowed down to smell in 'Scents', about the changed smell of an erstwhile lover with whom there is disappointing re-engagement as "you will have grown out of familiar scent".
Graham's relationship with the earth, what it produces and those who handle and shape that product continued with 'Obeah Woman in Ben Down Market', where a vendor assures the buyer about the quality of the yam, concluding the transaction with "take a blackie mango for your change".
'Grafting' amplified the horticultural process of fusing one plant with another, the ritual of making tea and the plague of sleeplessness ("paint the town insomnia") brought up the close of a strong set of poems delivered with feeling but not pretentiousness.
Many parsons in the audience stood during the general applause and there was a call for a little extra, which Graham satisfied with 'Conscience', in which the oppressive are not spared as "we will return for the deputy/for the left hand is no less guilty than the right".
And before starting the reading, Graham had acknowledged the input of the audience. "Thanks for the four years and the inspiration," Graham said. The fellowship was part of Kingston on the Edge (KOTE) 2014.