A report by Syranno Baines for Jamaica’s Gleaner.
“I try as best as I can to be a true representation of the life of my people, the ordinary Jamaican,” said a spirited Lorna Goodison, CD, Poet Laureate of Jamaica for 2017-2020.
In a ceremony held at King’s House on Wednesday, Goodison, 69, was invested by Governor General Sir Patrick Allen as the second officially recognised Poet Laureate of Jamaica, the fourth since 1953 and the very first female holder.
A national honour, the title is bestowed on a distinguished Jamaican poet for his/her significant contribution to the literary community.
A Poet Laureate is expected to stimulate a greater appreciation for Jamaican poetry, write poems for national occasions, and preserve and disseminate the island’s cultural heritage through prose.
“I am inspired by our (Jamaican) dialect, our resilience, and just the way we value our humanity regardless of the negatives that are happening all around. Poets are supposed to give voice to the voiceless and a lot of my works reflect this,” the St Hugh’s High alumna told The Gleaner.
“I’ve been doing this my whole life. As a teenager, I was writing poems and submitting them to The Gleaner, and a few were published under my initials as I didn’t want to call too much attention to myself. I also spent my teenage years going to theatres and just being involved in Jamaican artistic life.”
Born and raised in Kingston, Goodison’s first of 12 poetry books was published in 1980.
She studied painting at the Jamaica School of Art before moving on to the Art Students League of New York in the United States.
She has decades of teaching experience in the creative arts, having taught at Jamaica College and St Andrew High School for Girls and later, the University of Michigan.
Internationally, her works are recognised and have been reproduced in several First World nations, including England, Germany, France, Canada, and the United States.
I owe a lot to Derek Walcott, says Goodison
Poet laureate of Jamaica for 2017-2020, Lorna Goodison, told The Gleaner: “A lot of what I learned about creative writing is owed to Derek Walcott, so I learned from the best. Poetry has enabled me to travel to many places in the world to give readings, so it has been very kind to me.”
One of Goodison’s fondest moments in poetry came in 1991 when she got the opportunity to read a poem dedicated to Winnie Mandela at a women’s function during the then South African first lady’s visit to Jamaica.
“I was very conscious in using my voice to lend my support to the anti-apartheid movement. It was a very emotional occasion and she cried,” said Goodison.
The mother of one son and sister to eight siblings, including veteran journalist Barbara Gloudon, Goodison exudes humility, sharing that she did not openly celebrate the news that she had been named poet laureate.
“I just gave thanks. I was elated and I felt a sense of great pride. I love poetry, and I believe it can calm your soul and appeal to the best in human nature, so my aim is to just write better poetry as I go along,” she said.