“Unwritten Poem” – Poem by Barbados’ First Poet Laureate Esther Phillips


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minister of culture appoints poet esther phillips as barbados' first poet laureate - february 2018

Minister of Culture appoints Poet Esther Phillips as Barbados’ first Poet Laureate – February 2018
Photo Credit: Barbados Government Information Services


My Poetry Corner January 2019 features the poem “Unwritten Poem” from the poetry collection, The Stone Gatherer, by Esther Phillips, a poet and educator born in Barbados, where she still resides. In February 2018, she was appointed the first Poet Laureate of the Caribbean island-nation.

After attending the Barbados Community College at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus, she won a James Michener fellowship to the University of Miami where, in 1999, she gained an MFA degree in Creative Writing. Her poetry collection/thesis won the Alfred Boas Poetry Prize of the Academy of American Poets.

In 2001, she won the leading Barbadian Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award. Years later, the third of her three well-received poetry collections, Leaving Atlantis (2015), won the Governor General’s Award for Literary Excellence.

Phillips is a Sunday columnist of the Nation newspaper and editor of Bim: Arts for the 21st Century, a 2007 revival of the seminal Caribbean literary and arts magazine, first published in 1942. In 2012, she formed Writers Ink Inc. and, together with its members, the Bim Literary Festival & Book Fair. Continue reading


Year 2018: Reflections


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Year 2018 was filled with disappointments, self-doubt, and loss of direction. After completing my second novel, The Twisted Circle, in September 2017, I failed to grab the attention of literary agents or publishers.

“Not quite the right fit for us,” respondents said.

“You’re not good enough,” my inner critic said.

Drowning in self-doubt, I clung to the recognition that my yet-to-be-published first novel, Under the Tamarind Tree, had received when shortlisted for the 2014 Dundee International Book Prize.

Each attempt to get started on my third novel, to be set in Brazil, fizzled out. The Top Boss in the White House held my afflicted heart in his grip. My mind became a barren landscape of shifting sand dunes. In September, I abandoned my writing project.

Where do I go from here? The answer still evades me. Continue reading


Dispelling Myths About Migration — my quest blog



With thousands of migrants from Central America currently stranded just south of the US border in Mexico, it’s time to ignore the political rhetoric coming from Washington for a few minutes and focus on the reasons so many choose to leave country, culture and family behind and walk 2,500 miles (4,000 kms) to an unknown […]

via Dispelling Myths About Migration — my quest blog

This Christmas, I find no reason for celebration. My thoughts are with the desperate mothers and fathers from Guatemala and other Central American countries who seek only a secure life for their children. If we, the world’s largest economy, cannot provide them with refuge, who will?

Learn about Henry Lewis, my guest blogger.


“We Could Be Free” by American Rapper Vic Mensa


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Vic Mensa (foreground) from song video “We Could Be Free”
Photo Credit: Rolling Stone


In keeping with my end-of-year tradition, I feature a song on my Poetry Corner December 2018. During this year of growing division in the USA, the hip hop song “We Could Be Free” by Vic Mensa captured my attention. It’s the thirteenth track on Mensa’s first, full-length, studio album, The Autobiography, released on July 28, 2017.

An American rapper, singer, and songwriter, Vic Mensa was born Victor Kwesi Mensah on June 6, 1993, in Chicago, Illinois. He grew up in the good part of the Hyde Park neighborhood within a sheltered home with two parents, both educators. His white American mother and Ghanaian father, an economics professor at the University of Chicago, wanted their son to go to college. But the young Vic dreamed of becoming a rock star.

With adolescence came exposure to the real world outside of Vic’s gated community. In “Memories on 47th Street,” the biracial Mensa raps of his loss of innocence and the beginning of his drug use.

At age 12 I learned the difference between white and black
Police pulled me off of my bike, I landed on my back
Back to reality, oops, a victim of gravity
Where they pull you down and keep you there
Dependin’ on how you keep your hair

“I started to realize that America and the world were categorizing me as being black and all the stigmas attached to that, which would take a lifetime to unpack,” Mensa says in an interview with the Chicago Tribune.

Mensa concludes in “Memories on 47th Street:”

In a land of desperation we often turn to self-medication as a coping mechanism
Some make a living as hood pharmacists while some just inhale to remove them from hell
I watched from the window of a gated community until I grew old enough
There was no immunity from allure of the life

Continue reading

“Revolutionary Suicide”: Remembering the Jonestown Massacre


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Aerial view of Paradise off of Clark Road – Camp Fire, Northern California
November 15, 2018
Photo Credit: San Francisco Examiner (Carolyn Cole/Los Angeles Times)


As California burns and super-storms ravage our southern and eastern coastal states, I’ve been thinking a lot about the Reverend Jim Jones and the People’s Temple. Today, November 18th, is the fortieth anniversary of the mass murder-suicide of 916 Americans at the People’s Temple Agricultural Project at Jonestown in the northwest forested region of Guyana.

The 276 dead American children had no choice.

Teacher with Children Singing – Jonestown – Guyana
Photo Credit: California Digital Library


Victim of his own megalomania and alternate reality, the Pentecostal leader coerced his followers into ingesting cyanide-laced, grape-flavored Flavor Aid.

“Revolutionary suicide,” the Reverend Jim Jones called his final, defiant act. Continue reading

We want our country back


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White NATIONALISTS in Charlottesville – Virginia – August 2017
Photo Credit: Vox (Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency)

We want our country back
rile white nationalists
goose-stepping through the streets
of Americaville
waving tiki torches
emboldened and blinded
by their chosen fuhrer
ruling in the White House.

Homo sapiens. Wise man. Where is the wisdom, our superior intelligence, when we know not that we know not? How soon we forget that we live on the ancestral lands of conquered Native Americans: over 500 tribes occupying these lands for more than 15,000 years. How soon we forget that the good life we have enjoyed for generations has come with the sacrifice of non-white bodies to the gods of greed, plunder, and dispossession. Continue reading

“Humanity” by Afro-Brazilian Writer & Poet Carolina Maria de Jesus


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Carolina Maria de Jesus - Favela of Caninde - Sao Paulo - Before publication of first book

Carolina Maria de Jesus with cart – Favela of Canindé – São Paulo (circa 1958)
Photo Credit: Jornal Estado de Minas (Collection Audálio Dantas)


My Poetry Corner November 2018 features the poem “Humanity” (Humanidade) by Afro-Brazilian writer and poet, Carolina Maria de Jesus (1914-1977), born in a rural community in Minas Gerais, Southeast Brazil.

An illegitimate child of a sharecropping family, Carolina was treated as an outcast. After just two years in primary school, when she learned to read and write, she developed a love for reading. She dreamed of becoming a writer.

“The book…fascinates me,” de Jesus writes in My Strange Diary (Meu Estranho Diário). “I was raised in the world. Without maternal guidance. But books guided my thinking. Avoiding the abysses that we encounter in life. Blessed the time I spent reading. I came to the conclusion that it’s the poor who must read. Because the book, it’s the compass that we have to guide man into the future…”

In 1930, de Jesus moved with her family to the State of São Paulo, where she worked as a washerwoman and, later, as a housemaid. After her mother’s death in 1937, she moved to the state capital, an industrial megalopolis. In 1948, she became pregnant for a Portuguese sailor. After he abandoned her, she moved to the favela (slum) of Canindé. Two other children followed, for different fathers.

De Jesus eked out a living: working as a housemaid and scavenging for paper and scrap metal around Canindé. An independent woman, she refused to marry because of the domestic violence she witnessed around her. Writing on blank pages of used notebooks she found in trash cans, she began recording her day-to-day existence as one of society’s “discarded” and marginalized people.

In her first entry, she writes: “July 15, 1955. The birthday of my daughter Vera Eunice [born 1953]. I wanted to buy a pair of shoes for her, but the price of food keeps us from realizing our desires. Actually we are slaves to the cost of living…”

Carolina Maria de Jesus - Manuscript 15 July 1955

Carolina Maria de Jesus – Manuscript of Journal – July 15, 1955
Photo Credit: Templo Cultural Delfos


Her stories, poems, and journal entries describe her struggle to rise above poverty and the ever-present specter of hunger. She calls attention to the social problems they face—prostitution, adultery, incest, alcoholism, physical violence, and foul language—and the consequences in their lives. She writes of the racial injustice and discrimination heaped on the poor and blacks in the favelas. She notes the empty promises made by politicians.

In an untitled poem from her journal, de Jesus requests:

Don’t say that I was trash,
that I lived on the margin of life.
Say that I was looking for work,
but I was always slighted.
Tell the Brazilian people
that my dream was to be a writer,
but I did not have money
to pay for a publisher.

A breakthrough came in 1958 when Carolina de Jesus met the young journalist, Audálio Dantas, during his visit to the favela for an assignment. On learning about her journal, he recognized its uniqueness and sociological importance. Through Dantas’ influence, edited excerpts were published in a magazine. Their popularity among readers led to the publication of her journal in 1960 as a book titled, Quarto de Despejo (Trash Room).

Carolina Maria de Jesus, Audálio Dantas e Ruth de Souza na Favela do Canindé. São Paulo, 1961

From left to right: Carolina Maria de Jesus, Journalist Audálio Dantas, and Actress Ruth de Souza – Favela of Canindé – São Paulo – 1961
Photo Credit: Collection Audálio Dantas


When asked about the idea for the name of her book, de Jesus told the interviewer: “In 1948, when they began to demolish one-story houses to construct apartment buildings, we, the poor, that lived in collective housing units, were trashed and we began living under bridges. That’s why I call the favela the trash room for a city. We, the poor, are old junk.”

Trash Room became an instant bestseller, selling 10,000 copies within the first three days and 90,000 more copies over the next six months. The English version, Child of the Dark, followed in 1962. The book soon drew international attention. But, to the Brazilian literary elite, it lacked linguistic quality. Three more books published in the 1960s received little attention.

Carolina Maria de Jesus durante noite de autógrafos do lançamento de seu livro Quarto de Despejo, São Paulo, em 1960.

Carolina Maria de Jesus signing her book Quarto de Despejo – São Paulo – 1960
Photo Credit: Templo Cultural Delfos


In her poem, “Many fled on seeing me,” published posthumously (1996) in Personal Anthology, a poetry collection, de Jesus laments:

It was paper I collected
To pay for my living
And in the trash I found books to read
How many things I wanted to do
I was hindered by prejudice
When I die I want to be born again
In a country where blacks predominate

With her book royalties, Carolina de Jesus bought a house in a middle-class neighborhood. Admiration turned to envy. Some accused her of being ambitious and uncharitable.

The featured poem, “Humanity,” published posthumously in My Strange Diary, is composed of four stanzas with a rhyme scheme aabccb. De Jesus expresses her disillusions with humankind: the perversity, wickedness, greed, tyrannical…egoists, and hypocrisy.

After knowing humanity
its perversities
its ambitions
I have been getting older
and losing
the illusions


When I die…
I don’t want to be born again
It’s horrible, to endure humanity
that has a noble appearance
that conceals
its worst qualities

Unable to adjust to life among the middle-class, de Jesus moved to the countryside where she lived in poverty until the end of her life. Her passing in 1977 went virtually unnoticed. She left behind more than 5,000 handwritten pages that contained seven novels, over 60 texts of chronicles, fables, autobiography and stories, over 100 poems, and four plays.

To read the featured poem in its original Portuguese and learn more about the work of Carolina Maria de Jesus, go to my Poetry Corner November 2018.

NOTE: All translations from Portuguese to English done by Rosaliene Bacchus.


Wisdom Through the Ages by Gary Girdhari


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Front Cover - Wisdom Through the Ages by Gary Girdhari

Front Cover: Wisdom Through the Ages compiled by Gary Girdhari


Wisdom Through the Ages by Gary Girdhari is a handbook and daily companion of selected quotations from humankind’s great thinkers, past and present. A former Professor of Biology (PhD) at the University of Guyana, Girdhari is concerned about the deteriorating state of modern civilization. As “an ardent believer in the mass psychology of change,” he seeks “to ventilate [his] views and reflections through the minds of really great people presented in this volume.”

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
~ Margaret Mead, American anthropologist (p.127)

In the Introduction, Girdhari recounts that his first encounter with “quotations from outstanding persons” in primary school had a profound and lasting effect on his life. Later, as a young school teacher pursuing undergraduate studies, he had aligned with the anti-colonial movement that swept across then British Guiana and other colonial territories worldwide. To him, the time had come for such a revolutionary change. It was “commonsense logic.”

Truth and love will triumph over tyranny and injustice. Throughout history tyrants always fall.
~ Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi, Leader of India’s independence movement (p.123) Continue reading

“Male and female He created them”


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Brett Kavanaugh sworn in to the US Supreme Court - 6 October 2018

Brett Kavanaugh sworn in to the U.S. Supreme Court – October 6, 2018
Photo Credit: The Press Democrat


Despite sexual assault allegations, on October 6, 2018, Brett Kavanaugh was sworn in to the U.S. Supreme Court. His contentious nomination process before the male-dominated Senate Committee hammered home the gnawing reality: Women have yet to achieve equal footing with men under our legal system.

To achieve what may have been a lifelong ambition, Kavanaugh exposed his “two spirited daughters” to the public bashing of his integrity. Has he used the sexual allegations – which he has denied with tears and anger – as a teaching moment for his ten- and thirteen-year old daughters? Has he considered the possibility that his daughters could one day suffer the same trauma as his accuser, Christine Blasey Ford?

Ford did not tell her parents what had happened that summer day while she was out with trusted friends. Like so many of us born female, she kept the sexual assault a secret. Continue reading

“Clan” – Poem by Jamaica-born Colin Channer


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Front Cover - Providential - Poems by Colin Channer

Front Cover: Providential: Poems by Colin Channer
Photo Credit: Akashic Books


My Poetry Corner October 2018 features the poem “Clan” from the poetry collection, Providential, by Colin Channer, a novelist and poet born in Kingston, Jamaica. At eighteen, upon completion of high school, he migrated to New York to pursue a career in journalism. He earned a B.A. in Media Communications from Hunter College of the City University of New York. Father of two, he currently lives in New England.

When Channer was six years old, his father, a policeman, left the family, forcing his mother to work two jobs. After her daytime job as a pharmacist at a local hospital, she worked nights in a drugstore. Channer’s collection explores the violence of policing that ruined his father, their fractured relationship, and the challenges of being a better father to his own teenage son.

Channer’s teenage years contrasts with that of his American-born son. In his poem “Mimic,” he observes his son, born with the ears of a mimic: 

Makonnen, Brooklyn teenager
with Antillean roots
replanted in Rhode Island,
a state petiter than the country
where my navel string was cut.

After guiding his son through the roots of the civil war in Liberia – founded on the coast of Guinea / by ex-chattel – Channer reflects on his kinsmen in Jamaica.

How they discuss a slaughter
with ease, by rote,
never as something spectacular,
absurd. And I belong to them,
on two sides, for generations,
by blood. 

My kinsmen aren’t poets.
They’re cops. Continue reading