World Poetry Day kindles creative spirit
A community of writers and culture aficionados from across Jamaica gathered at the Little Theatre in Kingston on March 21 for World Poetry Day Jamaica 60, a commemorative event organised by the National Library of Jamaica, in conjunction with the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport.
The three-hour-long programme was a display of Jamaica’s best poets in conversation, receiving awards and giving performances of musical and poetic works. Alongside these exciting presentations were speeches from the minister and state minister of culture, gender, entertainment and sport; UNESCO representative; and executives from the National Library of Jamaica. The event, finding a balance between formality and free-flow, reminded the audience that the spirit of Poetry is indeed alive and well in Jamaica.
POET LAUREATE PRIZES FOR POETRY
The National Library of Jamaica (NLJ) named seven awardees for its 2022-2023 Poet Laureate of Jamaica Prizes for Poetry competition. From an application list of approximately 300 writers, the NLJ awarded the following prizes. The Edward Baugh Prize for Poetry, representing eastern Jamaica, was awarded to Avi-Ann Miller, while Jomo Dixon and Romardo Lyons copped prizes of high commendation for the same category.
The Louise Bennett Coverley Prize for Poetry, representing central Jamaica, went to Corrine Binnings. The Michael Cooke Prize for western Jamaica was awarded to Lamar Campbell. The Poet Laureate of Jamaica Young Writer’s Prize for Poetry, which had a special environmental focus, was awarded to two candidates, Jenelle Samuels and Eby Nelson. Each received a trophy and a cheque for US$1,000.
Minister of Culture, Gender Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange and the minister of state, Alando Terrelonge, spoke along similar lines of implementing initiatives geared towards developing the infrastructure and programme engagement of the National Library of Jamaica.
Grange reminded the audience of the Government’s commitment to establish a purpose-built National Library of Jamaica. She stated, “On this occasion, I’m very happy to announce that the Government of Jamaica will undertake as a Jamaica 60 legacy project the establishment of a purpose-built facility for the National Library of Jamaica.”
The minister also highlighted the NLJ’s publication In This Breadfruit Kingdom, a 2017 anthology of poetry by Professor Emeritus Mervyn Morris, citing an expanding partnership with the Ministry of Education and Youth to include the publication in the Jamaica 60 curriculum, exposing primary- and secondary-school students to more culturally relevant material.
Terrelonge focused on increasing youth participation, saying: “We will soon launch the National Library Poetry Alumni, through which you will have a space to further, and nurture, your creative spirits. Through this programme, there will also be elected a youth Poet Laureate, who will serve a one-year tenure leading the activities of the alumni.”
Poet Laureate of Jamaica Olive Senior hosted a panel discussion, ‘Writing Jamaica’, with Professor Mervyn Morris, Professor Opal Palmer Adisa, Ann Margaret Lim and Topher Allen. Senior said “ ... all of us are poets, whether consciously or unconsciously, realising that we are part of a tradition. We are building on the poets that went before us. We start off loving them, or we might end up cussing them or questioning them, which is what poets do…”.
The conversation brought forward simple yet textured responses and poetry readings from the poets. Themes such as love for country, healing, disappointment, and complexity flowed to the audience through each speaker’s response.
Joining the panellists in reading poetry were members form the Jamaica Poetry Society, led by Tommy Ricketts. The afternoon programme included performances by the ASHE Company.
World poetry day was proclaimed as a national observance by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen in 2018. The National Library of Jamaica has since implemented yearly programmes to promote the importance of Jamaican poetry and the nation’s wider literary heritage through its Poet Laureate of Jamaica Programme.