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Esther Phillips and Monica Minott in conversation with Dr. Jeremy Poynting

A Conversation between Esther Phillips, Monica Minott and Dr. Jeremy Poynting
Wednesday 26 May, 6-8pm BST
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Esther Phillips won a James Michener fellowship to the University of Miami where she gained an MFA degree in Creative Writing, 1999.

Esther Phillips gained an MFA degree in Creative Writing in 1999 from the University of Miami, and won the Alfred Boas Poetry Prize of the Academy of American Poets for her poetry collection/thesis. She went on to win the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award as well as the Governor General’s Award for Literary Excellence. Her published works include Chapbook, La Monte (UWI), When Ground Doves Fly (Ian Randle Publishers) The Stone Gatherer, Leaving Atlantis and Witness in Stone (Peepal Tree Press.) Her poetry is published in several anthologies, regionally and internationally and her work has been recorded by the Poetry Archive, U.K. Esther Phillips is founder and director of Writers Ink Inc. as well as the Bim Literary Festival & Book Fair. She is editor of BIM: Arts for the 21 st Century and producer of CBC radio programme, What’s That You’re Reading? She initiated the Bridgetown Literary Tour and was Chair of the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Committee from 2019-2021. In March, 2018,Esther Phillips was appointed first Poet Laureate of Barbados.

Witness in Stone is a new collection from the Barbados Poet Laureate Esther Phillips.

This collection explores the fragile territory between remembering and forgetting, both as an individual experience and in the life of a society. If in the end all is subject to “time’s slow bleed”, these poems enact the capacity of the imagination “to pass through ancient walls” and to reorder failures long gone in time into more hopeful connections. Poems recreate those childhood moments when physical presences, such as the “great house” at Drax Hall provoke the “beginning of poetry”, the searching for what is “hidden in the dark”, and thence to a grasp of the history that society would rather forget. For while forgetting is human, the collection also explores how amnesia can be cultivated in society as a means of hiding the sources of contemporary privilege and economic power. Poems such as “Canvas” (about the images from English and American magazines that patch up the hangings in an old woman’s “tumbledown dwelling”) not only picture children “tiptoe at the rim of the world” but, without needing to say it, show those children as far more familiar with Garbo’s “bright blue eyes/ and shiny red lipstick” than with the history and meaning of Drax Hall. If there are echoes of Walcott’s poem where “all in compassion ends”, Phillips is no less compassionate, but much readier to see “History’s wound still bleeding / to its last drop” – a wound extending down to a powerful poem in memory of George Floyd.

Winsome Monica Minott is a chartered accountant and poet. She has received two awards in the Jamaican National Book Development Council’s annual literary competitions for book-length collections of her poetry.

Winsome Monica Minott was awarded first prize in the inaugural Small Axe poetry competition. Her poems have been published in The Caribbean Writer, Small Axe Caribbean Journal, Cultural Voice Magazine, SX Salon, Jubilation, Coming Up Hot and The Squaw Valley Review, and more recently in BIM magazine. Some of her poems have been broadcast on Power 106 in Jamaica. Her debut collection, Kumina Queen is published by Peepal Tree Press

Zion Roses is a powerful second collection of poems in a constant dialogue between four quadrants of engagement: with history, with landscape, with personal and family experience and with the worlds of literature, music and art.

Monica Minott’s poems grasp the reader’s attention with a voice that is distinctively personal, both taut and musical – and tender and muscular when the occasion demands. Her language moves seamlessly and always appropriately between standard and Jamaican patwa, a reflection of a vision that encompasses a Black modernity still very much in touch with its aphoristic folk roots, where the ancestral meets Skype or a Jonkonnu band is stuck in a Kingston traffic jam. It is possible to see Minott’s poems as being in a constant dialogue between four quadrants of engagement: with history, with landscape, with personal and family experience and with the worlds of literature, music and art. Minott’s sense of history is deeply informed by a knowledge of the brutalities of commercial empire and of slavery and Black people’s struggles against injustice and for selfhood. There is scarcely a poem that does not have some precisely described sense of the materiality of its circumstance and the interactions between the physical world and human feelings. You sense that what sustains a certain bravery of self-exposure and of risk is a sense of belonging to family histories that have taught endurance, of knowing that loss can be gain (and this is certainly a world into which tragedy intrudes) and the experience of “running from extremity to extremity, to glory”. In literature and the arts, books are “bright lamps to light away dark hours”, and the examples of musicians like Don Drummond and Rico Rodriquez, artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and dancer Barry Moncrieffe point to the possibilities of the transcendent arising out of the everyday. Literature is a way of seeing that connects “Telemachus,/ original rasta and broomseller” of the Kingston streets to the Ulyssean world of voyaging and of seeking a home.

Dr. Jeremy Poynting is Peepal Tree's founder and managing editor. He first developed an interest in Caribbean writing as a student almost fifty years ago. He recalls “what was at first a politically motivated friendship with the Kenyan writer Ngugi Wa Thiongo, who was at Leeds University doing postgraduate research. He turned me on to the likes of Lamming and C.L.R. James.”

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