Introspective Poetry and Powerful Women – by Francis Quamina Farrier

Introspective Poetry and Powerful Women – by Francis Quamina Farrier

Carmen Jarvis

Two of my more recent articles focused on “World Poetry” and on “International Influential Women”. In the latter, I threw the spotlight on Carmen Jarvis, one of Guyana’s most high-achievers, as Headmistress of the Bishops’ High School, Girl Guides Leader, Secretary-General of UNESCO in Guyana and the author of a book on the History of the Bishops’ High School. Sadly, Ms Carmen Jarvis passed away just two weeks after my article was published. I now extend condolences to the Relatives, former students, and the colleagues of Ms Carmen Jarvis at the UNESCO.   

In that previous feature, I had boldly stated that Guyana had broken the glass ceiling over fifty years ago, and Ms Carmen Jarvis was one example. In the other previous article I had highlighted poems for “World Poetry Day. In this article, I am combining the two elements, and so the title of this article is, “Introspective Poetry and Powerful Women”.

I will now juxtapose some aspects of the two; poetry of introspection, and women of great influence in our societies. In looking at one of our negative sub-cultures, we will observe how a poem like Martin Carter’s “I come from the Niggeryard”, indicates how many Guyanese knowingly or unknowingly, suffer from self-scorn. Carter’s poem begins, “I come from the Niggeryard of yesterday, leaping from the oppressors’ hate, and the scorn of myself”. Take for example, how many Guyanese, some highly educated, say that “Guyana is below sea level”, which is totally incorrect when stated in that way.

Ever since I was a pre-teen, I was fortunate to have had a teacher, Ms Edwards, who taught us at the St. Ann’s Anglican school at Agricola, that “The coast land of Guyana is below sea level at high tide.” So when I hear people omit saying “The coast land” and “at high tide”, I want to scream. Instead I reflect to my early learning years, when Ms Edwards taught me the correct things, when I was still a young native of our Dear Land of Guyana. So why have I related this fact of my early education? It connects with poetry; the poetry of Guyana’s National Poet, Martin Carter, and his poem in which he wrote of “self scorn”, and I wonder whether there is some measure of “self scorn” by those Guyanese who state that “Guyana is below sea level”.

Here is a country with two magnificent mountain ranges – the Pakaraimas in the north Rupununi, Region Number Eight, and the Kanaku in Region Number Nine, which separates the north and south Rupununi savannahs. Two lofty mountain ranges. There is also Mount Ayanganna, and of course, the breath-taking Mount Roraima, which Guyana shares with neighbouring Brazil and Venezuela.

So while I detest that “self scorn” statement by some Guyanese that “Guyana is below sea level”, I have to point out that there is a positive side to my disgust. High profile businessman, Capt. Gerry Gouveia, who is “Guyanese to de bone”, has named one of his companies, “Roraima Airways”. Obviously, the veteran airplane pilot and graduate of the Guyana National Service, is extremely proud of the mountainous areas of his native land. He has flown over those mountains countless times, sometimes at night bringing gravely ill or seriously injured fellow Guyanese from the hinterland, and who need urgent medical attention in the city. Many lives have been saved because of his bravery and dedication. So how could people who were born in Guyana not think of all those mountains and state that “Guyana is below sea level”? Is it the sort of “self scorn” which poet Martin Carter wrote about.

In his epic poem, “The Legend of Kaieteur”, AJ Seymour wrote, regards the water of the Mighty Kaieteur, “…pause on the lip, commit themselves to space, and dive the half mile below.” Now let us reason, how would that water plunge 741 feet, if the Kaieteur Falls was below sea level? Also, where would the water in our many canals go, when the kokers were opened, if they were all below sea level all the time? In fact, would there be kokers in the first place.

Beyond Guyana’s border is the country of Haiti, a sister Caricom country, generally classified as being the poorest country in the western hemisphere, and very despised by many. Even Mother Nature it seems, has been giving Haiti more than its fair share of catastrophes. That country has over the decades, suffered from so many Natural Disasters, such as deadly earthquakes at times, and deadly hurricanes at other times, which result in the deaths hundreds of people and millions of dollars worth of damages. Haiti is also referred to as “the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere.

Haiti is a country which so many Guyanese seem to disrespect. We who are fortunate to live in a country which does not experience such catastrophes as earthquakes and hurricanes, hardly ever pause to count our blessings and thank Mother Nature for being so kind to us. Instead, so many of us seem to wallow in “self scorn”, continually berating our Mother Guyana. They could find nothing good to say about “Our Native Land”.

Haitian-born, Rt. Hon. Michelle Jean, Governor-General of Canada, meeting with President Barack Obama.

One of the most influential women in Haiti is award-winning poet, playwright and University Professor, Evelyne Trouillot. Most Guyanese never pause to think how Haitians exist and in many cases prosper, in a country so poor and so bedeviled with so many catastrophes. Many Haitians are high achievers, especially in education. Out of Haiti have come many great international personalities, including a Governor-General in the person of the Rt. Hon. Michelle Jean who served as the Governor-General of Canada from from 2005 to 2010.  Here is a woman of African Heritage who hails from the poorest country in the hemisphere, becoming the Governor-General of one of the richest and largest countries in the Hemisphere.

Viola Desmond

On International Woman’s Day, March 8, 2017, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, made an announcement that African-Canadian Viola Desmond of Nova Scotia, would be the first woman in the history of Canada, whose image would be placed on a Canadian banknote – a $10 bill. Over 26,000 submissions were received, but it was African-Canadian Viola Desmond which was finally selected by the panel of judges.

Viola Desmond is regarded as the Rosa Parks of Canada; the only difference is that she fought racial segregation not from an incident on a bus but in a cinema. She was a successful business woman and someone of means. Her rise to prominence in Canada came about when she had dared to buy a ticket for the “whites only” section of a cinema and when arrested and thrown into jail, she fought that injustice in a court of law, and won the case, becoming a Canadian heroine, much like Rosa Parks in neighbouring America. The $10 bill with her image on it, will be released in 2018.

During the run-up to the 2015 General Election in Guyana, there was the cry, “It is Time”. Well, it is certainly time for Guyanese to stop being so full of “self scorn”, and hail our heroes and heroines, in Guyana and beyond, especially our Mother Guyana, a country which is not below sea level – but a country with many lofty mountains where sharp-eyed Harpy eagles soar to the blue heavens above and the Mighty Kaieteur Falls plunge 741 feet to the gorge below.

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  • demerwater  On 04/08/2017 at 5:09 am

    As I read Mr. Farrier’s article, I remembered this stanza from the one poem that I actively and very purposely committed to memory.
    “Full many a gem of purest ray serene,
             The dark unfathom’d caves of ocean bear:
    Full many a flow’r is born to blush unseen,
             And waste its sweetness on the desert air.”
    Growing up in Albuoystown, my father was there to point out the role models. In due course, I found them on my own.
    The earliest was Edgar Mortimer Duke. He did his homework under a street light while his mother operated a ‘stand on the market pavement’. For some reason that impressed my father, no end.
    There were many others in that second worst slum in Georgetown. Tiger-bay was number one – they say. How many Ministers of Government did Albuoystown produce?
    “Nigger-yard” connoted the negative image in my mind also; until I did my stint at Albion / Port Mourant and met a Security Guard, Ishoof. He proudly spoke of his two sons whom he had brought up “in this same ‘Nigger-yard”. I Knew one of them, Assad, who was in the group of GDF soldiers who planted the National flag on Mount Ayanganna, to mark the attainment of Independence. My life has been richer because of our relationship.
    This brings up another topic. Science and Art. There is a bit of each in all of us. The Scientist in us measures. The Artist in us feels.
    I look at a pot of boiling water and remember that “Water boils at 212 degrees F …. at 14 lb. / sq. in. pressure.” The principle is applied to the everyday “pressure cooker” and towards the other end of the scale, to the “Vacuum Pan” in a sugar factory. At the same time, I have indulged a 4-year old by identifying genies and animal-shapes in the rising steam.
    I myself admire the blending of art and science in architecture – from an inspiring edifice to a ‘cooler- window’. I am told that this latter was constructed to accommodate a block of ice. The air (volume regulated by propping the hinged shutter at different angles) was cooled as it passed over the ice. The nicest touch are the slots in the box-part. Through them, the water from the melting ice, drained to the outside of the structure. All of the features are founded on science and the whole identifies a pleasing presentation of colonial architecture.
    My considered opinion is that Guyanese have been disinclined to explore their own country.
    This may be due to perceptions. The rainforest is perceived as “the bush”; hard work (mining and timber) in an unforgiving environment (labaria snakes). There was a social stigma attached to towns like Wismar, Bartica and Lethem.
    I consider myself fortunate in that I started my working life in Sand Creek School. My career in the sugar industry added to my appreciation of what a gift of Nature Guyana is.
    In all this, I have to wryly admit to a lapse. My wife first saw a mountain (range) from a window seat on an aircraft as it landed at Piarco in Trinidad.

  • Albert  On 04/08/2017 at 1:24 pm

    My considered opinion is that Guyanese have been disinclined to explore their own country.”
    I like the way you write about some of your experiences in life. I grew up in a Georgetown “nigger-yard” Never saw the inside of an high school. Bought/borrow books to write GCE but I find it difficult to identify with some of the things Martin Carter wrote. The people I grew up among somehow never left me. I learn something of manhood from the older men who tolerated youngsters as long as they remained quiet and did not interrupt.

    There was the exceptionally bright and skeptical one among them who often got my attention. Edwards, who read and think widely, often question the Bible. He would argue such matters as how could an all-good, all-powerful God allow so many evil on earth if he truly had such attributes. I would love the pleasure of going back to discuss deeper questions with Edward. What is the purpose of man on earth. Would the planet not be better without him. The self-thought Edward, now pushing up daisies, would have love that.

    On your point above which I quoted, the textbooks I read did not identify with the people or local environment. It was the Guyanese who explored their own country and developed original thoughts.

  • Albert  On 04/08/2017 at 1:30 pm

    It was the EXCEPTIONAL Guyanese who explored their own country and developed original thoughts.

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