i was schooled by ackee
scholar of passion
that turns the blood
a poisonous mauve
she told me one
night of purple skies

ackee is serious
about devotion
using her shirt tail
to fan the heat between her thighs 

-- from Caribbean Passion

And in her new book of poems, Caribbean Passion (Peepal Tree Press, ISBN 1-900715-92-9), Opal Palmer Adisa is serious about her devotion to ruthless and sensuous honesty. Best known as the author of highly challenging, politically relevant prose and verse, Adisa is also a broadcaster, performance artist, literary critic, and lecturer, currently teaching at the California College of the Arts.

Adisa's work has been greatly informed by her childhood experience of life on a sugar estate in the Jamaican countryside, where her father worked as a chemist and her mother as a bookkeeper. It was in this setting that young Opal was introduced not only to the art of storytelling, but also, after her parents divorced, to the ceaseless oppression faced by women and the ongoing injustices heaped on the poor. Such formative experiences, coupled with her mother’s efforts to improve the lives of those around her, gave Adisa the desire to ""give voice to the voiceless"" at an early age.

As she was raised just ten miles outside Kingston, Adisa always attended school in the capital; nevertheless, when she moved to New York in 1970 to study at Hunter College, she found herself in a bewildering environment marked by human confusion and dense congestion, where she felt herself very much an outsider. A move to the San Francisco Bay Area to pursue an MA in creative writing in 1979 brought considerable relief, as the slower pace, milder climate, more permissive atmosphere, and vibrant arts scene helped her find her element as a writer. Her subsequent book of short fiction, Bake Face and other Guava Stories, examined the lives of four strong-minded women in rural Jamaica, living rich lives despite their poverty. The complex novel It Begins With Tears explored the problematic transgressions of a group of women in a small Jamaican village; a book of poems, Tamarind and Mango Women, won the PEN/Josephine Miles Award in 1992 for its imagistic account of mother-daughter relationships.

With Caribbean Passion, Adisa continues to challenge our perceptions of Caribbean life. Although the title and sensual cover image suggest a collection of steamy, romantic verse, many of these poems detail the region's turbulent history and chaotic present, suggesting an overriding resilience in the face of unspoken sexual abuse, lost Haitian refugees, and gender-based tyranny, all delivered in a unique and authentic voice. And Adisa insists that her work ultimately aims to assist in a healing process, offering strength and hope in the face of countless challenges.

David Katz
Caribbean Beat