writers on writers: Patricia Glinton-Meicholas

This issue’s featured writer on writers is Patricia Glinton-Meicholas, a Bahamian satirist, poet, storyteller and novelist who may be best known for her books How to be a True-True Bahamian and The Ninety-Nine Cent Breakfast, or for her collection of Bahamian folk tales, An Evening in Guanima, which every Bahamian schoolchild appears to have read. Again owing to circumstances beyond the control of us all (including acts of God, ash clouds, and the demands of Patti’s own life), we don’t have a video for you. But we will one day add audio—or, at the very least, a picture.

In the meantime, though, Patti’s words will have to do. And they will do very well—what is a writer, after all, more than words on the page (or screen)?

•••

TOTO: Why do you write?

PGM: I write for the same reason I read and delve into history—it is a compulsion. I have always loved words, as my mother did. I love the creative power that words yield. When I discover books by authors who are tuned into this ever-expanding universe of meaning and beauty, I read them over and over again. I’ve read Flaubert’s Madame Bovary four times at least. I feel the same way about Roumain’s Governeurs de la Rosée and Carpentier’s El Reino de Este Mundo.

TOTO: Who are your poetic influences?

PGM: I don’t know that I can say honestly that I have poetic influences. I so strongly repudiate a notion that is increasingly promulgated by people in the creative community; that is, you have to be slavish to the doings in poetic America or what you do is no good. When I’m impelled to commit a feeling or thought to poetry, I simply do the things I like and find pleasant. My spirit is contradictorily fed by euphony and cacophony. I just like what sensory images can do, so I spend a lot of time on word choice and alliterative and other sound devices. If I feel like a form of rhyme, I use it and the devil take the hindmost. The highest of the poetic pundits can frown on it and I won’t be shaken. Writing is very personal—to be at its best, it has to echo something in your own soul.

What I can best do in answer to your question is to list a few poets who have touched my life and I continue to find profound:

Were they truer, the old songs
when the law was far away,
when the veiled queen, her girth
comfortable as cushions,
upheld the orb with its stern admonitions?
We wait for the changing of statues
the change of parades.
—Derek Walcott, “Parades, Parades”

You can’t beat this can you? From the time I studied Spanish Golden Age Literature for two years at University, I have loved the Spanish and English Mystics. I have just reread John Donne’s Holy Sonnet XIV—you know—”Batter my heart three-person’d God…/Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,/Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.”

Poets from our region have a freshness and power that play music on my spine.

and what would life be like without

Shakespeare
Emily Dickinson
W. H. Auden
Baudelaire
Verlaine

and so many others. Thank God they didn’t listen to their parents to devote themselves to the ‘received’ professions!

And hot diggidy, I love love what’s happening right here in The Bahamas with our women poets!

TOTO: Chinua Achebe famously wrote that “art for art’s sake is just another piece of deodorized dog shit.” What is the role of the poet in society?

PGM: Achebe is entitled to his views. We don’t have to agree. I believe that a poet ought to be as rounded as any other citizen. I’m happy with art for art’s sake, when the soul just feels like blowing beauty like that a fresh rain draws from summer earth. At the same time, poets must use a gift that can have enormous impact to draw attention to those things that must change, such as injustice, discrimination, etc. These days my poems are very much concerned with calling attention to injustices that we direct against our fellow beings for no better reason than our insecurity on this planet can only be relieved by feeling superior to at least one other person. But then I have also written stuff just to play with words and to rock with inner glee e.g. “On the Effects of a Note Played by Wynton Marsalis”. Can’t tell you the fun I had with that one!

TOTO: Some people believe that poetry is an outdated art form, especially poetry written for the page, which has been supplanted by the spoken word. What is your view on this position?

PGM: There are those who would discard books because of Kindle and I hardly read poetry in Nassau nowadays to young audiences because so many only want poems about sex and revolution set to rap. And then, why is that people always must elevate what they are best at and scurrilously bad mouth that which they don’t do well at by calling it passe, old hat? Many spoken word poets are excellent and there are some whose meagre light would do better hidden under a bushel. The same goes for those who make use of the written forms. The readiness to discard things that have come before is a point of departure that is insidious and will cut off its nose to the despite of its face. I’m all for innovation, but who could be so dull of soul as to think the great new and the great old cannot coexist? Should we discard Michaelangelo’s David or think it any less magnificent because we are awed by the works of Henry Moore at Kew? It is as bad as those visual artists who prefer abstraction and now regularly condemn figuration as “pretty, pretty” and therefore worthless. How can any form that has propelled men, women and children to explore and elevate the best in themselves, that has helped people to see their situations with greater clarity, to endure, be unworthy? There are poems I read and learned in childhood that still inspire me and that I hope will endure to the end of the world.

TOTO: What do you dream for tomorrow?

PGM: I dream of a truly, confidently literate Bahamas—a country where we will take joy and search out word art as ardently as we pursue junkanoo and music; a country in which creatives don’t have to pretend to see the emperor clothed when he is obviously naked, to follow trends from without rather than from within and condemn those who, like the small boy, will have none of this pompous falsity. I want to see a Bahamas where we can count yearly on the appearance of great fora, journals, books, etc. For this we need more cooperative efforts, more good critics, more readers, more literature in our schools, shared by teachers who have the skill and appreciation to bring literature to life and share it with their students as an essential element of their development.

Thank you for allowing me to share in your very necessary forum for the exchange of ideas.

•••

Patricia Glinton-Meicholas is a Bahamian satirist, poet and novelist who has written numerous papers, articles and monographs on Bahamian history, art and culture as well as ten books, including coauthoring Bahamian Art 1492 to 1992, the first comprehensive work on the subject, two volumes of poetry, and several works of satire. She contributed entries to the Bahamas section of the Macmillan 37 volume Dictionary of Art, and her story, “The Gaulin Wife” is included in the Penguin anthology Under the Storyteller’s Spell.
Her work for television includes the writing, producing and directing of six historical documentaries for the Bahamas National Trust’s “A Proud and Singular Heritage” series, two on the history of the Roman Catholic Church in The Bahamas, as well as the 2009 documentary The 1942 Riots under the sponsorship of the Department of Archives.
She is president of the Bahamas Association for Cultural Studies (BACUS). She was the first woman to present the Sir Lynden Pindling Memorial Lecture, first winner of the Bahamas Cacique Award for Writing and recipient of a Silver Jubilee of Independence Medal for Literature.

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