Introduction for Lorna Goodison

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The highlight of the presentation ceremony is the introduction of the authors by distinguished individuals.

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Gary Geddes, poet, author, influential literary editor and university instructor introduced Lorna Goodison's book From Harvey River.

I have a small confession to make. Although I knew her name, I must be one of the few Canadian writers not familiar with Lorna Goodison's work before this nomination, although she is the author of two collections of short stories and, by latest count, ten books of poems. She is also a recipient of the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Musgrave Gold Medal for literature and teaches at the University of Michigan, dividing her time between Ann Arbor and Toronto. So I came to her memoir, From Harvey River, with no preconceptions and it has been a wonderful learning experience, indeed a revelation, for me to discover not only fine writing, but also such an attractive and discerning sensibility. I know now what Lorna means when she says that she rejoices in her "double language," English and its literary tradition, but also the rich and colourful Creole idiom of the West Indies.

We, as readers, can rejoice too, not only in her double language, but also in her double heritage. From Harvey River is a hymn to place, to a particular locale in Jamaica that has shaped and nourished her, a thoroughly regenerative landscape. But it is also a paen to family, a celebration of that essential, impossible clan that births, bathes and bothers us, the family, for better and for worse, warts and all. Her father Marcus, wise and generous to a fault; her mother, Doris, devoted, demanding, indentured to her Singer sewing machine, stitching the fates of her children and sisters, the fabulous Harvey Girls, including the incorrigible Cleodine, as stubborn as she is elegant. The final pages of From Harvey River are a masterpiece of timing and texture, as Lorna, having inherited the skill of her dying mother, weaves so many lives into one glorious cloth. I want to read you a small passage that touched me to the core. It takes place just after her mother's death, when she is standing in the market in front of a clerk named Peggy overcome by grief and guilt.

"One by one, the women standing around me begin to testify to the goodness of one's mother. 'There is nothing like a mother, no sir, there is nothing like a mother's love.' 'Even if your mother is the worst woman in the world, you still have to love her because she give you life.' One woman tells of her mother's peaceful passing in the care of a loving daughter: 'I did just bathe her and put on a new panty on her and put her to sleep on a clean sheet, and is just so she sleep off.' Each of them tell me about this rite of passage when your mother becomes your child, and I stand in that loving circle of women, like Sally Water of the children's ring game, with weeping eyes as they comfort me, no mind, no mind, no mind."

As if place and family and the wondrous strength and solidarity of women were not enough, there is also the intoxicating smell of food rising from the pages of this memoir, particularly the bottomless pots of stew concocted by Doris for her nine children, their friends, and the extra guests so often arriving unexpected. The pages of From Harvey River, where yams, pimentos, and mangoes abound, end with a reference to her mother's hands, which "always smelled of onion," and to another small but telling detail about mothers and daughters: "She dipped her finger in sugar when I was born and rubbed it under my tongue to give me the gift of words."

And what a gift it is. This one of the few benefits of ignorance, it affords you the pleasure of reading something wonderful for the first time. I am grateful to have been a beneficiary of Lorna Goodison's extraordinary gift of words and to have the honour of introducing and recommending it to you today.
British Columbia Achievement Foundation
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