Tuesday, January 03, 2006


Lorna Goodison II

My copy of Guinea Woman: New and Selected Poems (Carcanet, 2000) arrived today and has provided me with a large helping of her work; I've already found a number of poems I'm particularly taken by. There are several poems about art; this one about van Gogh is particularly effective:

"Vincent and the Orient"

The blackbird in the bougainvillea bush
brushes against the powder blue sky.
The carnelian froth of the flowering tree,
and the way that this picture
framed itself inside my window,

makes me remember again Vincent
and the Orient he would imitate,
japonaiserie, white-petaled trees
set in a spare Eastern landscape.
They are not my favorite; dearer to me

are those in which familiar things turn
transcendent. Golden cornfields
shimmy like blonde dancing girls,
hips rolling, abondoned, fecund.
The red turban of a zouave's uniform

pulses like a live internal organ.
Strange how I never meditate upon
the harsh details of his death
but see instead the glory of his gift
for transforming elementary things

through patience and careful seeing
past all obvious appearances
down to where the whirling spirits
flash primal pigments, creating
images, sensuous, duende, amazing.

There are also a number of love poems, of which "Domestic Incense" is a good representative:

Just then, in that early afternoon,
I wanted to be that simple woman
who had cooked you Saturday soup

using all golden foods. Bellywoman
pumpkin, yellow yams, sweet potato,
carrots and deep ivory bones of beef.

I would bear it to you in an enamel bowl,
the smell of fragrant thyme and pimento
would waft, domestic incense, as I go.

How the hot Scotch Bonnet pepper
would issue its flavor through
the ripened walls of its own skin

but because like our love its seeds
can scorch, I'd be careful to remove it
before it cooked itself into breaking.

Food and the preparation of food is a frequent element in Goodison's love poems, as it is in other poems, as well, including this attempt to define poetry:

"The Mango of Poetry"

I read a book
about the meaning of poetry.
The writer defines it as silence,
then breaks the lines

to construct ideas
about the building of bridges,
the reconciliation of opposites.
I'm still not sure what poetry is.

But now I think of a ripe mango
yellow ochre niceness
sweet flesh of St, Julian,
and all I want to do

is to eat one from the tree
planted by my father
three years before the sickness
made him fall prematurely.

The tree by way of compensation
bears fruit all year round
in profusion and overabundance
making up for the shortfall

of my father's truncated years.
I'd pick this mango with a cleft stick,
then I'd wash it and go to sit
upon the front wall of our yard.

I would not peel it all back
to reveal its golden entirety,
but I would soften it by rolling
it slowly between my palms.

Then I'd nibble a neat hole
at the top of the skin pouch
and then pull the pulp
up slowly into my mouth.

I'd do this all while wearing
a bombay-colored blouse
so that the stain of the juice
could fall freely upon me.

And I say that this too would be
powerful and overflowing
and a fitting definition
of what is poetry.

Finally, food and its preparation are central in what I think may be Goodison's finest poem, "The Domestic Science of Sunday Dinner," a poem too long to include here but a magnificent and complex work that operates on a number of levels simultaneously; it's a work definitely worth seeking out.


I'm appreciating the time and effort it must cost you to post these poems.

I like some more than others, but I'm reading with interest.

Hi, nice to find another Lorna lover on the net. I've been teaching her "For my mother, may I inherit half her strength" to my CXC students and rediscovering Goodison along the way. Keep posting.
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