We’ve been lucky to have Lorna Goodison among us for most of the last twenty years, teaching in the U-M creative writing program or in the Afroamerican and African Studies department. She has often traveled, returning to her native Jamaica, to her home in Canada, or to Great Britain and Europe, where she has a significant reputation as a poet. But for a long time now, and until she leaves town after her retirement this month, she has always come back here. In “Ideas of Home,” a poem in her most recent collection, Supplying Salt and Light, she writes:
“The rock” is what I call home,
all islanders do, and I’m in blessed Ann Arbor,
mainland, where I found safe harbour under
green sea of trees now becalmed, frosted.
We may have provided “safe harbour” for Goodison, but her books are filled with the images, the stories, and the language of the Caribbean. Goodison’s fundamental commitments are to her island people; much of the historical and cultural concern of her poetry is with the African diaspora and the legacies of oppression. But she interprets everything through the lens of her own generous spirit.
Gardens and the people who enjoy them appear throughout Goodison’s poetry, so it is certainly appropriate that one of her last readings here before her retirement will take place at Matthaei Botanical Gardens on December 10. In “Hope Gardens,” a poem from her newest collection, she recalls the famous botanical garden in Kingston, Jamaica, and is amused by recent interpretations of it:
Seated now in a seminar, you’re prepared as this post-colonial scholar unearths plot after heinous imperial plot buried behind
our botanical gardens; and you think pity the people never knew this as we posed for Brownie camera captured photographs
by flowering trees, or, O joy, showed off our wedding dan dan, by lily pond, lay down ourselves careless in beds of canna
lilies, lost in daydreams of owning own places with lawns the square of a kerchief.
Goodison has always respected the work such occasionally humorless scholars do to put colonialism in context, but she always, particularly in a garden, returns to the human beings who “come in order to draw strength / for the week from our own Hope Gardens.”
Now Goodison will spend more time at her Canadian home on Halfmoon Bay, one of those fjord-like inlets north of Vancouver, where the “great bear of my dreams” is known to wander through town. She thought she might be afraid of this northern bear, but in those dreams the beast has found a new home:
Now the bear enters into our living room where our lamp shaped like a horse waits to be unpacked,
I shoo it with a damp dish cloth. It shows no sign of being even one bit perturbed
and I wonder if the bear is thinking of moving in, if he will sit in our armchair, eat up our porridge.