Jamaica, May 21 onwards
We had gathered from all over the Americas to Jamaica for the inaugural Drawing Room Project’s writers residency organized by poets Millicent Graham and Joni Jackson. The adventure began when we turned in to Country Thyme, a magical compound owned by Nanny Pong, unloaded our things, pulled out Jamaica Tourist Board sponsored pens and began to write. I sat outside at a table surrounded by eight other writers, lead to mission by Christine Craig, Caribbean poet and prose composer. I chose to sit where the view in front of me was longest, making sure if ever I found my body was too still, my eyes could stretch and unwind. A perfectly placed tree canopy, almost looking like nature had made this mural just for us, surrounded our little white-tented dome.
Broad leaf banana trees and pieces of mossy concrete was the encasing croton fences’ only interruption. When it rained, because it did a lot of that, the colors in the croton misbehaved and danced like masqueraders in Carnival.Then there were these displaced looking coniferous trees, fragmented like pieces of Canada’s own diaspora, taunting us with their gangly shadows. It was crested in this oasis where we dueled with pens. This was the first time maybe ever in my life, that I sat we a group of established writers and was considered an equal. Talk about impostor’s syndrome. We spent the next 72 hours writing.
I learned very quickly that most of the poetry I was regularly exposed to in Toronto had a distinct style and here I would learn to write and be critiqued in a Caribbean aesthetic. For example, I was surprised to read poems that had been celebrated in Toronto and have my comrades here tell me that it didn’t make sense. I never thought poetry was in the realm of overt sense making but I would learn to appreciate this critique and use it to make work that connected with an audience just as much as it did with me.
First thing every morning our table lit on fire with politics, history, literature. We spoke about rural poverty, the Jamaican education system, don presence in communities, type casting women writers and everything in between. These breakfast conversations were rich and traveled with us from plate to paper. Part of the mission was to participate in conversations like this and engage with the community in hopes that my works reflect the political content and context of Jamaica and Highgate. To accomplish that we not only wrote as a group but also spent time with community members and learned about agricultural and craft based products made by HAPE, Highgate Agro-Production Enterprise.