Sun | Jul 5, 2020

Jamaica Poetry Fest serves rice and peas

Published:Friday | August 16, 2019 | 12:23 AMPaul H. Williams/Gleaner Writer
Yasus Afari in an interactive moment with a patron.
Yasus Afari in an interactive moment with a patron.

It was a big, delightful plate of poetic rice and peas that SenYAcum, promoters of Jamaica Poetry Festival, served at its ninth staging at the Louise Bennett Garden Theatre in St Andrew on Sunday, August 11.

And then there was the chicken, somewhere, for the taking, while on the periphery, under the booths, there was a variety of juices to wash it all down.

The performances were kicked off by two young ladies in the persons of Mikaya, said to be the youngest poet ever in the festival’s history. While ‘Mik’ was somewhat cagey in her approach, Tanya ‘Little Miss Lou’ Louden was a little riotous as she went back in time to rip Ishawna to pieces for calling her bandana ‘tableclawt’. The tongue-lashing came at a time when ‘The Annual Feast of Poetree’ was commemorating Miss Lou’s centenary.

Cue Kirk, a Tobagonian-Canadian awarding-­winning poet, and El Jones, a Canadian poet, educator, journalist, human-rights advocate and the fifth Poet Laureate of Halifax, brought some international ­flavour to the table. Kirk, burning incense and accompanied by Nyahbinghi drummers, was slow and intense, mesmerizing at points, while Jones spewed words of empowerment and redemption at neck-­breaking pace.


The conceptualiser of the festival, Yasus Afar, delivered with his trademark militancy and provocative use of words, chanting and promoting Patois talking, engaging, and reflecting, swiping and remarking against the advocating of the use of expletives in ­public spaces. The ‘dub philosopher’, ‘edutainer’ and performance poet paused to blow a kiss to one of the advocates, who incidentally was in the audience, and told her he loves her nonetheless.

And in that public spaces, a few of those colourful pieces punctuated the reading of the most ‘insane’ performance of the evening, that of Professor Fred Hickling, the man who has merged psychiatry and theatre. From his repertoire, he read animatedly about Madnificent Irations for Bellevue Hospital, and other ‘mental-related’ pieces.

The mind was back on track when author, poet, broadcaster, pan-Africanist Ka’Bu Ma’at Kheru went personal with her father’s affliction with Alzheimer’s disease. She dedicated her readings to father, and started by saying, “I am my father’s memory, the light behind the spaces in his mind. I am the daughter searching for him, who laughs when I laugh, searching my face, all the time. I am the answer to the questions he can no longer ask, lost to the mist of this terrible Alzheimer’s … .” And then there were the stories of her late maternal grandfather’s life in England.

On the musical side of things, Trelawny-born Akinsanya’s thought-provoking chants were soothingly powerful, peppered with a little politics: the Cockpit Country controversy was tossed into the mix, adding a tinge of bitterness. At the beginning, the former member of the Uprising Roots Band sent out some spiritual vibrations with a small metal bowl, after which his mellifluous tone took control. On ­guitar, at slow pace, he was as easy as Sunday evening, while the more youthful Akinsanya was calm and laid-back. I Kong, the veteran, was more energetic and dramatic, dancing and singing in his own inimitable way. A well-seasoned ingredient he was, restoring the balance. After him, the digestion ended; the palates are now waiting to be sated at the 10th feast of ‘poetree’, next year.