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Olive Senior, Gardening in the Tropics: Poems. Toronto, Canada: McClelland & Stewart, Inc, 1994. 136 pages.

Olive Senior, born and brought up in Jamaica, won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1987 for her book of short stories, Summer Lightning. Her gifts as a story teller translate equally well in to the poems in this, her second poetry collection.
But Gardening in the Tropics is more than a collection of poems. The four themes that structure the sections of the book produce a special effect of surrounding the reader with the thickness of tropical life. The magic, the tragedy and the humor are evoked without ever losing focus.
"The Traveller's Tales," the first section, is skillfully woven together by a series of poems all called "Hurricane Story"— 1903, 1944, 1951 and 1988. "Hurricane Story, 1944" tells of "my father the dandy" for whom "it all came unstruck" when the hurricane struck:

My father stopped putting brilliantine
on his hair
his vowels went flat
as the tyres on the bicycle he finally
sold to buy us schoolbooks

and the story ends with:

Meantime
he coasted downhill
and we settled into our new routine:
Monday Tuesday Wednesday our mother worked in the fields
Thursday Friday she went to market
Saturday she left him money on the dresser
He took it and went to Unity Bar and Grocery and drunk
came home and beat her
Sunday she went to church and sang

Each poem in the third section begins with the line "Gardening in the Tropics":

Gardening in the Tropics, you never know
what you'll turn up. Quite often bones.

I wish I'd thought of that. I wish I had the skill to pull it off and make it work the way Olive Senior does, to go beneath the surfaces of Caribbean life and lovingly dig up secrets.


Gary Harold

Copyright ©  Olive Senior
 
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17-Dec-2013

The Caribbean Writer publishes its Volume 27 issue, dedicated to highlighting music and visual arts

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