Tag Archives: Dorbrene O’Marde

Reading Room and Gallery 21

The Reading Room and Gallery is a space where I share things I come across that I think you might like too  – some are things of beauty, some just bowl me over with their brilliance, some are things I think we could all learn from, some are artistes I want to support by spreading the word, and some just because. Let’s continue to support the arts and the artists by rippling the water together. For earlier iterations of the Reading Room and Gallery, use the search feature to the right. This is the 21st one which means there are 20 earlier ones (can’t link them all). Remember to keep checking back, this list will grow as I make new finds until it outgrows this page and I move on to the next one.

INTERVIEWS

Judd Batchelor: What advice would you give to young writers
Dorbrene O’Marde: Two things. Firstly, I want them to write, keep writing it will get better as you write more – read the full interview

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“I just looking to give back, I looking to show that you can be some body, especially in the arts.” – Sheena Rose

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“I didn’t set out to write a faerie story, just write myself out of the headspace I’d landed in because of this unexpected negative encounter. As I wrote, I was drawn in by the challenge of doing something I hadn’t done, I enjoy experimentation, and something about taking this negative and working through it in a genre where typically good and bad are clear, and they all lived happily ever after, appealed. Also appealing was this idea of how passion for something can help it flourish, and how good can attract good, do good and good will follow you; and then the faerie was there awakened by, responding to the goodness that this girl was sending her way. It was an interesting development, and I enjoyed exploring it – and that this became a faerie story is the thing I’m most excited about. I like when something I’m writing surprises me.” – Joanne C. Hillhouse

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“The heart wants what it wants. But I chose to, and aspire to, becoming as good a writer as possible in the circumstances, given the relatively short space of time I’ve got left.” – Andre Bagoo

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“What I am coming to realize is that long before my preoccupations and obsessions become fully known to me, they are at play in my work.”  – Jacqueline Bishop in conversation with Loretta Collins Klobah

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“I am a writer first and foremost, but I did a lot of side jobs and odd jobs while I was writing my novel,” Islam says. “I freelanced. I wrote copy for Uniqlo. I modeled for an Al Jazeera campaign. But as I was finishing my book, it struck me. I was like, ‘What am I going to do next? I can’t sit in an office all day. I just can’t.'” She found her answer in her final revisions of Bright Lines. For starters, the patriarch of the story is an apothecary. And as she delved deeper into his persona during the decade she spent at work on the novel, Islam fell hard for fragrance. Besides, she adds, “Brooklyn is such a place to launch a brand. I was really inspired by other beauty brands that had started here. I wanted to have a part in that movement.” And, finally, Islam points to a scene at the end of the novel in which a trio of girls throws wildflower seed bombs into different areas of Brooklyn. The women want the crops to “grow up and into something.” – from Elle.com interview with Tanwi Nandini Islam

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“Lightfoot:  Chapter Five was difficult to write, but it was also incredibly revealing. It shows that even within such a homogeneous population of working peoples there was an added set of constraints on black women. Specifically, constraints around what women’s roles were supposed to be and the dangers of masculinized black women. And, of course, there was never the sense that black women in post-emancipation Antigua should have the right to stay home and be dainty ladies. Whatever stock ideas about femininity that might have been applied in the middle of the nineteenth century to white women certainly didn’t apply to black women, ever.” – Dr. Natasha Lightfoot, a historian of Antiguan and Barbudan descent, interviewed by the African American Intellectual History Society on her book Troubling Freedom: Antigua and the Aftermath of British Emancipation

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“The assumption was very real. And then it was actually named, ‘does Solange know who is buying her records?’ So it became a totally different conversation than what I was first approached to be a part of and then it became a conversation yet again about ownership. And here I was feeling so free, feeling so independent, feeling like I had ownership finally over my art, my voice, but I was being challenged on that yet again by being told that this audience had ownership over me. And that was kind of the turning point and the transition for me writing the album that is now A Seat at the Table.” – Solange Knowles talking to Helga on Q2 Music

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INTERVIEWER
Do you have a reader in your mind when you write?
BALDWIN
No, you can’t have that.
-from James Baldwin, the Art of Fiction No. 78 in the Paris Review

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“Writing a novel is like pulling a saw out of your vagina. Writing a memoir is like pulling a saw out of your vagina while others are looking on.” – 5 Questions for… Emily Raboteau

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“It is a myth of my own invention. I am taken with the idea of creating new myths that speak to our current world in the same way that old mythology spoke to the world in its creators’ time.” – Lesley Nneka Arimah on Imagining a Universe of Handcrafted Babies  in her story Who Will Greet You at Home published in the New Yorker

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“My mother also tells me that for Celeste different children and their various broods would be assigned various colours in her quilt-making schemata which is all quite interesting to me, one set of children being red, one being yellow etc. What I think is lost to us is the stories that my great grandmother was telling in her funky multi-coloured quilts about her family, because no one knows who was assigned which colour. I also mourn the fact that when my great grandmother died my cousin Mary told me that she was wrapped in two of her biggest and best quilts and taken to the morgue in Port Antonio Bay and no doubt those quilts were simply discarded. This is why I so appreciate your interest in this subject and you doing this interview Veerle because we might all be discarding and getting rid of quite valuable things.” – Jacqueline Bishop

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“Is it lazy to look at the Caribbean as a unified whole rather than individual states?

I think it’s lazy to look at a country as a unified whole. But there are resonances and reasons why I think of myself as writing Caribbean literature more profoundly than Jamaican literature. The Caribbean isn’t a whole but there are aspects of unity and Jamaica isn’t a whole either, which is what this book is trying to say.” – Kei Miller

FICTION

‘But Theo never remembered that the pedal of the trashcan was broken. He would step on it without looking and drop the banana peel or the wet tuna-juicy baggie directly on top of the still-closed lid, and then walk away, leaving the garbage there for Heather to clean up, a habit that had finally caused her, just last night, to spit at him, in a voice that came straight from her spleen, “Pay attention, for Christ’s sake! Why don’t you ever, ever pay attention!”’ – Amy Hassinger’s Sympathetic Creatures

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“I don’t know what gods watch me, or how it came to be that my fate brought me to an island in the Caribbean sea. It was miraculous, not least because, in the novel I am currently writing, there is a shipwreck in that same sea. I would not know how to write it if I had not found myself in a Jamaican fishing boat one wet and windy day in June, contemplating the whims of the sea and the alligators up the river. But it is equally miraculous to find myself in a humble neighbourhood in my own country, face to face with women who quietly go about their lives, walking between worlds, singing up salvation by connecting us with our own roots.” – ‘On All Our Different Islands’ by Tina’s Makereti, Pacific regional winner for the 2016 Commonwealth Short Story Prize

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“It’s sick and it’s soulless but it’s one of the things I love about my job; here you can force the world to be something it’s not.” – audio reading of The November Story by Rebecca Makkai

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“The blue plumes of the peacock’s tail were shot through with filaments of silver and, twenty years on, the ink hadn’t faded. It sat on her long slim body like a birthmark.” – from Peacock by Sharon Millar

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“Now, listen to this next bit carefully: in the morning THE WHOLE KIPPS FAMILY have breakfast together and a conversation TOGETHER and then get into a car TOGETHER (are you taking notes?) — I know, I know — not easy to get your head around. I never met a family who wanted to spend so much time with each other.” – from Zadie Smith, On Beauty

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“No, Pa, it really could happen that way!” – A Conversation with My Father by Grace Paley as read by Ali Smith

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“I do not lie,” Crispín replied. “Adannaya is not only the most beautiful mulata of this hacienda and the best bomba dancer; she can also change brown sugar into white. Yes she can! And if I only had some brown sugar, I would prove it to you.” – from Adannaya’s Sugar, a fairytale by Carmen Milagros Torres

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“We were surprised to find ourselves thinking again, it had been so long.” – from We by Mary Grimm

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“Tantie Lucy had drunk from the cup of happy living and the shop was her world.” – Lance Dowrich’s In and Out the Dusty Window

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“It was a joyous occasion in a young woman’s life when her mother blessed life into her child. The two girls flushed and smiled with pleasure when another woman commended their handiwork (such tight, lovely stitches) and wished them well. Ogechi wished them death by drowning, though not out loud. The congratulating woman turned to her, eager to spread her admiration, but once she had looked Ogechi over, seen the threadbare dress, the empty lap, and the entirety of her unremarkable package, she just gave an embarrassed smile and studied her fingers. Ogechi stared at her for the rest of the ride, hoping to make her uncomfortable.” – Who will greet you at home by Lesley Nneka Arima

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“Some days I am alone, and I wonder whether I exist.” – Circus by Anushka Jasraj

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“The three of us, smelly and itchy, clinging to each other, waiting for the gasoline and vinegar in our hair to start the killing. We had lice. Our heads were wrapped in bright turbans made from my mother’s old hippie skirts. She was reading my left palm to see if I was going to pass my math test. With one hand, my sister was holding my nose, and with the other she was drawing skulls and bones on my brother’s arm with a red pen. With his left hand he was holding her foot, and with his right, the table. We were always prepared in case somebody tried to separate us by force.” – from A Bunch of Savages by Sofi Stambo

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“But what angered Zeke even more than the ancestors’ silence was the knowledge that he was helping Sonia to seduce a man who, sometime in the foreseeable future, would beat her for burning his dinner or create any other excuse he could think of to abandon her, as he done to all his other baby mothers after he had gotten what he wanted.” – Myal Man by Geoffrey Philp

CREATIVES ON CREATING

“I think, there’s a couple of songs.  I’m, I’m really proud of  “How far I’ll go.” I literally locked myself up in my childhood bedroom at my parents’ house, to write those lyrics. I wanted to get to my angstiest possible place. So I went Method on that. And really, because it’s a challenging song. It’s not ‘I hate it here, I want to be out there.’  It’s not, ‘there must be more than this provincial life.’  She loves her island, she loves her parents, she loves her people.  And there’s still this voice inside.  And I think finding that notion of listening to that little voice inside you, and, and that being who you are. Once I wrote that lyric… It then had huge story repercussions. The screenwriters took that ball and ran with it.” – Lin Manuel Miranda on writing songs for the animated film Moana

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“…it comes down to cause and effect, but and therefore.” – Janice Hardy on plotting

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‘So much as it is possible in a manuscript, every scene should be followed by another scene that dramatizes either a “Therefore” or a “But,” not an “And Then.” So if, in one scene, a girl has intimate eye contact with a beautiful male vampire, the next scene should either dramatize the consequences of that eye contact, which will likely raise the stakes or escalate the emotion—THEREFORE she kisses him; or introduce a complication/obstacle—BUT she remembers she hates vampires, so she drives a stake through his heart. If they continue to stare into each other’s eyes, or maybe they just get some tea, that’s an AND THEN—nothing new is happening, because it’s at the same level of emotion as the previous action, and so while movement is occurring in the plot, it isn’t necessarily dramatic action. And action is ultimately what keeps readers reading:  change, challenge, consequence, growth, for a character in whom they’re invested.’ – Trey Parker and Matt Stone

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“Now this: mistakes are everything. Write, abandon, start again. But understand you will do this on your own, over and over.” –  Ellene Glenn Moore

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“At one point, I got the idea to ‘set a clock’ in the Antarctica thread. Instead of making her time there quasi-borderless, I would limit her stay at the station to four or five days. This simple question about literal time led me to a host of new questions and discoveries: Instead of a scientist, she was now a civilian, which would account for why she, as a kind of interloper, would have limited access. From there, I wondered: what would a civilian want with an Antarctic research station? What is she in Antarctica to do? What will happen if she fails? Eventually I located the timeline that unfolds in the past, and explores the nature of the estrangement and how a secret shared between the narrator and her sister-in-law brought about an irrevocable fracturing. In this version, the past informed the way the narrator experienced the present; it helped the present to matter.” – from Inventing Time by Laura van den Berg

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“3.Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.” –Kurt Vonnegut’s rules of writing

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“different works have different ambitions and, therefore, require different approaches” – Zehra Nabi

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“I abandoned short stories and wrote a novel.  Maybe short stories weren’t my thing.  In a book, I had more elbow room.” – The Big Rush, or What I Learned from Sending a Story Out Too Soon by Julie Wu

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“You have to do the work; you have to do your research. There are no short cuts.” – Justina Ireland in discussion on Writing the Other

POETRY

“Here’s to the fools who dream
Crazy as they may seem
Here’s to the hearts that break
Here’s to the mess we make” (from La-La Land. Lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul)

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“That is how life is.

When you are placed in hot oil

be patient

keep going

you will be ready soon.” – Browning Meat by M. A. Brown in Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters

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“My father
would not have imagined

seeing me here,
hearing of me fleeing a war.” – Althea Romeo-Mark’s A Kind of Refugee

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“Maybe it is best
not to know.
Maybe it is
Inevitable.” – I am Unsure by Ashley Harris

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“That’s one thing nobody tells you. Sometimes it’s okay to give up.” – Boys Don’t Cry

“give yourself a chance Andre
be open
love someone
do not fret, fete” – A Prayer to Andre

“When the nurse takes
blood you won’t have to be afraid
of her knowing you are afraid.
And then maybe you could tackle your
your fear of white cars next.” – Incurable Fears
from Poems by Andre Bagoo in Moko: Caribbean Arts and Letters

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“as I walk

people

stare and pass by

on the far side” – Madness Disguises Sanity by Opal Palmer Adisa

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“The mirrors of their eyes only blind me.” – from Ivy Alvarez’s What Ingrid Bergman Wanted

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“He is a writer a sensitive man
a thundering terrible intelligence” – from Pamela Mordecai’s Great Writers and Toads

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“The new therapist specializes in trauma counseling. You have only ever spoken on the phone. Her house has a side gate that leads to a back entrance she uses for patients. You walk down a path bordered on both sides with deer grass and rosemary to the gate, which turns out to be locked.

At the front door the bell is a small round disc that you press firmly. When the door finally opens, the woman standing there yells, at the top of her lungs, Get away from my house. What are you doing in my yard?” – Claudia Rankine reading excerpts from her book Citizen 

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“Another glittering day without you; take my hand
and bring me to wherever we were: the empty house
in Petit Valley or the city of Lapeyrouse
where headstones multiply like sails on a Sunday,
where a widower tacks under a pink parasol,
where people think that pain or pan is good for the soul.” – excerpt from Derek Walcott’s Lapeyrouse Umbrella published in Morning, Paramin

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“I asked her if I could wear nail polish
or not wear nail polish
and she said honey
she calls me that sometimes
she said you can do just exactly
what you want to” – from God says Yes to Me by Kaylin Haught

VISUAL ART

Cloudrise from Denver Jackson on Vimeo which I discovered through the Wardens Walk blog  which I discovered through the Pages Unbound blog

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team-painting-by-rachel-bento-commissioned-by-gov-gen

Painting by Antiguan artist Rachel Bento, on commission from the Governor General of Antigua and Barbuda, of Team Wadadli, which took the Talisker Whisky Challenge (2015-2016) rowing approximately 3000 nautical miles across the Atlantic – from the Canary Islands to Antigua – in 52 days. They set two world records – oldest team and oldest rower – in the process. Bento’s commission commemorates their historic achievement. See more of Bento’s work here.

MISC.

Speculative fans, I thought you might find this bibliography interesting. It’s a Bibliography of Caribbean Science Fiction and Fantasy.

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‘I have not yet had a student turn me down.  Some of the ARCs came back after a few days with a negative review, but most of the time the readers would seek me out before school in the morning to tell me they had finished the book and thought it was, “GREAT!”  The readers who brought back the “GREAT” ARCs often brought a friend with them who wanted to be the second person in the building to read the book.  And before my eyes, dormant readers woke up!’ – teacher, librarian Mary Jo Staal on the Power of the Arc in stoking her students’ interest in reading

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About Dorbrene O’Marde

“Dobrene O’Marde was born on March 24th 1950 to James and Ruth O’Marde in Antigua. He grew up in the Ovals Area and started his education at St. Michael’s Primary. From there he went to Antigua Grammar School and then to The University of the West Indies where he graduated with a BSc in Physics and Chemistry.

Dobrene known to family and close friends as “FATZ” is married to Ingrid Williams from St. Vincent and is the father of 3 adult children –Kaloma, Kayode and Khari.

To say Dobrene is a well-rounded individual – no pun intended- is simply too mild a description for such a multi-faceted person.”

This is an introduction on one of our esteemed cultural workers and icons, Dorbrene O’Marde as presented during a public speaking class facilitated by Barbara Arrindell & Associates. Follow the link to read the entire piece.

Also, FYI, I teach written communication (Writing is Your Business) as an associate of BA&A. June sessions begin this week. Are you registered?

As with all content on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Musical Youth, Fish Outta Water, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks.

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Nobody Go Run Me as reviewed in the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books 2015 edition

This review (edited) was originally published in The Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books Volume 8 Number 1 Fall 2015.

Dobrene Omarde presents copy of book to Marcus Christopher

Dorbrene O’Marde, foreground left, pictured at the launch of his book Nobody Go Run Me. Also pictured, receiving a copy of the book, is the now departed songwriter Marcus Christopher, and behind Dorbrene in yellow, Valerie Harris-Pole, also departed, who was there in her capacity as the chair of the Short Shirt 50th anniversary committee. In the audience that night, you’ll see also pictured the then Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer. The book was launched in 2013 and you could get whiplash from how much has changed since then. This picture being a visual example of that. This remains the same though, do not re-use without permission. The copyright of this image belongs to Colin Cumberbatch.

By Joanne C. Hillhouse

Short Shirt is a master of the calypso art form. His titles – among them 15 local Calypso Monarch titles – testify to that. But you know what’s the bigger testimony: throngs packed into the Antigua Recreation Grounds for a legends show, belting out “Lament oh my soul!” (Lamentations) like they were in church and being touched by the spirit; total recall, word for word, notwithstanding that the song had contested and lost its bid for the crown 30 years, give or take, earlier. This happened some years ago and is testimony to not only Short Shirt’s five decades long dominance of the art form, but the enduring power of his songs. During his 70th year and year-long 50th anniversary celebrations, 2012 to 2013, there were two notable productions: one a documentary film by Dr. James Knight, the other a biography by Dorbrene O’Marde.

Both were important cultural and artistic pieces but the focus of this article will be the O’Marde biography. While the documentary was much more specifically the story of the Making of the Monarch, it’s something of a misnomer to call O’Marde’s Short Shirt book, a biography. Though Short Shirt is the impetus for this work and its main character, the book really positions him at the centre of a tale mapping Antigua’s social, cultural, political, creative, and economic transformation.  Sounds heavy right? But, for me at least, it was a remarkably brisk read, as enjoyable as it was enlightening – its lyrical breakdown of Short Shirt’s songs comparable to what Ghanian-Jamaican-American poet Kwame Dawes does in his impressive book Bob Marley: Lyrical Genius. O’Marde positions the Monarch’s songs in space and time, gives context tied in to not just the lives of Short Shirt and his writers – notably Marcus Christopher who is less than a week departed as I write this, Stanley Humphreys, and especially Shelly Tobitt, one of Antigua’s great wordsmiths – but the life, the heartbeat of the society from which they sprung. You get, through O’Marde’s exploration of the music, a sense of a society transitioning to self-ownership and all the birthing and subsequent growing pains that come with that.

The book was reader-friendly, for me, not just because I happen to be an avid Short Shirt fan, and a fan of his writers, but because O’Marde is not only in his element but clearly chest-deep in a subject he’s passionate about; calypso. That the former Calypso Talk publisher sees calypso as something much, much more than frivolity and fun is never in doubt as you read this book; but that he’s also having fun convincing his reader is also evident.  And his skills as a writer and analyst are sharp, convincingly so. So that even when you find yourself arguing with him – as I do during his dismissal of one of my favourite Short Shirt battle songs, Uneasy Head (Kong), as ungracious sportsmanship or his takedown of Lamentations, which he’s publicly stated is among his least favourite Short Shirt songs – you feel like you’re in a heated but friendly calypso parley, and you’re enjoying the cut and thrust of the debate.

O’Marde’s first book after a well-established reputation as a playwright, the fictional book Send out you Hand, was weighted and slow by comparison – exposition heavy, the characters too often coming across as mouthpieces for the writer’s intellectual concerns rather than fully drawn people.

In Nobody, O’Marde invests more successfully in the characterization and humanization of his subjects, making them (Short Shirt, Short Shirt’s writers, and, in fact, calypso, more relatable, complex, and interesting) while at the same time tying them all, Short Shirt and calypso especially, in to the larger cultural and societal shift. For instance, writing on the roots of Carnival and its subsequent shifts: “The growing sense of working class entitlement could no longer dress up and perform to the upstairs penny-throwing sugar barons and the Syrians/Lebanese merchants as it did during the traditional Christmas parades. The stage and street performances – sponsored, policed, regulated – offered a more egalitarian space to build a national culture. The enduring image of the white woman jumping in a [steel] band is but metaphor for the classless and non-racial future dancing in the imagination of middle and working class Antiguans.” (p. 34) The white woman referenced calls immediately to mind the “pretty little Yankee tourist…from Halifax” here for a taste of Antigua’s Carnival in Short Shirt’s Tourist Leggo; though here, of course, she is meant to represent something beyond herself.

The deftness with which O’Marde makes deeper connections is just one reason why Nobody Go Run Me is not only a good read but a book that matters.

For the social and cultural historian, it is a gift, covering if not the birth per se then certainly the popularization of Antiguan calypso – from the days when “seasoned Trinidadian calypsonians controlled the calypso entertainment sector” (p. 32), to the days when the Monarch took Antiguan calypso, specifically Tourist Leggo from the Ghetto Vibes album to the kaiso ‘mecca’ and but for some legal wrangling would surely have come back to Wadadli with the win – let’s call those the halcyon days, to the plateauing and declining of what was once great: Short Shirt and Calypso and Carnival; and, yes, the tome suggests indirectly Antiguan and Barbudan society.

There will be errors; nothing is perfect. But students, who these days seem to think research starts and ends with Wikepedia, could learn from this book which draws from personal papers, periodicals -including Calypso Talk, academic papers, interviews, personal reflections, and when he thought they got it right, as with the definition of picong (p. 32), Wikepedia.  As D. Gisele Isaac said in a review at the launch subsequently posted at https://wadadlipen.wordpress.com and in volume 27 of the Caribbean Writer, a journal produced by the University of the Virgin Islands, the book is “exhaustively researched” and with its extensive end notes, “so interesting and educational” in their own right, “you could easily say that this is two books in one.” (quoted from https://wadadlipen.wordpress.com/2013/09/12/d-gisele-isaac-reviews-nobody-go-run-me-by-dorbrene-omarde)

This is important, too, because, in a society in which so much is undocumented,  the facts of the matter are often dependent on who you speak to – see O’Marde’s end notes re the facts surrounding the start of Carnival (P. 42) for a striking example of this ‘it depends on who you ask’ type of record-keeping. It’s unfortunate that we live in a landscape where even with the papers of record you are forced to ask, who’s record? Assuming there’s a record at all – I remember years ago suggesting a virtual (i.e. online) Hall of Fame, if a physical one was not financially feasible, to lionize our cultural icons; as I think of the life of someone like Marcus Christopher, someone too important to the art form to have such an invisible footprint, online or otherwise, the absence of this feels huge. That’s one of the reasons this book matters.

The book is important too for marking the societal shifts in modern Antigua and to some degree the wider Caribbean. For instance the birth of black power: “By Carnival 1969, Edris Thomas [Edris Silston of Edris Clothing Store] produced a mas’ troupe ‘Back to Africa’. The Point’s troupe ‘Africans from the West’ emerged around this time and continued playing the same mas’ for years. Calypso Franco was singing ‘Negroes have the ability’. Short Shirt sang ‘Hearty Transplant’.

“Across the region, the consciousness of calypso had already absorbed and addressed the Black struggles in North America, a racial consciousness it had previously espoused in the nineteen thirties through the work of Attilah, Houdini, and others in praise of Emperor Selassie and Ethiopia and in defiance and rebuke of Mussolini and Italy.” (P. 64)

O’Marde references Short Shirt’s foray into these weighty racial issues with 1970s era tracks like Christopher’s Black Like Me – “a stirring anthem of racial affirmation”; and Afro-Antiguan of which he said, “as powerful and relevant as ‘Black Like Me’ and ‘Antigua Will Redeem are, it is the acrostic ‘Afro Antiguan that deepened Short Shirt’s appeal to the revolutionary.” (p. 65). Interesting as well, re the latter song, is O’Marde’s observation that in it “the difference between ‘race’ and ‘nationality’, a concept that even very intelligent people in Antigua today find hard to grasp, is critically analysed. Antiguan nationals – in the main – are proclaimed to be of African race and heritage. The African Caribbean movement had found its spokesman, that artiste capable of translating its social theories and polemics to the language of popular culture; youth had found a message beyond the nascent Bird/Walter politics that would plague the country for generations.

“Antigua calypso had found its voice. It had proved its ability to fulfill its traditional African functions.” (P. 66)

In this moment, he seems to be suggesting, Short Shirt was Antigua, and possibly the Eastern Caribbean’s James Brown – “say it loud!”

The book tracks other themes in Short Shirt’s calypso; for instance, its exposure of the hypocrisy and rabid greed of imperialism in songs like the Anguilla Crisis.

At the same time, it exposes the artiste’s – and perhaps his writers’ – if not hypocrisy, then blindspots, when it comes to certain other issues; women’s issues for instance. The Shelly Tobitt-penned Lamentation, one of my favourite Short Shirt songs, has a line that makes me, a feminist, smile wryly every time I sing it; O’Marde speaks to that very line in his takedown of the classic track.

“It is dismissive in its lack of appreciation of the human development necessity of equal rights for women: ‘Female liberation/ ‘even’ women want their freedom/Riot and demonstration.’” (P. 84)

Though as relates to the blatant misogyny in this and some other Short Shirt tracks, O’Marde does attempt to give some context: for instance, he quotes these lyrics – “Me man – Darling, you woman/Honey, me master and you slave/And you ain’t go tell me how and where and when/you want/for is me who supposed to take” but then reminds that “these were the dominant male attitudes of the Antigua, and dare say Caribbean society in the male-female relationship…Feminism as a political ideology was in its infancy, not yet finding root in even the progressive elements.” (p. 61) The feminist in you might want to debate this point as this was the early 1970s and second wave feminism started rippling out as early as the 1960s, that plus, frankly, misogyny remains rampant in our modern Caribbean. But let’s move on.

O’Marde brings an activist’s eyes and heart to his discussion of the treatment of many of the themes in Short Shirt’s calypsos. So that when he discusses social and political movements like the Grenada revolution, he doesn’t, as another writer might, simply recount the facts of the overthrow, he writes “On 13th March 1979, the New Jewel Movement overthrew the supposed duly elected government of Eric Gairy” (p. 139) – the use of supposed here casting the legitimacy of the Gairy government into doubt and making clear that in the writer’s view they were no such thing. His entire handling of this subject – tone to choice of references – make clear that this is not just history but history with perspective – emphasis on the perspective, albeit a well-informed one.

Musicians and students of music will appreciate that O’Marde doesn’t just break down Short Shirt’s lyrics but what it is that makes his music so compelling. For instance, while there’s no love lost between him and Lamentations, O’Marde does show appreciation for “the power of the melody, the inviting call-and-response structure and Short Shirt’s vocal wizardry.” (P. 84)

He speaks as well to the lyrical and musical innovations Short Shirt – and especially the Short Shirt/Shelly Tobitt partnership brought to the genre. In discussing Starvation, for instance, O’Marde wrote, “the guitar work is steady and compelling. The rhythm is up-tempo. ‘Starvation’ represents the initiation of one of Short Shirt’s and Antigua’s contribution to the world of calypso – the social commentary sang at dance pace. There is no other body of work in calypso where social commentaries are so executed consistently.” (P. 93 – 94) – O’Marde, and this is not just a matter of opinion, has the cred in calypso to make such an assertion.

His voice on these issues – the crafting, the content – has the ring of authority; so that when he writes, for instance, “that is his amazing vocal power, his ability to reach any note – high or low – that he or Shelly, in their melodic creativity found; and to do it with stellar clarity; while dancing in costume in competition or in live performance” (p. 94), he’s not just fanboying.

The literary nerd in me appreciates his dissection, for instance, of how Tobitt transmutated the calypso lyrical structure. “Very few lyricists would write a line this envious greedy conniving blood sucking attitude in calypso. The simplicity of ‘Starvation’ is replaced here by long complex verse and chorus. Multiple rhyming patterns are engaged and a riveting but unusual melody is forced to the fore. Few calypsonians in the business could handle the lyrical and melodic complexity – at tempo.” (p. 95) He applies his own analysis, layers on another authoritative source by direct quoting a 1975 review in the Outlet – footnoted. And then he lets the record speaks for itself: “Short Shirt sang ‘This Land’ and ‘Lucinda’ to win the 1974 crown and the Caribbean competition.” (p. 95)

On the subject of the songs, another thing to appreciate about this book is its extensive quoting of lyrics. It’s ridiculously difficult – especially in this internet age where you can google lyrics to any song plus just about any trivia you want, and some you don’t, on that song – to find information on Antigua and Barbuda’s songs, calypso or anything of that nature, really. Neither the artistes, the fans, nor our young people, notwithstanding all the tablet and laptop giveaways, have seen fit to create content that could see our culture adequately represented online, the way users in places like America and Europe do for every minutiae they find of interest; my own attempts to build an online data base of Antiguan and Barbudan writers, including songwriters, at https://wadadlipen.wordpress.com has been slow going on the songwriting end, despite the fact that I’ve reached out repeatedly to songwriters and producers for information. We’re just slow off the mark on this. Slow, slow, slow. As such, I doubly appreciate the lyric share – and crediting in Nobody Go Run Me. I would love to see some of this content shared online, and would do it myself if I had the time. As it is, I’ve been able to use the book as a go to resource when blogging on song and/or song writer related matters.

Beyond the songs, Nobody Go Run Me, albeit it’s not a straight-up biography, does zero in on the man behind the myth. And though it mostly takes an academically sound approach in terms of sourcing, unlike some academic texts it gives equal weight to the anecdotal, mostly oral, evidence in painting a complete picture – e.g. the incident in Barbados (P. 92 and 93). “Oral history in Antigua and Barbuda is laced with tales of his physical encounters with man and woman, accounts which the Christian Brother Emmanuel denies or doesn’t remember…” (P. 93) – it’s implied in the tone and in his decision to relay some of these tales that the author is giving these denials the side eye.

The tone sometimes edges up against snide – “The lows, like his failed attempts at competition during the last decade, he scrubs from his memory or dismisses as inconsequential aberration of judges. ‘True? I didn’t make finals that year? No!’” (P.218)

Still, Short Shirt is given a fair shake in this book. O’Marde is generous with respect to the artist’s talents and accomplishments but also clear on his blindspots, failures, and contradictions. The fading, retirement, conversion, and return of Short Shirt are all covered. Writing of his return from retirement, O’Marde observed, “this is the calypso protest tradition and stance that Maclean Emanuel re-joined in 2001 – one that he as Short Shirt, helped create, one that he led for three decades. But first he had to explain the apparent backslide that allowed his return to calypso and the ‘decadence of Carnival’. Brother Emanuel had to release Short Shirt.” (P. 200) Of course, fans of Brother Emanuel’s gospel could credibly argue that the message may have been re-directed but the calypsonian was never caged. But his comeback CD The Message and particularly the title track and the Handwriting song was a welcome return to form for the beloved calypso icon. That would be the post-return peak – at least so far – the offerings since being uneven at best.

The book delves into the complexity of the musical marriage and divorce of Short Shirt and Tobitt – those who’ve always wondered will appreciate the gossip-but-not-just-gossip-ness of O’Marde’s excavation of this touchy issue. It’s clear that O’Marde had deep access to both the artiste and the writer, the notoriously reclusive Tobitt speaking to issues he hasn’t spoken of since the break-up. Even so, there is still no clear resolution: “Short Shirt affirms that Shelly Tobitt is the best writer he worked with and mourns the loss. ‘I love Shelly up to now…up to now I don’t know what I did to turn him against me. It couldn’t be about one song or money.” (p. 146)

Other complicated Short Shirt relationships such as the one with “frivals” like King Obstinate are touched on. Sidebar: O’Marde’s treatment of Obsti songs like Children Melee, Fatman Dance, Elephant Walk, Coming down to talk to You, songs he describes as “vacuous” (p. 162), in fact his categorizing of the calypso of the late 1970s/early 1980s, when I would have been introduced to calypso, the calypso of Short Shirt, Latumba, Obsti, does take the shine off of some of my fondest childhood calypso memories – but never let it be said that he is a not a critic with bite, and he is right to call out the ways politics (or the appropriation of calypso by political interests) had begun to blunt “the sharp edge and excitement of the calypso in Antigua”. (p. 183)

At some point in each biography/autobiography, you grab hold of an insight beyond the individual and their story, an insight to life. It’s not always reassuring. And this quote, O’Marde extracted from Short Shirt is a sobering reality check for any artiste trying to create and make life in this small place: “I am still a struggling man…after fifty year man…everything gets ploughed back into producing my albums…feeding my family.” (p. 218) The struggle is real – even for one considered by all to be the best among us; sobering indeed.

And speak of sobering, though we perhaps no longer live in an Antigua and Barbuda where “Hotel managers and owners and their trained snarling dogs were determined to keep the beaches free of Black people.” (p. 35) or are perhaps less obvious about it, as we consider the economic paradigm in which we do live, the deals ‘we’ negotiate that maintain the hierarchical status quo, and the erosion of rights we have come to take for granted – beach access for everyone, for instance – the book, deliberately or not may inspire reflection on how much has really (not) changed.

That in mind, because this is a thought provoking book, you might find yourself reflecting, after closing off the last chapter, on the players who have attempted to step into the void, but failed not because they didn’t have a good song or even a good run; but because none since has shown the epic depth, reach, span, and consistency of the man who inspired the book Nobody go run Me. Because of Short Shirt’s impact on all these points – for all those who would, as some have, question why Short Shirt and not this or that other one – a book on the Monarch is long overdue.  And for all the reasons given in this article, Dorbrene O’Marde was just the man to do it justice.

Writer’s Note: In between the time I drafted this and came back to edit it, Dorbrene O’Marde’s Nobody Go Run Me became the first ever Antiguan and Barbudan book (one of only nine overall and three non-fiction in 2015) to be long listed for the OCM Bocas prize previously won by Derek Walcott, Earl Lovelace, Monique Roffey and Robert Antoni making him already a winner whatever the final outcome.

REVIEWER’S BIO: Joanne C. Hilhouse is the author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight – and its 2014 edition Dancing Nude in the Moonlight: 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, Oh Gad!, Fish Outta Water – a children’s picture book, and Musical Youth – a teen/young adult novel and finalist for the Burt Award. Her creative and journalistic writing has appeared in other books and periodicals, and she blogs online at http://jhohadli.wordpress.com and https://wadadlipen.wordpress.com

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Theatre Revival?

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For more of what’s happening right now in the local arts community, go here and here.

For more on the A & B theatre tradition, go here.

 

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Sips and Verses Photo Gallery

Kim

Last month, I wrote about Sips and Verses at my other blog (and about how Kimolisa Mings, pictured above, was my favourite of the night). More recently I wrote on this blog about an upcoming photography exhibition.

The thing tying these two events together is the venue and the purpose…which is related to the venue: Government House. The historical site is in need of an US$8 million (yes, million dollar) rehabilitation and a series of arts events – including a black tie dinner and art show earlier in the year – have been had (have been had?) to draw public attention and interest and raise some funds. Ramble ramble. Click the links to relive those highlights and find out how you can support. Meantime check out these great pictures by Photogenesis courtesy of the folks at the Government House. You’ll notice there are no pictures of me…I’ll try not to take it as a commentary on my photogenic…ness (?)

Enjoy…and, yes, you should feel bad that you weren’t there! You missed some good readings. Let that be a lesson to you. *smile*

Claudia Elizabeth Ruth Francis is holding up the Tides that Bind, but she actually read a very powerful piece from Missing. You should know that these books are international thrillers - kidnappings, family dynasties, continent hopping, big money, terror...

Claudia Elizabeth Ruth Francis is holding up the Tides that Bind, but she actually read a very powerful piece from Missing. You should know that these books are international thrillers – kidnappings, family dynasties, continent hopping, big money, terror…

Reading Roy Dublin's poetry. Roy Dublin is the late author of Tomorrow's Blossoms. And this is his...daughter (?)

Reading Roy Dublin’s poetry. Roy Dublin is the late author of Tomorrow’s Blossoms. And this is his…daughter (?)

Dorbrene O'Marde read a timely Carnival story.

Dorbrene O’Marde read a timely Carnival story.

Michelle Toussaint read from her book, Now Taking a Lover.

Michelle Toussaint read from her book, Now Taking a Lover.

Fashionable Joy. Joy Lawrence.

Fashionable Joy. Joy Lawrence.

As with all content on Wadadli Pen, except otherwise noted, this is written by Antiguan and Barbudan writer Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, Oh Gad!, Fish Outta Water, Musical Youth, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings; also a freelance writer, editor, writing coach and workshop facilitator). Excerpting, reblogging, linking etc. is fine, but PLEASE do not lift ANY content (images or text) wholesale from this site without asking first and crediting the creator of that work and/or copyright holder. All Rights Reserved. If you like the content here follow or recommend the blog, also, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about Wadadli Pen and my books. Thank you.

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A Little Perspective

The long list of the OCM Bocas Prize was announced this weekend and an Antiguan and Barbudan writer/book/subject is on the list! 2136dd3c-42db-4ee4-841a-70fa52ac3d4cThe writer, Dorbrene O’Marde; the book, Nobody Go Run Me; the subject, Short Shirt . Maybe it will get some press here at home – whether you believe as I do that Short Shirt is the epitome of Antiguan and Barbudan calypso artistry, he is one of our cultural and calypso icons after all – whatever he does is news (right?), and Dorbrene is a well-established arts and media personality in his own right – from his days as Head of Harambee, widely acclaimed as the best of Antiguan theatre, to his current role as head and mouthpiece of the Antigua and Barbuda Reparations Support Commission (his profile certainly makes him news, right?). Plus Nobody Go Run Me was part of the news story that was the year-long anniversary celebration of Short Shirt’s 50 years in Calypso – something I, as a freelance journalist, covered for local publication Daily Observer, regional publication Zing, and, with specific reference to the book, am in the process of writing about for the Antigua and Barbuda Review of Books which has ties, through its editor Dr. Paget Henry, to Brown University in the USA. All of that to say, this news of O’Marde and Nobody Go Run Me making the long list of a major Caribbean prize is news and probably won’t get lost in the shuffle. Probably. But, just in case, I want to bring a little perspective.

When Antigua and Barbuda’s name is hollered for major literary prizes – PEN/Faulkner, the Guggenheim, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, American Book Award to name a few, it’s usually followed by Jamaica Kincaid. You won’t find her face on any of our many, many roadside billboards but she is a literary celebrity by any stretch of the imagination and, though her nom de plume references a larger island in the northern Caribbean, she is from the Ovals community right here in the 268. She has been and continues to be an inspiration for writers like me and others – from places like Ottos, Antigua and places far removed from it, where young girls dream of daring to write unconventionally, compellingly…uncomfortably, truthfully.

For many, Antiguan and Barbudan literature in as much as it even exists – and for many it doesn’t – begins and ends with Jamaica.

Because of this oversight, every pebble that ripples the water, reminding the larger Caribbean and international community that we are here (arwe yah!) matters.

When Brenda Lee Browne, in 2013, made the long list of the Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize – a prize which allows an emerging Caribbean writer time and resources to advance a work in progress – to date the only Antiguan and Barbudan of 22 long listed writers between 2013 and 2014, it mattered.

When an Antiguan and Barbudan book, in 2014, made the short list and went on to place second for the first ever Burt Award for Young Adult Caribbean fiction, it mattered.

There weren’t headlines here at home for either of these breakthroughs, both administered by the team behind the BOCAS literary festival in Trinidad, and presented during the awards ceremony there, but as far as creating ripples in the water, they mattered.

Well, the OCM Bocas Prize is the biggest award presented at that festival. For Caribbean writers, with the Commonwealth Book and First Book awards now just a memory and the other major literary awards of the world not impossible to reach – as 2015 Frost medalist Kamau Brathwaite’s accomplishment recently reminded us – but a stretch (and, don’t get me wrong, stretching is good), the OCM Bocas Prize is one of the few opportunities remaining. It is specific to us, demands the best of us, rewards the best among us. Since its launch in 2011, it has been won by Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott (White Egrets); Earl Lovelace (Is Just a Movie) – who also took the Grand Prize from the Caribbean Congress of Writers for the same book; Monique Roffey (Archipelago) – previously shortlisted for the Orange Prize for another book, White Woman on the Green Bicycle; and former Guggenheim fellowRobert Antoni (As Flies to Whatless Boys). Its long list has been a who’s who of Caribbean literati – Edwidge Dandicat, Kendel Hippolyte, Lorna Goodison, Kei Miller… and no Antiguans and Barbudans, until now 2015 with O’Marde’s book, Nobody Go Run Me. The book is in formidable company as there are no also-rans in this line up – Miller’s the Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion is already the winner of the prestigious Forward Prize in the UK, Marlon James (did you catch him this past week on Late Night with Seth Myers on NBC?) landed on several year-end best of lists in 2014 (TIME, New York Times, Amazon etc) and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in the US thanks to his Brief History of Seven Killings, Roffey’s House of Ashes was a finalist for the Costa Award, Tiphanie Yanique’s Land of Love and Drowning has already won the Flaherty-Dunnan First Novel Prize, Elizabeth Nunez’s Not for Everyday Use has been dubbed by Oprah.com as one of the Best Memoirs of the past year, the author of Dying to Better Themselves, Olive Senior, is a previous winner of the aforementioned (and no longer) Commonwealth Writers Prize, and Tanya Shirley’s The Merchant of Feathers and Vladimir Lucien’s Sounding Ground have been receiving all kinds of critical acclaim. Nobody Go Run Me (described in the Bocas release as “…a carefully researched biography of Antigua’s most celebrated calypsonian and a history of Antiguan society and culture in the crucial decades after independence.”) deservedly claims its place among these great works. I hope that isn’t overlooked, as things of this nature tend to be, here at home.

It matters.

As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight,  Fish Outta Water, Oh Gad! and Burt Award finalist Musical Youth). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to and/or follow the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, with credit, are okay, lifting whole content (articles,  images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.

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This World Spin One Way – My Take

I missed Dorbrene O’Marde’s Harambee days. Oh I was in the world but far yet from being of the world…so that while coming up I always had an awareness of Antigua’s theatrical heyday, it was always just a little bit in my rear view, not something I had had any practical engagement with (or memory of if I did). When those old enough to know talk about it though, you get a sense that you missed something. Last night, at the staging of Dorbrene O’Marde’s This World Spin One Way, I got a glimpse of that missing something.

This World Spin One Way, to be clear, is not one of the pieces from Haramabee and Antiguan theatre’s late 1970s prime time; no this was a 1990s production. I was working by then, and though I remember it as Dorbrene’s return to the theatre…I somehow missed it…and don’t remember why. I remember it got positive reviews though.

And having seen it for myself last night at the Cathedral Cultural Centre, I can say they were well deserved. Sure, the rhythm could be smoother, and likely would be if they had the luxury of a real theatrical run, nights on end of repetition until everything became second hand. But the bumps can be overlooked, I think, because there was hardly enough to make the ride bumpy…at least not beyond that dictated by a script and production delving on one level into the messiness of man and woman business and at a deeper level a philosophical questioning vis-à-vis the nature of being.

Basic plot – man and woman shack up, woman cheats on man, they break up; years later, they meet up, and meet up again, and again, and again, such dalliances leading to internal questioning and external gossip.

Beyond the plot, we’re looking at the dimensions of love, whether jealousy is a product of love or possession, do we always want what we don’t have, trust, desire, faithlessness, forgiveness, impotence (emotional and physical), forgetting, letting go, moving on.

For me, it provided a uniquely unblurred view into the baffling (at least to my Venus-mind) nature of male logic – the way loyalty and infidelity can exist within that logic without irony or contradiction. The twist, of course, is that we are reminded that women are just as f*cked up as men when it comes to being satisfied with who they have, or perhaps it is, that as humans we are never satisfied  – we always want the thing we don’t have.

Then again, maybe it’s not that, because one doesn’t get the sense that the high profile accountant and ambassador’s wife would have orbited any-man trying to figure out if she wanted a taste, it was this man, and the history they had, and the way he stimulated her mind, and challenged her, and her bafflement at how cynical he had become, her guilt maybe that she had been at least in part the cause of it, her… so many maybes.

As for him, a swirl of defeat, bitterness, self-pity, and self-deception, a mix up mix up of feelings tamped down, because maybe it hurt too much to feel, to care.

If the actors could benefit from a series of performances to get the rhythm down, I could certainly benefit from a series of viewings, multiple readings if you will, to pin down the true meaning.

The main sense I had coming away, re the dynamics of being men, women, human in this world together is, it’s complicated. And come to think of it, This World Spin One Way is similar to that Meryl Streep-Alec Baldwin film with its swing shift of humor and pathos and old fire stick plotline – albeit that O’Marde’s play with its deft word play (in place of slapsticky shenanigans) made for a more sophisticated experience, never mind all the f*cks (tame in any case by Hollywood’s and possibly Broadway’s standards).

This World Spin One Way did make me nostalgic for something I’d never had, though as I was reminded it did exist, yes, exist here, once upon a time; theatre that trusted its material enough to pull back on the theatrics, to play the quiet beats, to set the tone for the kind of laughter it wanted to invoke, to set the context, to allow for genuine and nuanced human interaction, to …be as real as life.

Good play, well written play, well directed play, well-staged play (for the most part), good performances all around but especially so that of Dr. Alvin Edwards, not because his character was likeable, he often wasn’t, but because he so successfully made him human.

As with all content (words, images, other) on wadadlipen.wordpress.com, except otherwise noted, this is written by Joanne C. Hillhouse (author of The Boy from Willow Bend, Dancing Nude in the Moonlight, and Oh Gad!). All Rights Reserved. If you enjoyed it, check out my page on Amazon, WordPress, and/or Facebook, and help spread the word about WadadliPen and my books. You can also subscribe to the site to keep up with future updates. Thanks. And remember while linking and sharing the links, referencing and excerpting, are okay, lifting content (words, images, other) from the site without asking is not cool. Respect copyright.

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