I Am Becoming My Mother A Graph Review high 65/70 throughout
I like to read new poetry in a newly published, fresh off the press, usually slim and a pristine copy. Am happy to discover a voice that is fresh to me or to run with a familiar name and see if I feel a change of mood and style. Now the but:
But there is a sense of adventure in the shelves of secondhand bookshops where you can look (not always find) for the old and the lost voices of poets. With a binding and production to show the period and value of the poet in the day. The trading down of quality in books published in the 2nd WW, the norms of the early 20th Century and the romance of the leather tooled and plated collections of the famous. Compare the collections, the likes of Wordsworth, Tennyson and Scott and their fine plates, marbled endpapers and gilt-edged pages and titles of the many special editions which can still be found, with the stapled dreams and boasts of pamphlets and chapbooks of the last 50 years. Yes, and the myriad of slim, efficient productions in between. All on a shelf. The world condensed. As poetry is emotion condensed, the good and ill, side by side.
The pleasure in finding Lorna Goodison’s second volume of poetry, as a hardback, published 1986, was like finding an unopened Christmas gift in the middle of summer. Published 30 years ago, the poems running through shine with quality. Jamaica, it’s essence and heritage filter into each poem; women are the centres.
Emotional imagery fills each page. All aspects of being a woman are encountered, usually heightened by the Jamaican point of view, coloured by Lorna Goodison’s eye as an artist. This is a reasonably short collection of 30 poems so I recommend the book is read in one sitting. From the stories, conjured visions, the interconnections of family and history and fable, the reader is enveloped by the poetry and the rhythm of Jamaica.
Now, some thirty years after I am becoming my mother was published, Lorna Goodison is still writing poetry and short stories on a regular though maybe not prolific basis. Quality runs throughout this early collection. Anne Walmsley published Goodison’s first book of short stories in Longman Caribbean Writers series. She also published the Longman African Writers series at the same time, as I remember well when I was working with her at Longman. Numerous authors have established names since those times in the 80s, so pleasing that Anne was an early publisher for them. I am just sorry that poetry was not in her remit for these series. (Note: Most of the L.C.Writers titles over the years are currently unavailable from Longman/Pearson but may be on re-sell sites…or hopefully published by other companies. I am pleased to see that In the Castle of my Skin is still listed, as is Lonely Londoners but at time of writing are not in stock/ in-print)
This collection carries the weight of Jamaica and personal history with it and now, thirty years on it still reads as true and fresh. Whether it is true to Jamaica of today I have no idea (sorry) but thei excellence will withstand time anyway. Lorna Goodison is currently based both at the University of Michigan and her home in Jamaica. Her work appears to be part of courses such as Women’s (Rights) and American/Caribbean studies. I hope they feature in relevant literature/poetry courses plus there are numerous other potential options. Her past (selected) collections, most recent 2013, are available in new or used forms. I would like to know that she is read more widely in the UK, on or off courses, as she offers a great deal over a range of social, literary and political canvases. Also, that a complete collection is being collated to enable the bulk of her poetry to be available in a single volume. However, to the poetry:
Lorna Goodison writes poetry with an artist’s eye. Imagery melds with clarity of words and rhythm presenting poetry of a woman’s world, of boundaries and inner strength.
Favourites, I am not allowed to say “all”, so pick the first in the book: My Last Poem; followed by: Farewell Our Trilogy; Tightrope Walker; The Mullatta and the Minotaur.
I would love to quote a line or two and ostensibly these few from the beginning of Jamaica 1980 seem apt: It trails always behind me/ a webbed seine with a catch of fantasy/ a penance I pay for being me/ who took the order of poetry.
but this is out of context and as is often the case needs further investigation: Read the poem.