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Poetry Archive: Olive Senior Reading from her Poems

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CD-Audio

Publisher
The Poetry Archive

ISBN 13
978190632455

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About this title

Olive Senior is a singularly original writer with a genius for re-inhabiting and recreating the wonder and cruel theatre of childhood, while also exploring adult pretensions and realities in relation to history, locality and the multifarious and revelatory world of nature. She was born to peasant farmers in 1941 in a small village called Troy, deep in the interior of Jamaica, but was largely brought up by her more worldly and cosmopolitan great uncle and great aunts Peart. It was there she experienced the strangely compelling exclusivity of the solitary child. At this time she was "pretty much being shifted between the two extremes of a continuum based on race, colour and class in Jamaica", and much of her childhood experience would be transmuted in her poetry and prose. After winning a scholarship to Montego Bay High
School for Girls, she did well in her studies and at 19 went to work at The Daily Gleaner, Jamaica's major newspaper, and soon afterwards left to study journalism. She now lives and teaches in Toronto, and still spends time in Jamaica, which remains central to her work.

Senior's biography gives us many clues to her preoccupations. Identity and ethnicity seem straightforward enough, but her consideration of them is more often oblique than direct, and she has an artful way with the stealthy revelation, giving the lie to a seemingly decorous status quo, as if only she can see how many square pegs are in round holes. The complex seduction of the victim after colonisation is especially painful to observe, with its infectious snobbery and self-denials; that curiously comical and even despicable mimicry of colonial genteel ritual, when just beneath the surface of life and a poem lurk the wild spirits of the gods, the tribe and Africa herself. Nature is a constant source of inspiration for Senior, and in all four of her collections she has used its variety to explore many different aspects of race, religion, politics and history, in the wider context of roots and nationhood. Again, though, she prefers the conversational tone to more rhetorical flourishes, and like those original oral poets and songsters transplanted in the Caribbean, she uses all manner of folkloric technique, proverb and fable, traditional adage and magical incantation - the very stuff of daily life deep in those rural communities she knows so well from her childhood. Senior gives us many richly detailed sketches and portraits of Jamaican community life and the growing tensions between urban and rural, wherein lie dangerous threats from modernity to tradition and collective memory.

As often with this poet, a certain distance allows of special enchantments, and there is something in Senior's suggested authorial solitude, her single viewpoint and partial fauxexile, which gives her poetry that special quality of something very particular, like an intense experience being remembered and described. In the quirkily brilliant poem ‘Meditation on Red' this is exactly what happens, when she describes a pilgrimage to Jean Rhys's bleak Devon bungalow and last resting place on a rainy day in spring. Discursive, confidential,
apologetic and spellbound, she manages to capture the shifting moods of sadness, disappointment, comedy, admiration and muted awe, as she contemplates the literary and personal ironies of such an exotic tropical beauty now lying beneath the drizzly skies of England's verdant West Country. This is memorialising of deceptively artless simplicity, and a fine tribute to a great writer and undoubtedly a kindred spirit. Shorter poems have the sharp clarity of still lives, in which traditional fruit bear cautionary tales, and microcosmic shells
contain whirlwinds of passion. ‘Colonial Girls School' is a merciless dissection of the school's very partial curriculum, where even spoken Latin trumps Creole; it appears to be a small picture, but has all the expansive appeal of a mural depicting an entire society. Olive Senior reads every poem with the winning integrity of a classic female performer, and holds the listener right in the palm of her hand.


1. Moon 2.03
2. Rejected Text for a Tourist Brochure 2.02
3. Leaving Home 1.15
4. Embroidery 3.23
5. Lacemaker 2.11
6. The Birth of Islands 0.52
7. The Secret of Flying Close to the Sun Without Melting Wings 2.20
8. Peacock Tale 2 2.11
9. Rooster 0.24
10. Hen 0.59
11. Guinea Hen 1.01
12. The Pull of Birds 1.29
13. Meditation on Red 6.04
14. Hurricane Story 1904 3.53
15. Hurricane Story 1988 1.15
16. Starapple 0.33
17. Pineapple 1.01
18. Guava 0.23
19. Guinep 0.30
20. Bamboo 4 2.37
21. Brief Lives 1.20
22. My Father's Blue Plantation 2.11
23. Meditation on Yellow 7.17
24. Gastropoda 0.35
25. Shelter 0.23
26. Garden Snail 0.32
27. Hurricanes 0.27
28. Join the Dots 1.46
29. Shell 1.35
30. A Superficial Reading 2.20
31. Colonial Girls School 2.22
32. Birdshooting Season 0.56
33. Hurricane Watch 0.31
34. Dead Straight 2.11

Total length of the recording 61' 11"


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