The Village Awakens

(Just for you…Lady O and Lucia)

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A View of St. Joseph from the E.O. LeBlanc Highway

Dawn breaks quietly
As birds welcome the morning
With their cacophony of songs.
The trees stand quietly in respect
As the sun edges purposefully
Over the dark-green mountains,
Its resplendent rays,
Bathing the land with its majesty.

IMG_4582The dew drops drip slowly
From the petals, unto the grass
Glistening in the sunlight,
As the plants, growing freely,
Welcome the new day,
Thankful for the warmth
Of the morning sun, as they
Proudly display their beauty.

The red-crested humming birds,
With long, pointed beaks,
Hover menacingly above the flowers,
Their wings, flapping like rotors,
As they take aim
At the stamens,
Ready to siphon
The deep-seated nectar.

HIMG_3505ens, with their broods
Close in pursuit,
Cluck noisily and defiantly,
As they scurry about
Hunting for careless worms
Before the robins and wrens do,
While ignoring the advances
Of the colorful, persistent roosters.

The bees and wasps
Buzz and hum, noisily,
As they quickly dart about
Feasting on the abundant pollen.
Yet, it is calm and peaceful,
Even as the river, briskly flows,
Meandering its way to the Caribbean Sea,
As the morning quietly hearkens.

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The glistening fronds
Of the giant palm trees
Lay limp and listless,
Fearful to disturb the morning with their rustle.
And, as I watch from my window,
I smile in awe
At the beauty being unveiled around me,
As the village, too, awakens.

From the book Verses from atop the Mountain, by Giftus R. John
Copyright Giftus R. John 2016

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The Journey Continues

I was looking through my personal copy of my first published book, “The Dawn,” a collection of poems, and on the first few pages were cut-outs from one of the local newspapers (not sure which one, though I am tempted to think it was the one by Parbel  {Parry Bellot} ). On those cut-outs were pieces written by Mr. Alfred C. Leevy, and another unidentified writer. (I guess it did not seem important to me back then to make a notation of the author’s name…now I wish I had.)

TheDawnNonetheless……As I read Mr. Leevy’s review, I smiled a bit. In one instance he wrote. ”The author’s message occasionally comes out with a rare intensity. This can be easily noticed in the poem entitled LET THEM RING. One may be tangled to think that THE DAWN, as the title of the book seems to suggest, is only the beginning of a stream of poetry flowing from the pen of Mr. John. But given the nature of the Dominican reading public that has traditionally not been of much help to the local writer, a promising author like Mr. John may find himself being denied the degree of motivation needed to fulfill the promise of his imaginative gift to the fullest extent.” Italics mine.

That was thirty-seven years ago and many authors (and artists generally) in Dominica, or Dominican authors throughout the globe, still continue to have the problem of their work not being appreciated by their own. I am still baffled by that sort of attitude and it often seems that our work is regarded as “second class,” or “third class,” or maybe “no class,” at all. I am even more baffled at what is in some cases, the lack of recognition by our school and educational authorities. I was blessed, while teaching at SMA, to have worked with Br. Germain who gave me the opportunity to use “The Dawn” in the first form during my English classes. But how many other local authors have had that opportunity? The trend continues and our local authors, painters and playwrights keep plodding on dealing with the numerous obstacles hindering their growth and development.

The other contributor, to that newspaper, had this to say. “THE DAWN, many have voiced, is not junior to any previous local books of poetry on our bookshelf. Hopefully, it too will plough its way into the 1978-1979 school syllabus……Giftus has also proved to be an excellent prose writer and his short stories have gained prominence in the national Day Short Story competitions. In 1975 he won 1st prize. That year he also won 1st prize in the poetry section with FOR I AM A DOMINICAN.”

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Alwin Bully- a true role model.

Alwin Bully, one of those whom I have the highest regard for and whom I got to know during my years at SIFOCOL (Sixth Form College as it was back then) wrote the introduction to the book… a twenty-eight pager, printed by Tropical Printers. I know that I lost out on a lot of one on one opportunities and chances to poke his brains since immigrating to the US but, c’est la vie.

Alwin began with a line from the Book of Joel: “…..And your young men shall dream dreams.”  And he added: “If we are to judge men by their aspirations rather than their deeds then this book is eloquent evidence that Giftus John will soon be one of the leading writers and thinkers in our island community….

This collection of poems carries perhaps the most sensitive touch I have ever come across in a Dominican writer. Each line seems to be filled with intimate feeling and genuine concern. The poet has a keen eye for detail and from his acute observation he draws sentiment, analysis and vivid imagery from whatever situation happens to fall under his psychoscope.”

Not too much I can add to these comments except to nod my head, not boastfully, but in appreciation of the words of one of Dominica’s superstars.

And so, as I end this year and look back on what has transpired from 1978, I have mixed emotions. I am thankful for the blessings that have been bestowed upon me. I am thankful for the support that I have received from family, friends and strangers too, along this literary and artistic journey, (having added oil painting to my repertoire); thankful for the opportunity to have published five additional books since then and hopefully lived up to the expectations of Alwin and Mr. Leevy, whose wife, Mrs. Dorothy Leevy, was one of my English tutors at SIFOCOL.

Boat House by GeeJay

Senjo Bay Front

Mr Leevy and Mrs. Leevy were among the very few who braved the rains and floods of October 2011 to attend the launching of “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends,” in St. Joseph. I could not have been prouder and more thankful for their support that night and Mrs. Leevy was proud to let me know that she had a Senjo connection…my former primary school Principal, and former Minister of Government, the late Isiah Thomas, was her brother. I am blessed to have two of those great educators and Alwin Bully in my corner…Not bad at all, eh!!!!

versesliAt the beginning of this year, I launched Verses fromma-william-book-cover-x-small2.jpg Atop the Mountain, maybe the book that I had more help than any of my other books, since I enlisted the assistance of some of my close artistic and literary friends. It was a wonderful experience and thankful that I had the ability to trust others to guide me along the narrow track on my journey to the top of the mountain.

I have been deluged with questions and requests for a sequel to what may be considered my most popular book so far, Ma William and Her Circle of Friends, but I will not commit to when such will happen. At this moment I am working on a long overdue project and unless I am sure where I am headed, then the sequel will remain just a dream or a thought. That project is being edited as I write.

However, with all this said, and the promise for good things as I grow older-as they say-wine gets better with age (hahaha), I am still bothered by “the fate” of our local authors and painters who continue to face the same problems raised by Mr. Leevy, thirty-seven years ago. What has happened to our people? What has happened to our educational system? I am not making the claim just for me but like I have pointed out over and over again, we have allowed the works of many of our local artistes to be a flash in the pan….Do we give any credence to the work of those who labor tirelessly to keep our cultural heritage alive in poetry, prose, art?

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I am hoping that someone with some imagination in our educational system will see the benefit of sensitizing our school system about OURS…Are we still in the era of:  “Others are better than ours?” And this is not only in Dominica, I must sadly state. Many of us who have called other nations, home, are faced with this same dilemma. Therefore, I don’t think it is a problem of economics but the same ole Dominican mentality…..and that comes in many forms…

It is time for us to change the course of our journey because the present one only takes us back from whence we came. We need one that will lead us to a state of greater appreciation for things Dominican!

Happy New Year to all, especially my fellow authors and painters. I pray that 2016 will be a successful one in many regards and we can, together, continue that journey to the top of our own mountain! Peace and blessings.

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Looking towards the mountains!

 

 

 

 

Reflections from the Heart of Waitukubuli…

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Cover of “Verses from atop the Mountain”… Photo by author. (c)

When I started making plans to have my fourth book, Verses from atop the Mountain, published, I thought of a number of individuals whom I wanted to ask to write the Foreword. I wanted someone whom I could identify with as a villager from St. Joseph and one who was aware of the literary road I had travelled to this point.

Forewords to my previous books had been written by Alwin Bully, Lenox Honeychurch, and Edward “King Shakey” James, so I decided it would be a good idea to add a new voice to my work and I believed it would be great to have that new perspective on my work. I have worked with Alwin, Lennox and Shakey in various aspects of my past publications and I wanted a new voice.

After careful consideration, I finally decided upon Ted Serrant; a young man from my home village, St. Joseph, Dominica. I knew Ted growing up and I also had the opportunity to have him as a student during my short stint as a teacher at the St. Joseph Government School. However, I did not get the opportunity to have him as a student at the St. Mary’s Academy where I later taught, since he went to the Dominica Grammar School. I wonder what that would have been like!!! Ted was a very challenging student back then and as an inexperienced teacher stepping into the classroom, I had to muster all the skills I could to do a good job and, yes, to sound, “smart and educated.” I was dedicating Verses from atop the Mountain, to the children of St. Joseph and I felt Ted represented most of the children that I had in mind.

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A view of Senjo sitting on the fringes of the Caribbean Sea… Photoby author (c)

I also recognized the role Ted, who just recently attained his Ph. D from the University of Pittsburgh, had begun to play in the field of education in Dominica and also because he, of humble beginnings, had surmounted many odds and had now become a great example to the young people of St. Joseph. I saw in him one that the young people could emulate and know that with determination, their goals are attainable especially in an era when good role models are difficult to find.

I contacted Ted and I was extremely pleased when he agreed to write the Foreword. I sent him a copy of the manuscript and waited as I worked feverishly on getting my second full-length book of poetry ready. When Ted sent the write-up, I realized I had made a good choice. Not because what he wrote pleased me, (that was good) but because of the way he “painted” the collection of poems. I felt pleased that one of my own: a past student; neighbor, villager and community minded person, had worked with me and my small team that included Lionel Leslie, Kalinago Woryi and Ophelia Olivaccé-Marie, in putting together what I hope will be a well-received publication. The journey was proceeding well!

 

This is what Ted wrote:

Lotka’s law posits that most people will write one article or one book in their lifetime. This, I believe, is Giftus’ fourth anthology of poems. Giftus has defied the odds. He has been defying the odds for a long time. I know! He taught me years ago. I congratulate you on a provoking piece of work, and thank you for inviting me to present the foreword for this anthology. I am honored that the teacher can turn it over to his student.

Verses From Atop The Mountain signals a proclamation; a call; a cry. This proclamation is symbolized both by the verses and the location from which they are proclaimed. The mountains, therefore, are metaphors for heights attained and the universality of the messages embedded in these verses. They are also symbolic of Giftus’ mountainous island origin and the land that remains almost like an unsettled bargain in these verses. “The Migrant Song” captures that unsettled existence derived from residence in an adopted homeland. Much of the work in this anthology, then, comes from lived experiences and a persistent banter between what is and what used to be, what is left behind and what one now contends with. In “The Land Beckons Me,” he finds solace and the assurance that he is not a castaway confirming the temporariness of the migrant tension between the homeland and the adopted homeland.

The work is a “literary hopscotch” (and I mean it in a flattering way,) of themes that addresses love, nature, reality, expectations, dreams and ambitions lined with hope and restoration: “The Sun Rises Tomorrow;” “The Morning Awakens.” This hopscotching, to me, is the art of a multifaceted artist, and Giftus is multifaceted. He is painter, writer, and poet. This book bears this out as he weaves together pieces on the spring, fall and the snow; things that are transient and yet in “Ode to a Tree Stump,” he finds not just death, decay, and a break from the past, but endurance of that past. With its roots buried deeply, the stump remains as a lasting memory of its legacy. For him, the more things change the more they remain the same. That sentiment comes through in his serious treatises on politics and freedom, two of the things that vex us most.

This anthology traverses the human emotion as well: From an elusive love to solitude, nightmare, cowardice, and death—his mom’s. Then almost in a ‘tantalizing soliloquy,’ he asked, “For whom does the church bell toll?” Despite the hopscotching, Giftus returns again and again to the theme of his beloved land and community, a microcosm of the returning nature of West Indian migration. In the end he reckons that we all are cut form the same cloth. Simply, this anthology is all of us, reflects all of us and speaks to all of us from the mountaintop. Listen!

 

Ted D. Serrant, PhD
Senior Fellow
Rise Institute
Washington, DC