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Shame Trees Don't Grow Here

Written by Dawn Osborne-Barker for Sunday Gleaner on no date provided

Shame trees don’t grow here...but poincanias bloom is a collection of poems with themes that reflect the contrasts inherent in the book’s title. In the Introduction to her work Velma Pollard writes: ‘A shame tree exists in the conscience of most Jamaicans. If you don’t have one, there are no moral restrictions on your behaviour.’ The first section of the book develops around the moral consciousness and satirically explores the historical background of the islands of the Caribbean. She is indignant at the absence of ‘shame trees’ in the Europeans who discovered the New World. Her focus shifts from London to the West Indies to the USA and back. In so doing she explores the richness of the black experience.

Of her first visit to Heathrow airport she writes: ‘No one had warned the British in their mad rush into expansion that this contradiction here at Heathrow would be likely. They had not conceived of fast ships or airplanes, linguistic skill and wild ambition that would bring all shades of black and brown (and white) to this one shelter and the cruel irony of children of the empire, brothers all at Heathrow’.

Early terrorist
Her language is harsh and unforgiving as she describes Hawkins the conquistador as ‘the grand ancestor of terrorists everywhere’. She speaks of the ‘New World conquistadors’ as they ‘reduce the world by sleight of word to conquer’. She sheers at ‘Combolus’ ‘laughing at the helm / naming these islands Virgenes.’

She continues to portray the anger, pain and injustice of the black experience as she reflects on the alienation of the West Indian in the USA. In her poem ‘Apartment Neighbours’ she writes: ‘There is a common backyard space I cannot see / without them seeing me and forcing me to smile / make a connection / break from the learned restraint I wear in foreign lands.’

Love, friendship
There is some relief for the reader, however, as the mood of the poems shifts in the last section of the book. She is more forgiving and understanding. She ponders on the contradictions between good and evil: ‘""All things bright and beautiful"" - I said they are liars who think evil is ugly. Life’s tests are hard because beautiful right and beautiful wrong are both so passing beautiful.’ Her preoccupation is with love, friendship, romance and the creator. Yet she still affirms her deep consciousness of her negritude: ‘I sought a man / a black man with his head / still firmly stitched into his black resolve / no jiving teeny bopper / overgrown with time...' She expresses the love, peace and healing she experiences in God whom she calls ‘my mokojumbie / god among gods / made flesh and carpenter / teacher and gardener / words man / sounds man / life man’. 

Black and white are no longer elements of divisiveness: ‘And suddenly I saw and clearly how light hair can be as lovely as black hair that blonde need not be ugly... remembered the Canadian lady in the sixties who said she didn’t mind black and proud, beautiful and black as long as they allowed her to be proud and white, beautiful and white. Today I understand.’

This is a review of Shame Trees Don't Grow Here

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