On returns and reset: Roland Watson-Grant

Annie Paul

Two days before the next winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize is announced on June 30 it gives us great pleasure to present an in-depth interview with Roland Watson-Grant, an exceptional if lesser known Jamaican author, whose latest short story The Disappearance of Mumma Dell has won the regional leg of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, a global competition with thousands of entries from all over the world. In this video interview I talk to Roland about the long pause after his second novel, Skid (2014) and the curveballs or googlies life has thrown at him these last few years. A spinal injury in 2015-16 slowed Watson-Grant down as he experienced not only a physical trauma but also a neurological one that affected the way he processed thoughts and feelings. He also opens up about the death of his beloved sister, Valerie, the inspiration for his story Cursing Mrs. Murphy, which was shortlisted for the 2017 Commonwealth Short Story Prize.

Questions I asked Roland included these: With Mumma Dell, like the stories you’ve published in PREE, are you returning to the Caribbean? Is this the return of the Prodigal? Are you literally pressing a reset button that is taking your writing career in new directions? Are you also resetting your trajectory in the way you observed the patching and fixing of beautiful things at the repair shop of your childhood? In the way that a surgeon might reset broken bones? Was there a break that needed resetting? Are you strategically resetting your career? Tell us more about this. What does #reset look like for Roland Watson Grant? Describe it. Also a question suggested by Roland himself: Can a writer at home also be in a kind of exile?

We have been privileged to publish three of Roland’s superb stories in PREE and wait anxiously to hear whether he will clinch the global award this Wednesday. Winning the Caribbean and Canada region is achievement enough but winning the global prize will not only be a massive boost for Watson-Grant, it will also reinforce the Caribbean’s recent dominance of this prestigious award.

PS: Apologies for my overuse of the exclamation ‘WOW’ and for calling Western Kingston, Western Jamaica by mistake. I will find new ways to register awe and appreciation during interviews. Living and learning 🙂

This Music in My Waist

Melissa McKenzie

I never know I have music in my waist.
All the stretch it stretch 
from carrying baby after baby
I never know my waist have it own music.
Lyrics after lyrics
From the selector 
and this man.
Nothing but sweet sweet lyrics.
And because is long long time 
since I hear words 
well lace up with sugar
I play the kind a music
he want to hear.
I play it loud loud until
I forget the trailer load of promises 
from deadbeat after deadbeat
year after year
and only think bout the sweet sweet music
I have in my waist
for his sweet sweet lyrics.

Melissa McKenzie has been a teacher of English Language and Literature for the past eighteen years at the Old Harbour High School and currently serves as the Head of the Department of English. She is an avid reader and believes the act of weaving words into poems and stories is an act of bravery, one which she has challenged herself to perform more and more as she gets older. Several of her stories have been published in the Daily Gleaner and, quite recently, two of her poems have been accepted for publication, one in the anthology, ‘Miss Lou 100 Voices’ honouring Mrs. Louise Bennett-Coverly and the other “Stoplight Blues” by The Caribbean Writer. She is currently writing her first book. 

Editorial Notes: ECOCIDE

The scene opens: somewhere on an island she sits in a dark room contemplating what lies beyond. The stench of loss overpowers the cigarette smoke slowly rising from an ashtray. The nicotine cannot steady her nerves. The glass of rum does not comfort her. Empty politics blasting from the radio does not reassure her. The short prayer she offers up seems futile. Confined in this dark room she yearns for many things. Ultimately, a desire for touch wins—a last kiss from an invisible lover. “This is really the end of life as we know it,” she says, watching the world crumble around her. What denies her the slightest bit of reprieve? What is the backdrop of this turmoil? Given the current condition of the world, perhaps she is simply social distancing to contain COVID-19’s spread. But, what if this scene was actually set in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in 2019, or in 2017 post-Hurricane Maria, or in 2005 post the Guyana floods? What if it is set sometime in the future, in the scorched dystopian city (?) suffering the effects of global warming, described to us in the extract from Diana McCaulay’s forthcoming novel Daylight Come?

Restricted in our movements and interactions, caught in a transnational affective state of uncertainty and anticipation, the continuing spread of COVID-19 can easily appear to be the premiere disaster threatening the sustenance of our lifeworlds. Our desire to leave our varied states of vulnerability can seduce us into making the virus a unique problem to be immediately solved. But as many recent articles, blog posts and social media posts point out, many of the apocalyptic feelings, experiences of loss, uncertainty, and trauma surrounding COVID-19 are not unfamiliar experiences to populations who have lived through “not-so-natural” disasters. Many of these populations are Caribbean.

This issue’s call for submissions asked us to consider crimes against nature, and what they mean for the human and non-human inhabitants of the Caribbean. The extractionist and ecocidal practices that have been happening in the region from European colonialism to the present—crimes against all life—have fueled repeating conditions of environmental, social, political, and economic disaster in the region. Aliyah Khan’s evocative essay El Dorado, City of Black Gold acutely illustrates this in the specific context of Guyana.  Embedded in this reality, Caribbean people have been thinking about apocalypse, loss, freedom, and futures long before COVID-19, and will be thinking about them long after the emergency phase of this particular virus is over—the pieces in this issue critically reflect this fact.  As people all around the globe find themselves no longer simply the audience of crisis but part of the afflicted, it must be remembered that Caribbean populations have long been dealing with disastrous encounters and their aftermaths. For Caribbean people, trauma has never simply been a theoretical exercise. Nahir I  Otaño Gracia elucidates this in her gipping essay On Hidden Scars and the Passive Voice which describes her own experience of Hurricane Maria alongside a critique of the coloniality of the academy.

Ecocide and its destructive progeny are felt in the intimate lives of Caribbean people as we lose loved ones and struggle to contend with memories of familial and communal relations across time that are anchored to eroding landscapes. Many of the poems featured in this issue address this experience. Maziki Thame also captures the intimacy of disaster in her moving essay Jewellery for Re-Membering in the Afterlife of Slavery: A View from the Disappearing Beach, as the perishing Hellshire beach is at once the backdrop and a character in the family portrait she paints. In a parallel vein, Lise Ragir shows the quiet ways climate change and related disaster events work in tandem with bigotry to devour loving relationships and compound loss in All that Would Be

Yet, as ecocidal practices result in the displacement of Caribbean people in slow and spectacular ways, we still find time to love, laugh, maco, and gossip, proving that we are always so much more than the problems that structure our everyday worlds. We are energy, we are joy, we are life. This is captured beautifully in Roland Watson-Grant’s comedic story, Crocodile Tears, and Elizabeth Jaikaran’s poem, Wild Thing. With our vitality, we continue to explore alternative lenses through which we can understand ourselves and our trajectory that deviate from the traditional models of tourism and monoculture development. We continue to carve paths that make other futures possible. Annalee Davis takes us down such a journey as she discusses her artistic practice and the potentiality of the greater visual arts in the Caribbean in her Art-icle Beach as Plot? And as Kris Singh’s inventive essay Bullshit, Sweet-talk, and Hindu Nationalism illustrates, when necessary, we interrogate the “sweet-talk and bullshit” of politicians, religious doctrine, generational lessons, and all the other orthodox discourses that shape our relationship with the natural world so we may craft more ethical ways of being that feel genuine to us. 

Working across genres and mediums, the Caribbean thinkers and creators in this issue successfully render the long durée of ecocide in the region, the complexity of its experience, and the ways things might be otherwise. I encourage you to take your time with these pieces and let them move you in a global moment when much feels stagnant. It has been my absolute pleasure as a Caribbean woman to work with the PREE team to curate this issue for you all. I would like to publicly thank the following reviewers for their labor and care of the work: Kaneesha Parsard, Ryan Jobson, Naomi Zucker, Dianna Burnette, Sara Rendell, Raina Kulkani, Dianna McCaulay, Breanne Mc Ivor, Jeanette Awai, A. Véronique Charles, Isis Semaj-Hall, Donna Hemans, Davy Knittle, Traci-Ann Wint-Hayles, and Jovanté Anderson. I would also like to thank Amanda Choo Quan for her immeasurable assistance as guest poetry editor, and all of the permanent editors of PREE who work tirelessly each issue to sustain a necessary platform for Caribbean voices. Last, but certainly not least, I would like to thank everyone who submitted to the issue making it all that it is. 

Enjoy, and may we forge onward!

Leniqueca Welcome, Guest Editor

The Ghosts in Our Honey

What a time to be alive — a time of sometimes willing, sometimes involuntary, surrender of our freedoms, of denial of touch, of bombs escaping from our lungs. Of locking away our elders for safekeeping, of strolling through the city on a screen, of minds adjusting to circular time, to obedience, to invisible enemies, to scraps of laughter behind a mask. People have lost their jobs. People are dying. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were some who said that we deserved this, who wishfully looked to (probably falsified) photos of dolphins in canals previously polluted by humans as evidence of nature’s vengeance. Yet again, God and nature have punished us with untimely death. What are the living to do?

But to be Caribbean is to contend with the uncertainty, the absurdity, and the trauma of waves of criss-crossing systems of oppression, exploitation, upheaval and disaster stretching back through history. It is to speak every day in the language of our invaders. For many, to be Caribbean is to be tailed by suffering. It is to keep company with a hurricane (as in HuracannaThe Whole World is Turning); to witness the capitalist exploitation of our wild, and in turn refuse to be tamed (Wild Thing). To be Caribbean is to keep ghosts in our garden and taste our ancestors in our honey (Amnesia). To be Caribbean is to gather uncertainty round ourselves like a cloak of refuse (Resurrection Morning), emerging from the rising sea. But, as history and these poems show, to be Caribbean is to drown and live to tell the tale; to see the aftermath of disaster as a plot of land upon which we can build our homes. And, when the time is right, to welcome our friends and families inside.

Many thanks to the team of poetry reviewers for this issue: Jovante Anderson, Davy Knittle, and Traci-Ann Wint-Hayles.

Amanda Choo Quan, Poetry Editor

It has been a pleasure and a learning experience working with much younger editors on this issue and the previous one. They facilitated the process of building each issue with enthusiasm and efficiency and we hope they will want to continue working with PREE, ensuring that as we grow we avoid the ossification that inevitably follows.

We couldn’t have known when we chose Ecocide for a theme, of the dread, virus-ridden times awaiting us. COVID-19 may not be a hurricane or a quake but in its wake we find ourselves immersed in an all too familiar discourse of disaster and catastrophe. As Amanda Choo Quan noted in her editorial “to be Caribbean is to drown and live to tell the tale; to see the aftermath of disaster as a plot of land upon which we can build our homes.” Or indeed to plot a narrative. As we negotiate this unnatural stand-still in our lives what better way to pass time than by reading the fresh new writing we feature in each issue of PREE.

Over the last few months we have lost many older writers. We would like to note the passing of Kamau Brathwaite in particular, a giant in the world of Anglophone writing from the region, and elsewhere. We hope to carry a tribute to him in the months to come.

We also want to acknowledge the passing of Guyanese dramatist Michael Gilkes and Puerto Rican writer Rosario Ferré.

There is also Bob Andy (born Keith Anderson, 28 October 1944 – 27 March 2020), one of Jamaica’s best songwriters whose passing we’d like to mourn. Images of him accompany the essay Jewellery for Re-membering in the Afterlife of Slavery: A View From the Disappearing Beach.

I would especially like to thank Christopher Cozier, Hew Locke, Francesca von Habsburg, Edouard Duval-Carrié, Sheena Rose, Kelley-Ann Lindo, Zoya Taylor and all the other artists who were generous enough to allow their work to be featured in PREE 5.

Big thanks also to Loretta Collins Klobah for alerting us to Nahir I. Otaño Gracia’s essay ON HIDDEN SCARS AND THE PASSIVE VOICE.

Thanks are also due to the Prince Claus Fund whose support and innovative methods are much appreciated.

Till soon.

Annie Paul, Editor-in-Chief

Image credit: Roland Watson-Grant

Meet PREE’s 5 young scholarship winners!

Part of PREE’s proposal to the Prince Claus Fund was that we would use their Next Generation grant to fund five talented writers under the age of 30 to attend PREE Writing Studio (PWS) and Calabash Literary Festival immediately afterwards, all costs covered. All five had to have contributed to issues four or five of PREE and clicking on their names will allow you to read their work. 

The response to PWS has been stupendous. Whereas we had hoped for 25-30 applications we received 45-50. This will allow us to partially fund a few more deserving participants who can’t afford the full fee. Keep checking in for more news on PREE’s exciting, one-of-a-kind writing festival!

Jovanté Anderson is a first-year student at the University of Miami, currently pursuing a Ph.D. in English Literature. His current research areas include gender and sexuality studies, theories of space and place, and diaspora studies. He is also the first recipient of the Poet Laureate of Jamaica and Helen Zell: Young Writer’s Prize for Poetry. He is originally from Harbour View, St Andrew. As a young poet and scholar, he is always trying to learn more about his craft and how he can use it to impact the world, or at least, make a mockery of it. He spends his everyday navigating always-interesting, mostly-amusing American spaces that do not always feel like home, but always feels like adventure.

Yashika Graham is a writer, visual artist and the 2019 recipient of the Mervyn Morris Prize for poetry from the University of the West Indies, Mona where she is a student of Literatures in English. The recipient of a 2018 Centrum Writers’ Residency and the 2019 Urban Wilderness Project Research and Teaching Fellowship, Graham’s work is published in The Caribbean Writer, POUI, Spillway magazine, Cordite Review, PREE, Moko magazine and Jamaica Journal. She teaches creative writing and has taught cross-genre workshops for the Port Townsend Writers’ Conference in Washington, USA.

Adam Patterson is a visual artist and writer based between Barbados, London & Rotterdam. They like telling new stories or rethinking old stories in new recuperative ways. Working across a variety of media including masquerade, video, critical writing, poetry and performance. Patterson’s works have been exhibited at the Live Art Development Agency and Jerwood Space, London; the Barbados Museum & Historical Society and Fresh Milk Arts Platform, Barbados; Roodkapje, Rotterdam; Ateliers ’89, Aruba and Alice Yard, Trinidad & Tobago. Their writing has been featured by Fresh Milk Arts Platform, ARC Magazine, Sugarcane Magazine, PREE, Mister Motley and Metropolis M. 

Kaleb D’Aguilar is a writer and filmmaker, currently completing his MA in Filmmaking, specialising in Directing, at Goldsmiths University in London. His interest in the arts started on stage as an actor, but after completing his BSc. in Anthropology at the University of the West Indies, where he graduated Valedictorian in 2017, Kaleb transitioned to writing and directing for film. He has currently completed three short films, all of which have participated in regional and international film festivals. His interest in ‘world building’ and ‘storytelling’ transcends the cinematic medium to literary text, most prominently poetry. He is also a recipient of the 2019 Poet Laureate of Jamaica and Michael Cooke Prize for Poetry. 

Tanicia Pratt is a content writer, poet, and performance artist from The Bahamas. Her writing is a form of memory, archived or unearthed, to depict the many selves of the Caribbean landscape. Pratt’s work has been published by the grace of Palette Poetry, PREE, POUI, Write About Now, Tamarind Journal, among othersShe has performed at Antiquities, Monuments & Museums, the Central Bank of the Bahamas Art Gallery, and the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas. Pratt received her BA in Marketing from The University of the Bahamas and is studying her MA in Poetic Practice at Royal Holloway, University of London. 

Because Tanicia’s work will be appearing in Issue 5 of PREE, Ecocide, we’re unable to link to it but keep your eyes peeled for the new issue mid-April.

We will always run out of time if we keep trying to be what the world around us tells us who we should be

Marinna Shareef 

 I’m the type of person who would like to be the best they can be for everyone. The best friend, the best helper, the best person. I’m a perfectionist. I realised a while back that I was tired of spreading myself thin and giving pieces of myself to others that I couldn’t even give myself. From then on I’ve had to deal with not being the ‘best’ anymore, and being a selfish person sometimes. I’ve had to give myself the attention that I was giving everyone else before, and it’s left me in a state where I hardly go out or socialize. However, it’s been benefiting me in so many ways and I’m so glad that I began to do this. This was one of the bigger steps that I had to take in my mental health journey, and I’m lucky to say that my close friends understand this and give me space when needed.

Trinidadian multi-media artist Marinna Shareef has completed her Fine Arts degree at the University of the West Indies and has exhibited in the National Museum and Art Gallery of Trinidad and Tobago in the ‘UWI Degree Show,’  and in the “Emerging Artists” exhibition during Carifesta in 2019.