Idlewild is a place of contradiction for Frances-Marie Coke in her impressive second collection of poems, Intersections. Located deep in rural Jamaica, Idlewild is a place of emotional and psychic shelter for the poet, and becomes, then a place rich with symbolic and mythic meaning, not unlike Lorna Goodison’s Heartease. In this collection, Coke traces the uncertain paths of childhood and adulthood through a sequence of poems that treat Idlewild as a character, a constant that serves as a reliable touchstone for memory. One is always aware that at the edges of many of the poems of security and pleasant memory are the haunting truths of rupture in family relations, abandonment, loneliness, resentment for the ways of unreliable men, and the challenges of a faith that must be practiced even where things are not hopeful. On such matters, Coke writes with eloquent empathy and profound insight.
A gradual unveiling takes place as the central voice of the poems matures along with her circumstances and her island. Coke is not afraid of nostalgia, but she is never sentimental in her exploration of the past because she is always acutely aware of the present - Jamaica with its poverty, violence, class divides and racial complexities. She writes about these with the same tenderness and sensitivity that she writes about the wide range of people that pass through her world - all marked by the human mix of the heroic and the pathetic.
Frances-Marie Coke comes to us with a well-formed poetic voice, a mature and authoritative command of form and language and a surefooted sense of what makes a poem urgent and timely.
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Bernardine Evaristo works as an arts administrator, critic and theatre co-ordinator. In addition to Island of Abraham, she has published the verse novels, Lara and The Emperor's Babe.
Published: 21 December 2009