The magic to Malachi’s pen …
It was a flair ...flashing … at age nine – the literary skills that began to shine for Malachi Smith, at White Marl All-Age School, when the notice was sent out that poems were needed to be published in the school’s magazine, The Beacon.
Even now at 67, when telling that story, the young boy in the man still beams, because it marked the interesting if not intriguing start to the incredible journey of this acclaimed dub poet, playwright, songwriter (1987 Festival third-place entry, Get up and dance by Tommy Ricketts), deejay, actor, director, producer and founder of The Jamaica Poets Nomadic College and School Tour – with this year’s fifth tour being sponsored by Maggi and the Betting Gaming & Lotteries Commission and staged at schools island-wide from Thursday, October 26 – Friday, November 10.
Nine-year-old Malachi Smith submitted three poems – Pirate of Saunder, My Little Jamaica – and with a wry smile said he didn’t remember the third, though he’s sure that all three were published. Bright child that he was he ‘skipped’ the next grade and will not forget Ms. Cambridge, the teacher who all the boys loved, who kept telling him that ‘there was something special about his compositions’… that simply kept him smiling.
She would keep repeating, “Malachi, there’s magic to your pen.”
They were all given chores at school – his was gardening, which while doing, he would keep singing (tone deaf to this day) and reciting poems he wrote. Garden Day (for which he was always applauded by his classmates and teacher Mr. Findlay) was his favourite, especially the lines, Garden day is my favourite day…I get my shovel and I’m on my way.
On his way he was.
From White Marl All-Age School (and writing plays on being inspired by a book of poems by the noted Claude McKay, a book given to him by Findlay) to Kingston Technical High School on select days on a special release programme, he excelled in the Jamaica School Certificate exams, but was unable to pursue further studies given family constraints. He was to follow his cousin to join the police force, but was also recruited, sworn in as the youngest officer, and the very top graduate. He was thereafter stationed in Lilliput, St James, writing plays and choreographing dance for the Lilliput Police Youth Club while continuing to write poetry and performing at various concerts.
Now aged 21, he knew he had to enhance his talent and off he went in 1977 to the Edna Manley School of Drama, meeting Tomlin Ellis and Chris Bailey and agreeing to be a founding member of the group Poets in Unity.
They were a hit, with poetry from skit to full theatre production with other members, such as Hope Blake, Oliver Smith, Buxton Shippy, Anita Stewart, Glenville Bryan, Tommy Ricketts, Delores Robinson and Clyde Walcott. They were to showcase at the heralded Sting and other major shows, recorded their works and also teamed with musicians Roy Rayon, Peter Sutton, Calvin Mitchell and Clive ‘Uzo’ Anderson.
Malachi – was on a high – and was even told by the pacesetter Oku Onuora that his poetry, beyond commentary, was dub with all the fire.
Migrating in 1987 he simply set the United States ablaze – still working and performing with Poets in Unity for productions for the BBC and other major networks as before while writing two collections of poems: Black Boy Blue and The Gathering – with six other collections and eight albums on the production line. A major work, yet to be published and titled I was there too – Blood fi Blood, Fire fi Fire recalls his life in Central Village as a young police officer during the turbulent period between 1976 and 1980.
You can feel his passions leaping as he talks about the School Tour. He would dream nightly, 2016 through 2017, about going to the schools in Jamaica and sharing his poetry with students. It was a solo run in 2017, visiting White Marl Junior High, Kingston Technical High, Campion College, The Mico University College, and Edna Manley College. In 2018 he teamed up with other poets, such as Cherry Natural, Tomlin Ellis, Judith Faloon, Dr Susan Davis, Fabian Thomas, Wise Wurdz, Richie Innocence, Antonia Valaire, Professor Opal Palmer-Adisa and Ann Margaret Lim. After 2019 there was a break for the next two years due to the Covid pandemic with the Tour returning in last year and having its fifth year this year under the distinguished patronage of Jamaica’s Poet Laureate Olive Senior.
This year’s stellar line-up will also highlight this year’s Commonwealth Short Story prize winner Kwame M A McPherson, Professor Opal Palmer-Adisa, who, along with Fabian Thomas, will conduct the free poetry workshop at UWI Mona and Shenoya Brown, past student of Campion College with the presentation also open to students and teachers, as well. Importantly, this year’s tour also marks a major milestone with the publishing of an anthology by the participating poets. Named the Jamaica Poets Nomadic Tour Anthology, it was designed by Judith Falloon-Reid and edited by Professor Opal Palmer-Adisa. Copies will be provided to participating schools.
Where is he going with all this?
“The vision of this mission,” he sais, “is to use the tour as a means of creating and triggering a new sense of purpose in students by the use of poetry as an instrument of change.”
His teacher, Ms. Cambridge, would be quite proud. There is indeed magic to Malachi’s pen.