© Image by Denis Valentine

Lorna Goodison

(b. 1947)

"Good poetry is like effective prayer, it feeds the human spirit, it nourishes, it puts us in touch with forces far greater than ourselves." Lorna Goodison

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Recordings

These poems come from a special recording for the Poetry Archive:

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Extras

  • The Caribbean Poetry Project
    This pioneering collaboration between the Cambridge University Faculty of Education, the Centre for Commonwealth Education and the University of the West Indies aims to help teachers develop their knowledge, understanding and enjoyment of Caribbean poetry, and to extend knowledge, understanding and creative engagement with Caribbean poetry among secondary-school students.

Select bibliography

  • I am Becoming My Mother New Beacon Books Ltd, 1986
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  • HearteaseNew Beacon Books Ltd, 1989
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  • Selected Poems The University of Michigan Press, 1993
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  • To Us, All Flowers are Roses University of Illinois Press, 1995
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  • Turn Thanks University of Illinois Press, 1999
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  • Guinea Woman Carcanet Press Ltd, 2000
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  • Controlling the Silver University of Illinois Press, 2005
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  • Goldengrove: New and Selected Poems Carcanet Press Ltd, 2006
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  • From Harvey River: A Memoir of My Mother and Her Island Atlantic, 2009
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  • Lorna Goodison Reading from Her Poems The Poetry Archive, 2010
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Lorna Goodison is one of the finest Caribbean poets of her generation and lauded as such by Kwame Dawes in the Caribbean Writer: "Superlatives glint all over commentary on Lorna Goodison's work... she is now one of the greatest!"

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.

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