During this year, GOFAD has received poems from a number of its readers. It occurred to us that we should share these from time to time, since some among you may find them a diversion from the trials and tribulations of the COVID era and indeed soulfully fulfilling.
Highlighting the work of three poets: Pearl Williams, Maralyn Ballantyne and Kevin Isaacs
I have chosen three poems among many from the GOFAD Collection. The first “The Mirage” by Pearl Williams. It is one of the 40 odd in her first publication, of poetry, The Spaces between the Dots. The second is "Pandemic" by Carmen Maralyn Ballantyne, one from a collection that is currently in process of being produced as a book of poems. The third is a haunting rendition of “Before You Go” by Kevin M. Isaac, High Commissioner of St. Kitts and Nevis to the United Kingdom, who has just launched Chasing Footsteps, his fourth collection of poems which according to the Director of the Commonwealth Foundation is “as complex, compelling and intriguing as his others works”. The poem is being presented in his trade mark podcasts that he labels 'verbal photography to take readers on a journey of discovery, love and renewal'.
Before sharing these three poems, I take the opportunity to pay two tributes.
Saluting two amazing young poets
We recognize how the inspirational messages of these two young poets resonate. First, is Amanda Gorman’s electrifying and historic poem “The Hill We Climb,” read at President Joe Biden’s inauguration, at the beginning of the year and her newly released book of poems on December 7, 2021 titled Call us what we Carry. This was preceded in September 2021 by a lyrical picture book Change Sings: A Children’s Anthem. The other, Cyndi Celeste a young Barbadian poet , my new acquaintance. Her performance of an imaginatively profound poem, “We ain’t Done”, at the event to celebrate Barbados’ Republican status on November 30, 2021. It was absolutely as brilliant as Amanda Gorman's. Its refrain -- we ain't done -- is about passing the baton of change from Bussa (slave rebellion leader) to Barrow (Prime Minister of Barbados at Independence) to ‘WE’. It is a charge especially but not exclusively to the youth. Oh how we need to hear that rendition about the true meaning of being a Republic over and over again. Cyndi Celeste certainly conjures up great expectation. -- About Cyndi Celeste: http://barbados.loopnews.com/content/cyndi-celeste-using-her-poetry-inspire-others-and-challenge
Congratulating Guyanese Grace Nichols: 2021 Recipient of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry
In announcing the award on Friday December 10, 2021, poet laureate, Simon Armitage chair of the Poetry Medal Committee, said “Over the past four decades, Grace has been an original pioneering voice in the British poetry scene. Her poems are alive with characters from the folklore and fables of her Caribbean homeland [Guyana] and echo with the rhymes and rhythms of her family and ancestors. They are also passionate and sensuous at times, being daring in their choice of subject and openhearted in their outlook.”
This University of Guyana Alum is being honored for her body of work, in particular her first collection of poetry I Is a Long-Memoried Woman, her prose, and several books for younger readers. https://newsroom.gy/2021/12/11/guyanese-poet-wins-queens-gold-medal/
NOW LET THE POETS SPEAK
"The Mirage" by Pearl Williams
Positively decked out
Seeking untold fame
Do they know the pitfalls
As they forge ahead
Can they see the dangers
So they’re not misled
What if every twist and turn
Another challenge brings
Will they have the stamina
To cope with life’s stings
What about those folks
Who do not wish them well
Who go about their business
Decrying them like hell
Will they spend a lot of time
Scheming to harm them
Or will they spend a lot of time
Seeking to disarm them
Interestingly you look around
Not quite sure what their game is
But you vow to press ahead
Determined to confound them
"Pandemic" by Carmen Maralyn Ballantyne
Pungent Bay Leaf aromas
Bless and enjoin the salty sea air,
Each silky green leaf
An earth-born message of fervent hope, healing, rebirth
Gifted to all, seekers and non-seekers alike
Who in sweet communion grasp nature’s offerings
Regarding them as superior to any material momento
Of the pre covid world.
And a woman’s smiling eyes speak to us
Over-ruling the vital mask,
Poignant reminder of the difference
Between just being and complying.
And if we didn’t know
Now we know!
Covid demolished hypocrisy,
Covid stripped bare the burning inequities,
The disparities endured for too long.
Covid provided the bulletin board that tells us how not to do it.
Covid reminds us that challenges
Are not to be hoarded on the dusty shelf
But must be dealt with head on
With great urgency!
Covid made us not only see but feel deep in our gut
The issues that really matter.
Unveiling the truth,
It laid disparities and social injustice bare.
As the pandemic unfolds
Active demons are let loose.
With our thought process dominated
By the real issues on replay,
Tigress Mia Motley calls for strategic global governance.
Some uncertainty as to where solutions lie,
No uncertainty as to the need to
Search conscience in every village
In every boardroom
In the corridors of power.
Mankind’s threads of interconnections, interdependence,
Like finest tightly hand-woven tapestries of intricate patterns,
Represent the permanent backdrop to our global agenda.
As the stage curtain is drawn
There stands our world population,
Players gasping for an opportunity to breathe.
In dual roles, as audience, as actors, may we keep the backdrop in view.
May its symbolism fire our collective imagination crater,
Eject streams of 'laval' creativity
Stir a boiling cauldron of resourcefulness.
Essential ingredients for global reconstruction.
"Before you go" as verbal photography by Kevin Isaacs
About the Poets
Pearl Williams is a writer of poetry and short stories. In the last two years, her poems have appeared in Canadian Stories print magazine (Toronto) and as part of David Hamilton’s Behind the Willow: a poetry collection. She is a member of the Ottawa Independent Writers (OIW) group and contributed to the Ottawa Ethnic Media Forum’s, Covid-19 Chronicles, a collection of stories, poems and articles published in 2020. A former Canadian diplomat, she is currently working on a travel memoir for publication in 2022. Find Pearl and other writers at https://www.ottawaindependentwriters.com/
Carmen Maralyn Balantyne LLB is a Vincentian, educated at universities in the Caribbean, England and USA with extensive experience in freelance radio, newspaper journalism, private sector management, tourism, teaching, law and working at the UN. Now semi retired, she devotes a tremendous amount of time to poetry writing and has joined her daughter in carrying on the philanthropic work of the late Sir Frederick Ballantyne, cardiologist and Former Governor General of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. .
Kevin Isaacs is the St Kitts and Nevis High Commissioner to the UK. He is no stranger to GOFAD whose readers were introduced to his poetry in the blog Enjoy Verbal Photography with Kevin Isaacs (9/24/2021). While being a Diplomat is his designated occupation, he has a passion for poetry and is quite accomplished. On November 15 Chasing Footsteps his fourth book of poems was launched in London. His previous works include Whispers of Silence, Memories in Serenade and Breakfast with my Fathers.
Human Rights Day is the anniversary of the day in 1948 when the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The aim of the Declaration of Human Rights is to establish a common standard of living for all people across the planet that everyone is entitled to. Although these rights are seen as more declarative than legally binding, they are commonly acknowledged to have had an impact on how human rights are perceived to be a force for good. Although the fulfilment of human rights is the legal responsibility of nation states, other actors at local, national, regional and international levels play an essential role in ensuring that their aspirations are fulfilment. In this blog we take a glimpse at the connections between human rights and topical issues such as gender based violence , the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, slavery and critical race theory. In so doing we are reminded that in celebrating Human Rights Day we must be mindful as much about what solidifies as what subverts its aspirations.
Human Rights and Gender Equity - a Pervasive Scourge
International Human Rights day follows the 16days of activism against gender based violence which since 2011 begins on November 25. It has been designated as International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women This year's theme Orange the World : End Violence Now is an appropriate reminder of the gravity of the situation . Recent data show that in some countries 7 out of 10 women are beaten, raped, abused or mutilated in their life time This therefore is one of the most widespread violations of human rights. Valiant efforts through numerous campaigns are to be noted. They include the UN Secretary General Every Woman Every Child Initiative, the Global Civil Society Social Mobilization , Say No-Unite to end violence against women platform , the Spouses of Caribbean Leaders (SCLANS) Every Caribbean Woman Every Caribbean Child Programme and the UN Trust Fund to support these endeavours. Yet the problem remains a pervasive scourge . The UN UNITE Campaign in support of Goal 5 of the 2030 SDGs is a proactive attempt for global actions to increase awareness, galvanize advocacy efforts , share knowledge and initiate innovative approaches.
Human Rights in the COVID 19 Pandemic - repulsive
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the world to a major crossroads The choice has been either take the route of collective action and concretely address the inequalities that have risen across the globe, or continue on the route filled with deep-rooted injustices and pervasive inequities. What has been termed "the vaccine apartheid" is a repulsive illustration of human rights abuse where some countries hoarded and others lacked access. This has no doubt contributed to the continuing variants according to many scientific studies.
During the pandemic, many city authorities became frontline responders—managing food distribution, organizing testing stations, and enabling the large-scale burials and cremations that were needed. In each case, city authorities and local communities had deliberately applied human rights principles, which enabled them to respond to COVID-19 impacts as they are shaped by social inequality. It is clear that “localizing” human rights will be crucial to the post-pandemic recovery, as the groups disproportionately affected by the pandemic – such as women, persons with disabilities, migrants, and other marginalized groups – must be the focus of targeted recovery efforts.
Human Rights and Climate Change - regressive
The International Human Rights Council has emphasized the importance of a healthy environment and has appointed of a Special Rapporteur on Human Rights for the Environment and Climate Change. This is an attempt to accelerate the fulfilment of SDG Goal 13 and the overall pledge to “leave no one behind.” Yet the decisions at the COP 26 in Glasgow provided grounds to suggest that they instead contribute to the regression of human rights principles. Nations will still have much more to do on their emissions cutting goals to ensure the 1.5 limit. The truth for the Planet is that the majority of the 20 largest countries contribute to 80 percent of the global emissions . Consequently, the International Energy Agency (IEA) estimates that if all the current long term commitments were fully followed through, the world would limit heating to 1.8 degrees in the long term. However the gap between the long term ambitions and countries' crucial short term targets for 2030 would result in heating of 2.4C.
This is far removed from the six key demands put forward by Small Island Development States (SIDS) and Climate Justice advocates — decarbonizing, climate financing international cooperation, debt cancellation, taxes for climate related damages commit to global heating of 1.5°C. This failure to respond will contribute to small countries like the Caribbean that contribute least to the problems suffering most including being "entirely submerged by rising sea levels".
Placing a Positive Spin on Slavery - an educational gag order
The 2021 New Hampshire bill requires teachers to put a positive spin on slavery. Between January and September 2021, 24 legislatures across the United States introduced 54 separate bills intended to restrict teaching and training about slavery in K-12 schools, higher education, and state agencies and institutions. These bills appear designed to chill academic and educational discussions and impose government dictates on teaching and learning. In short: they are educational gag orders. Legislators who support these bills appear determined to use state power to exert ideological control over public educational institutions. Further, in seeking to silence race- or gender-based critiques of U.S. society and history that those behind them deem to be “divisive,” these bills, are likely to disproportionately affect the free speech rights of students, educators, and trainers who are women, people of color, and LGBTQ+. What is being promoted is actually a push to censure truthful information about American history. A new "teacher loyalty" bill introduced in New Hampshire would, among other things, prohibit "teaching that the United States was founded on racism." See link https://popular.info/p/new-hampshire-bill-would-require
Human Rights and Critical Race Theory - the Ultimate Subversion
New Hampshire however is mainly one dimension of the subversion of human rights. The distortion of Critical Race Theory is the ultimate subversion. It is not a coincidence that these trends have manifested themselves in the legislative onslaught following the mass protests that swept the United States in 2020 in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. This was pervasive long before. Many Americans and U.S. Institutions have distorted the true reckoning that race and racism have played in American history and society. They have opposed the cultural changes surrounding race, gender, and diversity and have pushed back ferociously, feeding into a culture war. According to several scholars , their framing of “Critical Race Theory” has been applied with a broad brush, to targets as varied as The New York Times’ 1619 Project, efforts to address bullying and cultural awareness in schools, and even the mere use of words like “equity, diversity, and inclusion,” “identity,” “multiculturalism,” and “prejudice.” all elements of human rights.
Historian and writer Jelani Cobb in his new book The Essential Kerner Commission Report starkly described how Donald Trump and his allies skillfully manipulated the notions of Critical Race Theory to be “the perfect villain” and a useful “brand category” to build opposition to perceived dominance of progressives to American educational institutions. Accordingly, “the attacks on critical race theory are clearly an attempt to discredit the literature millions of people sought out last year to understand how George Floyd wound up dead on a street corner. The goal is to leave the next dead black person inexplicable by history.” history.” https://youtu.be/FglqvMDWJ0s
Eleven bills were introduced explicitly prohibiting schools from using materials from the seminal The New York Times’ 1619 Project, a journalistic and historical examination of the modern impact of slavery in the United States. Similar bills prohibit private funding for curricula in public schools, which—given the context in which they were developed and introduced— aimed at blocking specific educational materials that deal with racial justice and sexism.
There was much anticipation that this would have been a two pronged approach to the celebration of Human Rights Day. However it turned out differently. Examining human rights in relation to gender equity is deemed a scourge; in relation to the COVID 19 pandemic - repulsive; to Climate Change - regressive; placing a positive spin on slavery - an educational gag order; and distorting critical race theory - the ultimate subversion . Hopefully others would view the issues with different lenses and project an image of solidarity.
On November 30, 2021 , Barbados officially removed Queen Elizabeth II as its Head of State to become the world's newest Republic. The Queen was replaced by an outstanding Barbadian woman, The Most Honorable Sandra Mason who transitioned seamlessly from being the nation's Governor General representing the Queen to President in her own constitutional right. This signified a watershed moment for the Caribbean nation that will officially set its own course without consulting the monarch. It was preceded and followed by a world class production of song, poetry dance, memorable speeches of reflection and aspiration and of a discipled and colorful display of military precision that defies description. Magnificent! Awesome! Soulful! Creative! Massive! are all acclamations that when applied collectively would still not do justice to the magnificence of what the world witnessed -- the excellence of the Barbadian Spirit.
Landmarks in the Journey from Slavery to Independence and to a Republic
In December 1966, Errol Barrow stood before the United Nations as the first Prime Minister of a newly independent Barbados. In his speech before the body, which had just admitted Barbados as a member, Barrow famously declared, “We will be friends of all, satellites to none.” In the long road to independence Barbados originated as one of England's first slave colonies and a hub for the transatlantic slave trade. Then its sugar plantation economy thrived by bringing in enslaved people from Africa and transferring profits to its English masters. Reflecting on this ignominy in his speech before receiving the Order of Freedom , the highest national award, Prince Charles representing The Queen, spoke of the "appalling atrocity of slavery" which he said "forever stains our history".
With the change to a Republic as outlined by the Constitution (Amendment) Bill passed earlier this year, Barbados officially sets its own course for self-determination. It was revealing to note that a collage of its political history at the Road to Republic celebration, depicted the contributions of previous Prime Ministers. Besides Errol Barrow were Grantley Adams before him, and after him, Tom Adams, Owen Arthur and Erskine Sandiford whose presence at the event was recognized. It also paid homage to the local but world renowned writers, George Lamming and Kamau Braithwaite; the professionals and ordinary people many of whom representing public, private and civil society received various national awards including for invaluable contributions to the fight against the COVID -19 pandemic https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-59470843
The Essence-of the Watershed Moment
Prime Minister Motley puts the watershed moment in perspective in her November 2020 announcement of the Government’s intention to become a Republic, stating that the decisions of the country’s Parliament and its executive, should no longer be signed off on by “those who are not born here, who do not live here, and who do not appreciate the daily realities of those who live here.” In advocating that Barbadians want a Barbadian Head of State she continued by advocating that ‘this is the ultimate statement of confidence in who we are and what we are capable of achieving.” Two months after, the bronze statue of Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson, the British naval commander and a slavery sympathizer which was erected in 1813 by Barbados’ ruling class to commemorate Nelson’s victory over the Franco-Spanish forces, was dismantled from its prominent location in Bridgetown.
While the Republican Constitution has become the supreme law of Barbados there is no guarantee that it would bring the elements of self governance or the desired transformation of civic virtue for the common good. What is necessary is a consolidation of national identity of the citizens with historical and cultural traditions; and moral values, ideals, beliefs with national sovereignty. These become meaningful manifestations when individuals or groups come to believe that they belong to a country as a political community. The psychological basis of identity politics lies in the feelings of humans that they possess an inner worth or dignity which the society around them recognizes. These revolve around issues of equity and access to opportunities; diversity with inclusion; social protection and security. The philosophical aspects of this discussion have already been introduced in GOFAD's Blog that highlighted the profound thoughts of English philosopher, Isaiah Berlin's "Two concepts of Liberty" Inaugural Lecture, Oxford University (October 1958); America's philosopher John Rawls A theory of Justice (1971) and 1998 Nobel Prize winner for contribution to welfare Economics Amartya Sen's Nobel Lecture, "The Possibility of Social Choice" (December 1998). Their varied portrayals of identity, nationality and sustainable development have relevance for the future of the Republic of Barbados and for the Caribbean.
See GOFAD Entombing Moments of Humiliation with the Ashes of a Disastrous Presidency 7/1/2021”
We ain’t Done the refrain from Cindi Celeste
This vision of a national identity that frames the context and prospects of the Republic of Barbados was fully articulated wittingly or unwittingly by Ms. Cindi Celeste in her profound and prophetic poem, “We ain’t done.” Delivered with youthful vigor and passionate commitment, it was appropriately scheduled and performed following the announcement by Prime Minister Mottley that Ambassador Robyn Rihanna Felix, the internationally renowned Barbadian singer and philanthropist was recommended for the award of National Hero, joining Sir Garfield Sobers the only other living National Hero. Ms. Celeste looking to the future espouses in rhythmic expressiveness a few takeaways that I recall:
Conclusion: Unravelling Identity
Ms. Celeste’s poem is worth reproducing in its entirety. Its message “we ain’t done” is a refrain especially but not exclusively for the youth. It however has left us to ponder what happens when multiple identities emerge. For me, the major issue is - as Barbados forges ahead with consolidating its national identity, whither the CARICOM community?. A wise and most revered colleague and friend provided a possible and plausible answer. He pointed out that consideration be given to the assumption that compatible or parallel identities are more likely than conflicting identities to coexist and achieve positive results for the new Republic. I interpret this and the received wisdom from many writers on this subject to mean that:
As the spectacular fireworks illuminated the early morning skies over the island in the finale to an indescribable Republic Celebration, my soul like those of many others was bursting with pride and my mind imagining what the future holds. I said a prayer giving thanks for this awe inspiring achievement of Barbados to trigger lessons learned from its Road to becoming a Republic sparkling rays of hope for a mature CARICOM project to indeed become a "Community for All".
Edward and Auriol Greene Directors, GOFAD.