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

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The Need for a National Arts Center in Dominica

There has been the suggestion, by a few individuals, about the establishment of what in effect would be a National Arts Center in Dominica. I, too, would like to lend my voice to the establishment of such an institution in Dominica. It would be a center, where the work of national artistes, could be displayed and viewed by nationals, as well as tourists to Dominica. It would be a place where school children could visit and learn to appreciate, from an early age, the work of our local artistic “masters.”

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Old Mill Cultural Center

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Roseau Public Library

I am aware that we have the museum on the bay front (the Old Post Office building) in Roseau; the Old Mill Cultural Center in Canefield, and the Arawak House of Culture in Roseau. However, what I am referring to would be a building that would encompass all the art forms in one central location and where the work of our artistes can be shown on  screens, in videos, or performed or read at certain periods.

We have seen and heard of notable artistes throughout the years, but sadly their legacies have disappeared and in some cases we are at a loss to identify or name the ones who paved the way for our dancers, painters, playwrights: people like Darius David, Mabel-Cissy Cauderion, Jean Lawrence, Lord Tokyo, Lord Solo, and Gaylords, to name a few.

Our artistic creativity, in all forms, is unique. Some may say that painters and writers do not have a unique craft, but the topics and the scenes that they paint or which inspire their craft, are quite different from what are present in many others countries. Our music and dance and speech are indeed unique.

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The Museum on Dame Eugenia Charles Boulevard

We have seen many artistes of promise blossom before our very eyes: Alex Bruno, Earl Ettiene, Steve Hyacinth, Arnold Toulon, Alick Lazare, Glenford John, Dave Wilson, Ophelia Olivacce’-Marie, Gramacks and the list goes on and on, but we need to have a facility where we can proudly present and conserve the work of those talented individuals and groups as a united body, not as individual artistes lost in the art doldrums of Dominica. Maybe that would be a way for all of our artistes to put their heads together and use all available resources that would help improve the standard of their work.

I recently read a post on Facebook by a fellow artiste; a very talented one at that too; about the fear of us losing one of our musical creations – bouyon music – and we know this is a possibility. But what steps do we take or have taken to preserve our own from being copied, modified or pirated? Is there a real national front present to help preserve all our art forms?

We have to get away from the sometimish attitude: local calypsos during carnival season and then packed away to collect dust till the next year while we give airplay to calypsos from other islands; local folk songs and poetry and dance during the period leading up to and during independence celebrations; and plays, just every now and then. It is time we create a culture of oneness.

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Dominica’s Lady of Song-Ophelia

Some may argue; Why waste money on arts? But our artistic talents and uniqueness identify us as a people. They are what we are…from the Kalinago weaving their craft to a fisherman making fish pots, to the quadrille group from Paix Bouche gracefully performing their pieces; this is our artistic make-up or DNA, if I may say so. Many countries have gone to lengths to preserve theirs and I don’t need to spell it out; but is there anything wrong if we do this for ours?

We have made some mistakes in terms of preserving and saving some of our cultural heritage; our symbols and our language and we must not allow this to happen again. The staging of the WCMF (though not fully of Dominican participation) has placed us in the musical limelight. The establishment of the Literary Arts Festival is another superb creation that can only continue to grow and become a really national event. Some of the greatest Caribbean authors are now gracing our shores with their presence and we have shown that we are able to hold our own within the sphere of Caribbean Literature.

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Dr. Lennox Honychurch

I also believe that our radio stations and television stations should devote more programming time to sensitizing Dominicans about the work of their own, rather than the imported American programs. Spend more time letting the people of the island appreciate what is theirs rather than spending so much time and money on programs that create divisiveness, anger and poor national morale. Our cultural and artistic development, are dependent on many aspects and they all need to be highlighted to allow our people to have the greatest appreciation for what is ours, year-round.

In the event that we do see the construction of a new building to replace the existing Roseau Public Library, one which is now long overdue, this may be one aspect that can be incorporated into the layout and functions of that building. One that may well complement what the library should be all about.

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Dr. Alwin Bully

The accolades that have been bestowed on Drs. Lennox Honychurch and Alwin Bully, protectors and promoters of our creativity, speak volumes, and in their own humble way, these two talented sons of the soil, have etched the written and spoken words in our minds — I dare say, hopefully, for a long time to come. Yet, wouldn’t it be nice if we could see Streak or Nite Box shown on national TV or videos highlighting the plays? These plays were performed at very special times in our history, but where are they in terms of being regarded as such? What about listening to recorded pieces by Dr. Honychurch about the island’s history and about its people? Or  maybe a tape recording of Lawrence Brumant narrating some of his contes?

Creating an institution that can keep the works of the artistes of this land alive for generations to come is, in my opinion, dearly needed. We need to give our artistes the incentive to want to continue painting, writing, performing and narrating their stories; not only in February-March or October and November, but year round. In this way we can give the young ones the belief that they too can step in and fall in line or stand side by side with our artistic and cultural heroes and we can have the belief that when we decide to “hang our boots” there will be capable artistes filling our spots.

I hope that this can be a reality some day in Dominica. There are and will be obstacles but if we are determined and focused, I believe we can achieve such a goal. Time will tell, though!

My Mom Was My Biggest Fan.

Today, in many parts of the world, we will show our love and appreciation to our mothers, in word, deed and action. We will have spent millions of dollars by the end of the day making sure that Mom has a day to remember. Some of us may not spend that much, if any at all, but just by a simple gesture and appreciation of the one who nurtured us from the day of our conception, will make Mom happy.

I will not have the opportunity to wish my mom, Vernice, (Ma Shaden) Happy Mother’s Day because almost five years ago she unexpectedly departed this world. It was a devastating loss to say the least, because just a few months before, I had told her that I would see her again-but that did not happen.

ImageBut I will still acknowledge her today; still say a prayer for the woman who untiringly cared for her brood of seven–a stay home mom all her life–who devoted her time and talent doing everything possible to make her family comfortable, well fed and well-mannered. She taught us to be prayerful and kind and to love family. She was talented in her own way too….crocheting, knitting, doily making, sewing, cooking and baking and entertaining friends and family. Yet, she was like a hawk watching over its young, making sure, to a fault maybe, that nothing happened to any of us.

I will always regard my Mom as my biggest supporter, in my role as an artist. If no one else appreciated what I did, I know she did. I remember the day when my first short story was published in the Star Newspaper, I proudly brought it to her and I know she too was proud of me when she read it. She proudly displayed my paintings on the walls of our home in St. Joseph alongside those of my uncle Ronald, who was my inspiration. She had them on the porch and inside as well and ensured that nothing happened to them.

My Mom always took great pride in my artistic endeavors although she was always concerned that my work did not have political undertones since she did not want us to have anything to do with politics. I remember her being very upset that I was staging a play with the Campeche Youth group entitled “The Hard Road’” that someone had hinted to her was written about the then Labor Party in Dominica. She sent my brother Simon to the Lower School Room to ask me to come home only to have to explain to her that it was my own version of “Jesus Christ, Superstar,” and nothing to do with the then Prime Minister Patrick John and his Labor Party Government. From then, all was well.

After I had immigrated to the United States, she would send me any newspaper clippings or a newspaper where my work was featured. On other occasions she would let me know when she heard a recording of me reading a poem or short story on DBS Radio or of a school child reading one of the poems at an event. I know that brought her joy. I would also be sure to get my birthday, anniversary, Christmas or Easter card without fail and every now and then a letter letting me on all those who said hello and all the past students of the SMA who asked if she was “Giftus’ mother?” and every now and then a family photograph of an event that I missed. I knew her unmistakable hand-writing and I was always glad to receive her mail.

When I had completed the draft of “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends,” I sent a copy for her feedback, not being aware that she would not get the opportunity to read it. She had read “Mesye Kwik! Kwak!” and she was very intrigued by what I had written. I can still hear her asking me…”Pa Gif (that’s how she fondly called me at times) where you getting all that from? She was always amazed that I remembered certain events that took place when I was a kid.

I visited Dominica in 2008 to see her and also to participate in the Senjo Reunion. It pained me that I could not share with her much about the book that her favorite writer was working on. It pained me that I never got to share my story of Ma William and her bunch of characters with her. I can imagine what she would have asked me then. But it was not meant to be. I didn’t get the chance to bring her a copy of the completed book that I launched two years later in St. Joseph but I know she was smiling down at me and saying…”Ou pa feb non, moushay Giftus!”

I know I am not alone on a day like today; there are many of us today who will just enjoy the memories and cherish them forever, including my own wife, Theresa (Mariel) who will be honored by the Dominica Emerald Organization of New Jersey as Mother of the Year, at a function at the Manor in Irvington, NJ. I know it is a most deserving accolade. She has worked hard to see our two children, Mandisa and Jamal, become the young adults they are today and achieve their goals and dreams. At the same time she has been quite involved in many social activities, helping out and being a true role model for the younger ones.

It is said that sometimes a man marries a woman who reflects his mother and every now and then I think I have. All I do then is shake Imagemy head and smile. I know I didn’t marry Theresa with that in mind, far from it, but I guess life’s course is already mapped out for us and all we have to do is follow it. I am a proud father and husband today because together we have traversed the valleys and potholes and though we have not yet fully arrived atop the mountain, we have the belief, like she’s fond of saying… “Things will get better!”

I salute all mothers today—and Mom, you too, though you’re watching from above and asking why I am writing this—and especially my dear wife, for all that you have done and continue to do, despite all the challenges, the difficulties, missteps and disappointments, but in the end you are the glue that keeps all your families together.

I think I mentioned this before but I believe it is worth repeating today. Some years ago, I was in the village of Calibishie as a member of the Somerset Sports Club playing a game of cricket against a team from that village. Some time in the afternoon, there was a Mothers’ Day function at the Calibishie Primary school. At some point during the function someone started to read a poem. I soon realized she was reading my poem, She which was originally published in “The Dawn” my first book of poems and later in “The Island Man Sings His Song.” I shivered—she was really reading my poem. I did not say anything nor identify myself to anyone from the village, though my teammates knew…I just listened and enjoyed the moment…a special moment for me and for all those who cheered when the young lady was finished reading the poem.

Before I end I want once again say to all Moms out there…and especially my Mom, my wife and my sisters, sisters-in-law, my aunt, and all my relatives all over…Happy Mothers’ Day. God’s richest blessings to all of you.

Let me end by sharing the poem that that young lady read some years ago in the school building in Calibishie…just for you Moms today!.

 

She

 

She is the Queen of my life,
The upholder of my life
The breath of my life
The water of my thirst
The food of my hunger.

Yes,
She who toiled and labored
She who washed and clothed
She who caressed and kissed
She’s my Queen
The Queen of My Life.

 She who stands behind me
She who gives me strength
She who gives me love and wisdom
She’s my Sun
The Sun that brightens my life,
The Sun that guides my life.

She who fed my hungry lips with milk
From her breasts,
She who soothed my pain
With her tender touch,
She who held me
With her safest hands.

She’s my Moon
That shows me the way
In the darkest hour
She who stays near while I am asleep.
She’s my Queen.

She who carried me
In her protected and comfortable womb
For nine careful months
She who smiled when she saw me
She who felt proud when she saw me
She who felt proud when she bore me
She’s My Queen, My Sun, My Moon, My Life.
She, whose love surpasses all others,

She’s my Mother.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the Move Again

It’s been a while since I have added anything to this site. A few events that occurred recently somewhat threw a wrench in my routine and  slowed or stopped some of my activities. This edition is hopefully the start of getting back to doing what I have been enjoying lately.

However in the midst of life’s turmoil, there is usually a shining light. We celebrated our son’s graduation from Temple University with a Civil Engineering Degree. We look forward to him doing what Bill Cosby asked the graduating class to do that day at the Commencement Ceremony … Get a job! And with God’s guidance we know he will. But things have somewhat settled down and I am getting back to allowing the creative juices to flow once again.

As the warm months approach, (I confess, I don’t enjoy the cold) I am looking forward to embarking on the 2013 Geejay Arts and Photo Road Tour which, in effect, is my attendance and participation in a number of activities from now till December, especially those with a Dominican flavor. No, I am not getting on a bus with all my stuff although I really wished I could and have the opportunity to tour other states. But my car will do, with all my work crammed on the back seat and in the trunk; sometimes solo and other times accompanied by my wife or my son or daughter.

So far I have tentatively planned to be at CODIA’s Father’s Day Dinner and Dance in the Bronx; Tropical Hawaiian Party with Patorah in Mt. Vernon; the Dominica United Cricket Club’s picnic in Somerset, NJ; DOTSAC’s Flag Raising Ceremony and show in CT, DEONJ’s Madam Wob Dwiyet in N.J.and one of my favorites, DARDA’s Independence Gala in NY.  I am also looking forward to once again participating in the Collingswood Book Festival in Collingswood, NJ which I attended for the first time last year. There are a few that I have heard about but no confirmation yet.

These events give me the opportunity to showcase and sell my work while interacting with other artists who are present, especially one like the Collingswood Book Festival which gives you the opportunity to see others like you trying to reach out to the public offering what we’ve created and hoping to get their support. My first experience was a good one and I look forward to be there once again on October, 6th.

I am working on plans to have an exhibition later this year in my hometown of Union, NJ. Plans are still being worked out as to venue, date, and time, and I am hoping that this is not just a dream, but becomes a reality. I had previously held such an event a few years ago, but I want to make this one much better and possibly a little grander. I will see how things fall into place as we move along.

This month marks two years since the publication of Ma William and Her Circle of Friends and I can say that I have been extremely pleased with the feedback and support I have received though, like many self–published authors I would have hoped for more support in terms of sales of the book However it is a work in progress and all one has to do is keep stoking the fire. My other two books continue to find their way into people’s homes and I am pleased about that…Mesye Kwik! Kwak! a collection of stories based on life in St. Joseph and, The Island Man Sings His Song, a collection of poems.

I recently heard from Mrs.Vinna Royer of St. Joseph, my home village in Dominica and the setting for “Ma William and Her Circle of Friends”–who told me that she reads chapters of Ma William and Her Circle of Friends to the seniors who meet at the Matthew’s Hall in St. Joseph and they have enjoyed it so much that they would like to know what happened to Ma William and her gang. Needless to say, I was very happy to hear about it. Another friend, Dominica’s grand lady of song, Ophelia, sent to let me know that she was present at one of those sessions and she was proud to tell the seniors present that she knows the author. Hopefully, one day I can grace the gathering and read a chapter to them.

But, oh, oh! Do I hear a call for a sequel? I have heard that call before though, however, at this time, I am working on two projects so the sequel is some time in the future.

It is said that variety is the spice of life and hopefully some variety will add some spice to my site…though I pray not too spicy…and I have invited three fellow bloggers and writers to be my guests on subsequent editions. If all goes according to plan, the next edition will be by one of those individuals. Something interesting that we can look forward to.

Finally, as we approach Fathers’ Day, I want to take this opportunity to salute my dad, Mr. Shaden John. Daddy recently celebrated his 84th birthday and we’re hoping that he can celebrate many more still with us, God willing. I did not pick up my artistic skills from him; that came from my mom’s side—painting influenced by my uncle Ronald Julien, and photography, by my late uncle, Frank Julien. I don’t know where the writing came from—I guess a God-given talent, though I wished I had dad’s penmanship. He writes very well. It would have saved me a caning from Br. Sullivan when I was in First Form at the SMA…yes…believe it…my handwriting was not up to snuff on three occasions, so I paid the ultimate price. Never got caned again though!!!

But what my dad has left imprinted within me and which I have admired and respected over the years, are: his love for his family, his hard work and dedication, his easy-going attitude, and his friendliness. Yes, he was a strict dad and made sure I did what was right, as did my late mom, but I don’t hold it against them. My dad has had a strong commitment to his community; to his church and God—dad has been singing on the St. Joseph church choir for over 50 years. I am proud when so many see him in me, especially my wife, who thinks the older I get the more I am like him. I’ll take that compliment.

My annual backyard garden is a tribute to him and what he instilled in me in terms of agriculture and gardening from an early age, although I have to confess I was not fond of going to the “garden,” except when I was going to have fun. Banana reception days were not my favorite. I rather stayed in Senjo and be out on the playing field with my friends. But as I became my own man, I saw what drove him and I am now guilty of being like that sometimes.

So Daddy, this is for you. Happy Father’s Day and though we have not spent one together in over 27 years, the respect, love and appreciation for all you are and have been, have not waned and the older I get the more I believe I am truly my Father’s son. God’s richest blessings, Daddy!