This issue features pieces from WomanSpeak, a journal of writing by Caribbean women.
WomanSpeak has been around for twenty years, founded and edited by Lynn Sweeting, and tongues of the ocean issue 11 is offering a selection of pieces from WomanSpeak Volumes 5 and 6. We’ll also be featuring an interview with Lynn Sweeting.
Watch this space; Lynn will be providing her own account of her experience founding, financing, editing and maintaining WomanSpeak over two decades.
by Lynn Sweeting
I love tongues of the ocean. Since TOTO’s inception editor Nicolette Bethel has presented readers with a steady stream of fine literature with a Caribbean focus by noted and new writers that never disappoints. The archive she is compiling in this space is becoming a treasure trove of some of the best new poetry and fiction being written today. It is going to become an invaluable resource for writers and lovers of literature of future generations. In the meantime, looking to see what’s new in TOTO is an inspiring part of the Monday morning ritual that I look forward to almost as much as the first sip of coffee, and I am not the only one for whom this is true. So of course I was pleased (ok, thrilled) when Nicolette offered to dedicate an entire issue of TOTO to selected work from WomanSpeak, A Journal of Literature and Art by Caribbean Women, Volumes Five and Six, edited by yours truly. I know that TOTO can bring our books to a wider audience and this is very exciting. I believe this collaboration marks the beginning of a new period of positive growth and development for both journals. I am encouraged and excited about combining resources and spaces in this mutually empowering way.
The majority of the pieces I selected for this special edition of TOTO are from volume 6, the new issue of WSJ especially themed, Women Speaking For the Earth. In these works writers are responding to environmental issues that most concern them as women of the Caribbean today. Lelawattee Manoo Rahming’s poem “The Sea Has Been Sick” and its accompanying photograph of the same name, calls us to look at the issue of pollution in the sea, to feel the sickness the sea feels as it tries to purge itself from the plastic trash it is made to consume, and calls us to feel responsible for it too. Sonia Farmer’s poems, excerpted from the collection, “An Unfortunate Number,” do not just lament the cutting down of sixty six casuarina trees that had lined a coastal road in Nassau for all her life, she gives each doomed tree a voice for a riveting and unsettling read. Joanne C. Hillhouse’s “Development” is a poem that captures the experience of being on the last beach in town, watching the bulldozers in the distance getting closer. In the poem, “At Grand Riviere,” poet Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné, imagines the turtle who carries the Earth on her back, finally reaching her limit, casting off the planet humanity ruined and “swimming free into the stars.” The late Telcine Turner Rolle brings it back home with “Blue Hills Blues,” a poem written in traditional twelve bar blues form, decrying the leveling of Nassau’s Blue Hills that began decades ago and continues to this day. Trees, hills, the beach, the sea, here are poets and writers deeply connected to all these, they can hear the voices of the wild places, and amplify them in these creative works so that we can hear them too. Because perhaps if we could hear the voice of Mother Earth, all her many voices, speaking to us, then maybe we would be moved to stop harming her, and be inspired to love, nurture and protect her instead.
The art in this Earth-centered collection is beautiful and powerful. The natural environment of the Caribbean depicted in these is alive, teeming with nature spirits, including Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné’s dryads, mermaids and bird ladies, Ashley Knowles’s chickcharnies and archetypal characters of Caribbean folklore, and the Mother Goddess herself, who appears in Chantal Bethel’s “Requiem for Haiti”, holding the quake stricken Cathedral of Port-au-Prince in her womb where it awaits rebirth. Claudette Dean’s “Creation” is an exuberant, colourful depiction of the Earthling island woman blooming like a tree with all her sacred Arts. It could be a womanish portrait of the female cosmos, but I rather see it as the artist’s own self-portrait. Lelawattee Manoo Rahming’s photograph, “The Sea Has Been Sick” is a compelling visual commentary on the responsibility we bear in the pollution of the seas that surround us, one that only the island woman poet could make. Individually these art pieces are stunning but seen together they become a body of work that speaks to the deep and ancient connection between creative island women and the female Earth.
WomanSpeak is dedicated to creating a space for writers with diverse points of view, who break silences that need to be broken, who tackle the taboo subjects, whose creative work challenges oppression by telling the truth about women’s lives. For TOTO I selected emerging poet Simone Lied’s “Ettiquette for Fine Young Cannibals,” a disturbing depiction of Caribbean rape culture and the way violence against women is not only tolerated but assimilated into our lives and languages. I think this is one of the most important pieces in the collection, a protest poem written deliberately to shock us into political action by discussing the taboo subject of rape and the way our communities are devoid of any outrage about it. “Seized” by Anita L Macdonald is another important poem from a new writer, a gut-wrenching account of a personal tragedy that will make you feel every bit of the anguish the writer describes. Grief, loss, despair, these too are taboo subjects, quite avoided I think because we try so hard never to cry victim. This is a brave and beautiful poem. Helen Klonaris’s short story, “Addie’s House” shines a light on a doomed lesbian love affair, the religious intolerance that destroys it, and a protagonist that survives it all in a profound way. I include Nicolette Bethel’s poem “Nellie” in these because I believe that stories and poems that remember the lives of our Grandmothers are the most powerful and political of all the stories women tell. Also included are Marion Bethel’s erotic “Seduction of Self” and Opal Palmer Adissa’s “Watching and Waiting,” (volume five), two poems that both offer glimpses into the vast, mysterious and hidden inner lives of Caribbean women.
I believe fairytales are the most powerful of all the stories women tell and so make a space for them in the journal. Included here is new writer Keisha Lynne Ellis’s retelling of the Biblical tale of Eve and the Serpent in which the serpent is not a demon but a wise teacher who prepares Eve for life in the wide world beyond the garden. Also included is “Miss Annie” by noted folklorist Patricia Glinton Meicholas, a classic Bahamian folktale about a woman who grows tired of her husband’s unkindness and summons help from the spirit world to teach him a lesson he won’t soon forget.
I am very grateful to all the writers and artists who contributed work for WSJ Volume Six, and for the privilege of serving as editor. I’m grateful also to tongues of the ocean for featuring our journal in this great space and for bringing our journal to a wider audience. I am grateful to the readers of TOTO as well and look forward to reading their responses.
Bright blessings to all,