Accomplished author, Lorna Goodison, has been selected to be Jamaica’s first woman Poet Laureate. She is the second nationally appointed Poet Laureate, following Professor Emeritus Mervyn Morris of the University of the West Indies (UWI), who held the position from 2014 to 2016.The Poet Laureate is a national honour that recognises a distinguished Jamaican poet for his or her significant contribution to the nation’s literary community.
Governor General Sir Patrick Allen presented Goodison with the official Badge of Office during the ceremony of investiture, held on May 17 at King’s House. The citation was read by chairman of the Poet Laureate of Jamaica Committee, Professor Emeritus Edward Baugh.
In his address, Sir Patrick described Goodison as a “cultural ambassador” whose poetry and prose have brought Jamaica to the world. “It is well known that much of our history and culture, the struggles and triumphs of our forefathers are captured in literary works. I most heartily congratulate you on receiving this award. We look forward to your contribution over the next three years to our rich tapestry of cultural expressions,” he said.
Minister of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Olivia Grange spoke glowingly of Goodison’s work, which has garnered international acclaim for its vivid portrayal of the Jamaican experience.
“It is a momentous occasion, which we must memorialise because it is significant in our thrust to advance the arts and culture of Jamaica. Poetry captures the essence of who we are… poetry celebrates every significant occasion of our nation, and, as such, it is an art form that must be protected and promoted. For this reason, the ministry offers its fullest support for this activity,” she said. In her reply, Goodison said when she was asked to accept the position of Jamaica’s Poet Laureate, she was elated.
“I have been a practising poet for most of my life. I intend, with the help of my Creator, to keep writing poems about Jamaica for Jamaicans, and I will now write them for national occasions,” she said. “I try to do it in such a way that it sounds authentically Jamaican, but is still understandable for persons who don’t speak our dialect. This is what I have been doing with my life for a long time, and I hope to keep doing it,” Goodison added.
In her role as Poet Laureate for the three-year term 2017 to 2020, Goodison is charged with stimulating a greater appreciation for Jamaican poetry, using poetry as a medium for developing and disseminating cultural heritage as well as creating avenues for public involvement in poetry.
She will present poetry readings and seminars across the island and overseas; promote reading and Jamaican literature with an emphasis on poetry; conduct workshops with aspiring poets, writers and students; participate in and compose poetry for national events and observances, and create a publication related to Jamaican poetry.
Over the past 35 years, Goodison has published more than 12 books of poetry and written three short-story collections.
Her book, From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island (2007) received critical acclaim and was awarded the British Columbia National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction in 2008. Among her many other awards and accolades are the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for the Americas Region, the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, and a Gold Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica in 1999.
She was also the recipient in 2013 of Jamaica’s national Order of Distinction in the rank of Commander for outstanding achievements in literature and poetry.
The Poet Laureate programme is administered by the National Library of Jamaica, with funding from the Culture, Health, Arts, Sports and Education (CHASE) Fund, and the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF). The first appointee was Thomas Henry McDermot, better known as Tom Redcam, who was posthumously bestowed with the title in 1933.
He was followed by John Ebenezer Clare McFarlane, in 1953. Both were appointed by the Poetry League of Jamaica. After being dormant for 61 years, the Government, through the ministries of tourism and entertainment, and youth and culture, reintroduced the Poet Laureate Programme in 2014.