The Monthly interviews Jamaican poet, writer and broadcaster – Yashika Graham – Part 1 – Hearing that first poem

What is the earliest memory you have regarding being attracted to poetry?

I have a memory of hearing a poem being read on the radio. I was probably about 7 or 8 and I paused. Sometimes you hear something and it grabs your attention. I stopped and I listened to the poem. After hearing that poem I started trying to write. I wanted to copy the sounds and the rhythms of the words that I had heard. I can’t remember the programme although I’m sure it was a local radio station and I think it might have been Valentine’s Day, so it was probably a love poem and for whatever reason that stopped me in my tracks.

Did you continue to write after hearing that poem?

Yes, that was definitely a point of departure for me. From then on writing has been a part of my life. I started to keep a journal and I would write down thoughts about the most mundane things; like what I was watching on television or what I was doing during the day. I also kept trying to write poems and poems kept trailing me.

Were you conscious of the history of poetry and spoken word in Jamaica?

Poetry was always something I was aware of at school and it was a constant. There was prayer, devotion and there was always the daily recital of a poem. To this day the poem “Nature” by H D Carberry is still in my head.

We have neither Summer nor Winter
Neither Autumn nor Spring.
We have instead the days
When the gold sun shines on the lush green canefields-
The days when the rain beats like bullet on the roofs
And there is no sound but thee swish of water in the gullies
And trees struggling in the high Jamaica winds.
Also there are the days when leaves fade from off guango trees
And the reaped canefields lie bare and fallow to the sun.
But best of all there are the days when the mango and the logwood blossom
When bushes are full of the sound of bees and the scent of honey,
When the tall grass sways and shivers to the slightest breath of air,
When the buttercups have paved the earth with yellow stars
And beauty comes suddenly and the rains have gone.

We would stand together as a class and recite poems like this, which, I think, kept us connected to each other, to beautiful language and to storytelling. We are always telling stories.

What about Dub Poetry and Native Language poetry, Jamaican Patois. Did this influence you?

The dub poetry tradition is an important one; the signature sound of the drum, the music in the voice, the Patois (Patwa), telling our stories. I think I’m always aware of the dub sound and language is a big part of that. In particular, the tensions between the languages I use – Patois and English – have become more apparent. That is something we have always had to navigate; how we say what we have to say, what language suits it and being aware of who we are speaking to.

Any storyteller has this and more work to do, and in a multilingual space, a post-colonial space, it is an ongoing navigation, to say what we mean with the, sometimes, conflicting tools and histories we have.

Did you get support at home?

I was encouraged to do my schoolwork, to take up my books, to study. I don’t know that writing was on the radar when I was being pushed, but perhaps an awareness of the importance of books was ignited then, and certainly the potential to go to other worlds through them.

Did you go on to study literature at university?

Yes. I studied Literatures in English at the University of West Indies, Mona Campus.



To see more of Yashika Graham’s work see the following ink –

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