Goodison was born in 1947 in Kingston, Jamaica, on the 1st of August - the Jamaican Emancipation Day, on which the abolition of slavery is commemorated. She originally trained to be a painter, and has said that she aims to bring the technique of chiaroscuro to her writing: "All these light images I place in relief to dark historical facts or hold them up as talismans against the sense of hopelessness and despair which can overwhelm us as human beings." Her work focuses on the struggle and celebration of those living in a country with a tragic history and she has said in interview that she believes the health of Caribbean poetry lies in the hands of its contemporary writers: "They are the ones that have to tell the half that has never been told, and they will tell it".
Many of Goodison's poems are about the different roles a woman can play, and one of her best known, 'For My Mother (May I Inherit Half Her Strength)', tells how her mother - "a child of the petite bourgeoisie/studying to be a teacher" - fell in love with a working class man who "had nothing but words to woo her." The couple moved from the lush countryside of Harvey River to a busy street in Kingston, and went on to have nine children, of which Goodison is the eighth. The poem is a celebration of her mother's remarkable domestic skills, which included making "a garment from a square/in a span that defied time."
Goodison feels a deep sense of responsibility about the portrayal of her homeland and has said in interview: "If I have an agenda this is it: I want to first of all write in a language that accurately represents the people I write about. I have a great fear of writing as if I'm from middle earth." She blends Jamaican dialects, or codes, to build up a richness of language which is both sumptuous and graceful. Velma Pollard has said that "the rendering of… complex voices in a single statement by the deft manipulation of lexicon and syntax of the different codes is, I believe, Goodison's major contribution to Caribbean literature." Listening to Lorna Goodison's voice on this Archive recording, we are able to understand immediately how the music and cadences of her language are integral to its meanings.
This recording was made on May 20th 2009 at the Audio Workshop, London, and was produced by Richard Carrington.