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Let students read more Jamaican poetry

Published:Sunday | July 16, 2017 | 12:00 AM


In The Gleaner of Thursday, July 13, 2017, Lorna Goodison is quoted as saying: "Though I had a wonderful education at St Hugh's, I was not taught any poetry by a Jamaican ... writer. Things have changed drastically since then." Have they?

In perusing Rainbow Readers - A Jamaican Reading Series, Grade Four, by Roma Sinanan and Uriel Narinesingh, I found 22 poems. Only one of these is by a Jamaican - Andrew Salkey. There are 14 by Caucasians, eight men and six women, from the USA or the UK, born before 1910; one Indian (Rabindranath Tagore, 1861-1941); one First Family American woman (born in 1896); and one African-American (Langston Hughes, 1902-1967).

About the remaining four poets, three women and one man, I can find out very little. I presume they are contemporary, Caucasian, because of the subject matter of their poems.

Furthermore, in the selected poem by Langston Hughes, 'Aunt Sue's Stories' ("Aunt Sue cuddles a brown-faced child ... and tells him stories"; "And the dark-faced child listening ...") considering the origin of the stories, which are about slavery, how would such a poem make our nine-year-olds feel?

Why are there no poems by Lorna Goodison herself, or Claude McKay, Mervyn Morris, Edward Baugh, Velma Pollard, Olive Senior, Kwame Dawes, Kei Miller, Louise Bennett, Jean Binta Breeze or any other Jamaican poet? Is it because the publishers would pay royalties to contemporary poets? Would that put up the price of the book beyond the reach of the students?

Even so, it is sad that most of the poems fourth-grade students will read were written by poets who lived so far away and long ago.