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This review is taken from PN Review 175, Volume 33 Number 5, May - June 2007.

A PAINTER'S EYE LORNA GOODISON, Goldengrove: New and Selected Poems (Carcanet, 2006)

There are clear signs that Caribbean poets have secured an international readership appropriate to the impressive breadth of cultural reference that characterises their writing. In 2006 Barbadian Edward Kamau Brathwaite shared the prestigious (and, at C$100,000, extremely lucrative) Griffin Prize. And this is the second time Carcanet has published Lorna Goodison (Guinea Woman, a selection of her earlier work, appeared in 2000). Goldengrove: New and Selected Poems is a superb collection, largely composed of poems from her two recent books, Travelling Mercies (2001) and Controlling the Silver (2004).

It was feminist readers who first brought Lorna Goodison to notice in Britain back in the 1980s. Hers is a womanist poetics, with the generosity and scope Alice Walker intended when she coined the term: she writes about the world from the position of an ordinary woman within it and the breadth of her vision is impressive. Her portraits are always fully three-dimensional, authentic details distinguishing them from the stereotype of the indomitable Afro-Caribbean matriarch. One poem details how her mother used to wrap favourite local foodstuffs in the newspaper's obituary columns when she travelled overseas to visit relatives: that way she could keep them all fully in touch with home.

Attention to detail and knowledge lightly worn give her historical work its power. The sequence 'On Leaving Goldengrove' is about Cassamere, an African man whose mastery of dancing, confectionary, liquor-making and ...


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