Olive Senior in Bermuda

In anticipation of Jamaican writer Olive Senior’s visit to Bermuda next week, the Royal Gazette has published the following profile of the writer.

Celebrated Jamaican writer and poet Olive Senior will be in Bermuda next week to give workshops and a reading at the Bermuda College. Given that one of her collections of poetry is called ‘Gardening in the Tropics’ her work is sometimes misfiled in the gardening section.

And it’s true that some of her work contains tongue-in-cheek gardening advice:

Everyone likes pawpaw,

But some don’t like it planted

too near the house.

But she is very much a poet. Some of her other collections include: ‘Shell’, and ‘Over the Roofs of the World’. She was born in Jamaica, but currently lives and works in Canada.

Her work has a resolute Caribbean viewpoint.

I want to feel

though you own

the silver tea service

the communion plate

you don’t own

the tropics anymore.

From: ‘Meditation on Yellow’.

“I am bringing my own culture into the mix,” said Mrs. Senior. “I grew up in Jamaica. It was a colonial space at the time. My writing is a fusion of English and Jamaican culture. That is reflected in the language I use. We use Creole in Jamaica, and I think my poetry is infused by Creole rhythms. Because I am writing about a wide range of people, I allow my characters to speak in the language they would use from Creole to standard English. I am setting to portray the society I come from the inside out.”

She was always a great reader, and learned to write through reading mostly English literature.

She first studied journalism, and took a job at the Jamaica Gleaner because she thought that was the only way to make a living as a writer. “I didn’t stay in journalism as such,” she said. “As a young person, when I said I wanted to be a writer, nobody took me seriously. I wanted to study art as well and that wasn’t taken seriously.”

But she persevered. “I followed my deepest desire which was to write,” she said. Today her poetry is often taught in schools. She works as a freelance writer in Canada and teaches writing workshops around the world. This will be her second trip to Bermuda.

Her advice to other young people interested in writing was: “Learn your craft. That is the most important thing,” she said. “A lot of people have the desire but aren’t willing to see writing as any other craft. You have to learn the elementary rules, and practice, practice, practice. People see the glamorous side but it is hard work. The people who succeed are the people who put effort into it.”

She advised young writers to learn as much as they can, and also to read as much as they can. “I learned to write from reading,” she said. “I was there when literature was so important. St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott, [who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992] has talked about this,” said Mrs. Senior. “He learned to be a poet by imitating great poets that he admired.”

She said that because there is often a lack of financial support from the community for people who want to study art and writing, students have to be really dedicated. “We need a different approach to the arts, generally,” she said. “You have to be really devoted to dedicate your life to any art form. If students tell me they want to be a writer, I say learn something else as well. Very few writers anywhere in the world live off writing. Most writers who are quite successful have another job. They teach or are librarians or do something else.”

She moved to Canada after attending university there. She has now lived in Canada for 20 years, but still visits Jamaica often. “It is my psychic and creative home,” she said. “I think that the geographic distance has helped, definitely. It has given me a different perspective. I am not sure how it has affected my writing. That is for readers to say.”

She said in Jamaica, the founding of the University of the West Indies really propelled Jamaican writing forward. “The university produced critics and academics who were interested in writing about the development of Caribbean literature,” she said. “All of these things contributed to the level of writing. I think it has a longer history of Jamaicans writing about their society in the post colonial setting.”

She said writing doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The community has to believe that literature is important in order for literature to flourish. “I don’t know enough about the situation in Bermuda to really comment on writing here,” said Mrs. Senior. “I find it interesting how Bermudians define yourselves. You are not necessarily Caribbean. You are between American and British culture. That is an interesting space for writers. You have a fascinating history. It is for the writers to help to define what you are. In Jamaica, writers were part of the whole postcolonial movement and defining the nation. This is probably where you are now.”

Mrs. Senior will be doing a reading and book signing in the Bermuda College between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on March 18. The event will be sponsored, in part, by the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs.

For the original article go to http://www.royalgazette.com/rg/Article/article.jsp?articleId=7da353730030006&sectionId=80

2 thoughts on “Olive Senior in Bermuda

  1. Dear Lisa

    I am working for Nelson Thornes on a textbook called CSEC English A and we wish to include an image of Olive Senior in one of our exercises.

    Can you help please.

    I look forward to hearing from you.

    Best wishes

    Frances Topp
    0 44 20 8876 8315


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