Entertainment

Miss Lou, Baugh take spotlight

BY HOWARD CAMPBELL
Observer senior writer

Sunday, August 04, 2019

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Two giants of Caribbean literature will be in the spotlight at the August 11 Jamaica Poetry Festival, scheduled for Louise Bennett Garden Theatre in St Andrew. They are Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett-Coverley, the legendary folklorist for whom that venue is named, and professor Edward Baugh.

The event will not only celebrate Miss Lou's legacy as a poet/author and champion of social change, but also the centenary of her birth. Born September 7, 1919, she died in July 2006 at age 86 in Toronto, Canada.

Baugh, an academic whose long career encompasses the arts, will be recognised with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dub poet Yasus Afari, who founded the Jamaica Poetry Festival in 2011, told the Jamaica Observer that Miss Lou remains one of his biggest influences. Describing her as the “midwife of my poetry”, he said her Colonialism in Reverse and Dutty Tuff are two of his favourite poems.

“Miss Lou has played a fairly significant role in my career, being the principal neurolinguistic mother of the Jamaican language and culture. She also helped to authenticate, empower and validate the authority and potency of the Jamaican voice and literary expressions, including poetry,” said Afari.

Miss Lou is often cited as the forerunner of dub poetry, an idiom that emerged during the 1970s when a wave of black consciousness swept Jamaica. Afari's colleagues, including Mutabaruka, also point to her poems as inspirational.

She also had a massive influence on Jamaican theatre, appearing in numerous pantomimes. From 1968 until 1980, she hosted Ring Ding, a weekly television variety show on the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation.

In addition to hosting, she sang and taught her audience about folklore, social songs, and ring games. Violinist Steven Woodham and Nadine Sutherland were among the countless talented youth who performed on Ring Ding.

Miss Lou and her husband, actor Eric Coverley, migrated to Canada during the 1980s; he died there in 2002. She is buried at, National Heroes' Park.

While Miss Lou is rated alongside other West Indian titans such as CLR James, V S Naipaul and Sir Derek Walcott, her work seems lost to Jamaican youth. Afari believes it should be mandatory for her poems to be taught in schools.

“One must remember that the Jamaican society, as it is, is a retention of the colonial genocide of our people and as such, it does not give the due honour and respect to our cultural icons, products and services. This applies to Miss Lou, especially in light of the colonial disrespect to our language and culture,” he theorised. “It also helps to remember that the heart language in which you think, process and speak, shapes your language — and that language, in turn, shapes your thinking. Consequently, Miss Lou and others have not gotten the rightful support and status in schools, colleges, universities or on radio, TV, the press, and the general societal population.”

Afari said Baugh receives the Lifetime Achievement Award “due to his immense role in the anglophone Caribbean as a poet, scholar, educator, critic, author and orator”.

Previous recipients of the Jamaica Poetry Festival's Lifetime Achievement Award are Professor Mervyn Morris, Mutabaruka and Jean Binta Breeze.

Baugh and Afari will perform at the Jamaica Poetry Festival alongside El Jones and Cue Kirk from Canada, Professor Fred Hickling, Ka'Bu, Coleen Douglas, Akinsanya, Amaziyah the Great, Mik, and roots singer I Kong.


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