For the Reckord | Readings enliven 'In This Breadfruit Kingdom' - Anthology edited by Professor Mervyn Morris
At The Terra Nova All Suite Hotel last week Thursday, an award-winning actor made Owen 'Blakka' Ellis' sensuous poem about eating fish, Come Eat, every bit as sexy as The Mighty Sparrow's well-known calypso Saltfish. And he did it without the benefit of music, other than that of his flexible voice.
Instead, Alwyn Scott used facial expressions, emphasis on key words and dramatic pauses to titillate the audience attending the launch of the Mervyn Morris-edited anthology of Jamaican poems, In This Breadfruit Kingdom. Ellis, who was standing at the back of the room, grinned from ear to ear.
Come Eat is one of 63 poems in the book, published jointly by Blouse & Skirt Books and the National Library of Jamaica. Morris, a University of the West Indies Professor Emeritus (UWI) and Poet Laureate of Jamaica from 2014 until recently, states in his preface that the poems were chosen "to reflect the wide range of language and attitude" available in Jamaica.
Morris is the author of the essay On Reading Louise Bennett, Seriously, first published in The Daily Gleaner in June 1964, and which posits that reading a Bennett poem on the printed page could unearth treasures that might have been missed by someone listening to it being recited.
That the function's organisers asked five people to read from the anthology suggested they believed the reading would also give its own pleasures. They were right. The other readers, Tanya Shirley, Mark McMorris, Paula-Ann Porter-Jones and Edward Baugh, all got appreciative applause.
The main speaker, Dr Michael Bucknor, head of the UWI's Department of Literatures in English, who also read liberally from the anthology, said that in the book he was able to meet new poets and poems and to rediscover and see afresh poems he thought he knew well.
In her closing remarks, Winsome Hudson, National Librarian and CEO, National Library of Jamaica (NLJ), said that through the Poet Laureate programme the NLJ made "a tangible contribution to advancing knowledge about Jamaica's literary heritage and ... like the breadfruit, which comes in many varieties, yellow heart, whiteheart, kongo, [the] anthology has something for every taste".