art in all its forms

art in all its forms


Olive Senior on poetry and changing the world

Olive Senior reads from Summer Lightning

HOW DO YOU change the world? Poet, novelist, short-story writer Olive Senior has an answer.

It's up to you.

Senior read last night at a special event put on by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest and the Paper Based Bookshop at Medulla Gallery in her honor. The audience was treated to a selection from the author's short-story collection Summer Lightning as well as several of her poetry books including Shell, Over the Roofs of the World and Gardening in the Tropics. There were also readings by writers Barbara Jenkins and Ayanna Gillian Lloyd. I was privileged to be asked to participate and read 'Flying', a new poem written in response to the final story in Senior's latest book of stories The Pain Tree.

The audience was also treated to a Q&A segment between Senior and poet Shivanee Ramlochan, who asked Senior to state her views on the purpose of poetry.

The purpose of poetry is to turn your head upside down. Poetry is there to ask questions of you and to provoke you to have another perspective of things. 

I was writing to discover who I was and as a way of enabling me to achieve sanity and to ask questions about who we were, as Jamaicans. I have grown up with the society. Part of my learning to be a writer was reading what Caribbean scholars were writing.

Senior also emphasized the extensive research that goes into many of her poetry and non-fiction books. This research, though arduous, enriches her writing overall. Her entry-point when dealing with large quantities of information is to find an intimate portal.

Look for the smallest possible thing. 

My life and art are holistic. 

For successive generations, Senior has inspired with her stories about outsiders: orphans, children, women trapped in roles, and men left behind by time.

All my work is about humanity. 

The audience also got a peak at the daily life of the writer, who teaches at Toronto, where she lives. For now.

My day is spent earning a living! I'm an optimist just to stay afloat. 

Shivanee Ramlochan, Olive Senior, the crowd and Ayanna Gillian Lloyd.
Photo by Andre Bagoo

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