Fantasy and folk beliefs woven into writer’s poetry

On Nov. 20, York’s Canadian Writers in Person course and reading series presented Olive Senior (below), novelist, journalist and poet. Series organizer John Unrau of the English Department, Atkinson School of Arts & Letters, sent the following report to YFile:

The fifth reading is this season’s Canadian Writers in Person series was given by Olive Senior. She read from her book Gardening in the Tropics: Poems which contains a remarkable variety of poems, including meditations on the oppression of the Caribbean people by colonial forces, humorous fancies and folk beliefs concerning certain plants and fruits native to the region and the mythology of “African Gods in the New World”.

The four themes that structure the sections of the book produce a special effect of surrounding the reader with the thickness of tropical life. The magic, the tragedy and the humour are evoked without ever losing focus. At the heart of the book is a sequence of poems, all beginning with the phrase “Gardening in the Tropics”. By using this phrase, Senior is continually enriches the poetic experience and this is illustrated by the ninth poem in the series that begins: “Gardening in the Tropics you hear poetry / in some unexpected places”. The variety, power and imaginative inventiveness of these poems evoked a lively exchange between the poet and her audience, which continued during the book-signing session that followed.

Senior was born in Jamaica in 1943. After studying journalism in Canada and Britain, she served as editor of Jamaica Journal for several years. Her publications include works in social and cultural history but in recent years she has concentrated more on fiction and poetry. She spends much of her time giving readings and conducting workshops internationally. She has been writer in residence or visiting international writer at the University of Alberta, the Banff International Writing Studio and the University of the West Indies. Her work has been broadcast in Canada, Britain and the Caribbean and she is represented in numerous anthologies. Currently she is a faculty member at the Humber School for Writers in Toronto.

Her publications include Summer Lightning and Other Stories (1986), winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1987, Arrival of the Snake-Woman and Other Stories (1989), Working Miracles: Woman’s Lives in the English-Speaking Caribbean (1991), Gardening in the Tropics: Poems (1994), Talking of Trees (1986), and Discerner of Hearts (1995).