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!