Sunday, March 27, 2016

Runners in the Marathon of Time, poem in WomanSpeak (to my granddaughters)


Runners in the Marathon of Time
 Poem to my granddaughters

My granddaughters, Zoe Samples (mother, Malaika Mark Samples) and Edith Thiesen (mother Cassandra Mark Thiesen), 

Runners in the Marathon of Time

You were the gifts we awaited,
seeds nurtured in love,
brought to us through
the strength of our daughters.

Your lives, sung to us by our foremothers,
prayed for in their boundless world,
are the answer to our prayers, their prayers.

You come from women who are neither
willing victims nor victimizers.
Our words, passed on through time,
were never weapons of destruction,
but wise pronouncements
steeling minds and backbones.

You will witness the majesty, misery,
and mysteries of this world.
We will watch you stumble over obstacles,
observe you slip and slide while scaling walls
put up to hinder your dreams.

We, your guardians,
will let you find your way,
oversee the road you take,
allow you to become you.

Your lives are our continuum.
You are the torch-bearers of the new generation.

We pass the baton on,
blood of our blood.

© Althea Romeo-Mark  11.02.15

Published in WomanSpeak: A Journal of Writing and Art by Caribbean Women, editor, Lynn Sweeting, Bahamas, 2016



 The book is designed by Julia P. Ames and the cover image, "Kenya," is by feminist artist Maria Maria Acha-Kutscher of Madrid. It depicts a photograph of a woman taken at a candle light vigil/protest in Kenya calling for the return of the 200 schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram from the town of Chibok in Nigeria in 2014.

According to Lynn Sweeting,

“WomanSpeak is a small journal from a small place.
It is a journal devoted to nurturing the creativity of
 contemporary Caribbean women writers and artist,
to providing a forum that amplifies their voices, and
 to preserving their work for future audiences. This
 issue is intended for a particular future audiences
“the granddaughters” or the women writers of the future.”


I am proud to be part of this publication. Contributing writers and artists on the back cover come from all over the Caribbean.


https://www.facebook.com/WomanSpeak-A-Journal-of-Writing-and-Art-by-Caribbean-Women-230394596977622/?fref=nf




Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Genesis of my writing

The Genesis of my writing

Main Street, St. Thomas, Virgin Islands on a Sunday
The word genesis has its roots in Latin and Greek, and is defined as “a beginning or origin of anything, coming into being.” The genesis of my writing began at age twelve. I was a student at St. Peter’s and Paul Catholic Middle School in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Our teacher, a nun, Sister Stephanie, had given our class a descriptive composition to write for homework and I wrote about my dog which had been stolen and found months later. A lot of emotion was put into it. Sister Stephanie immediately recognized that I had a flair for writing and asked me if I would like to enter the essay into a competition, but I, being painfully shy, refused to participate.

St. Peter’s and Paul High School, St. Thomas, V.I
Later in high school, when we had the opportunity to select a class of our choice (an elective), my creative interest turned to drawing and painting and a lot of my free time was dedicated to painting with water colors.   I was so fascinated with this method of expression that my time spent on it contributed to my failing an important Latin test in my second year because I had arrived late.


During this time I was confident enough to enter a contest promoting St. Thomas’ annual carnival which takes place in April.  I painted a picture of a moko jumbi,* the Caribbean stilt walker and dancer, and won a prize.

          The moko jumbi, a fixture of carnival and Christmas throughout the Caribbean, is of West African origin. Slaves brought this tradition with them to the Caribbean.  It is a tradition that is now getting stronger with time.










University of the Virgin Islands
During my third year at the College of the Virgin Islands (now University of the Virgin Islands), I took part in a student exchange program at the University of Connecticut. While there, I signed up for an art course. My art teacher, though, did not see the next great artist in me. 









I was homesick, having left the Caribbean for the first time and having encountered freezing weather and blizzards for the first time. In art class, I consistently painted islands shores filled with coconut trees.
I have kept some of the drawing and paintings that I did in that art class to remind me where I came from and how far I have to go. 

The last decent drawing I did was one of my father sitting in his favorite rocking chair.  He was fast asleep when I sketched him.
It was not until I enrolled in a Caribbean Literature course at the College of  Virgin Islands, during my final year, that the writer in me woke from its sleep. The course was taught by Dr.David Gershator who challenged his students to write a poem about what it is to be a West Indian.  



This topic drew out the writer in a few of us. I had written a poem and didn’t realize that I had.  

When Dr. Gershator handed my paper back to me, he asked me if I had written poems before. I answered honestly. “No.” But it was the beginning and I have not stopped writing since.
Reunion photo at a reading organized by Elaine Warren Jacobs of The Voice Inside literary group, St. Thomas, V.I. In the photo Elaine Warren, Althea Romeo-Mark, Dr. Gershator, Bertica Hodge, Dr. Vincent Cooper,2002)

Dr. Gershator became a mentor to a group of young budding poets. He began a literary journal, in 1971, V.I.P. (Virgin Islands Poetry) which, we, his students regularly contributed too.  His wife, Phillis did the design and layout.

In the introduction to the journal, Dr. Gershator states that:

Summer 70’ I read a well-known poem, “Le paysan declare son amour,”by Haitian poet Emile Roumer*. I ask my Caribbean
Literature class if anyone could try writing something that would capture the flavor of their own West Indian World. I was wondering
 if I’d had any takers… A few days later June Esannason came in with “Native Woman,” emulating Roumer… I had no idea that
 this tentative exercise would galvanize the class into a veritable guild of apprentice poets. (VIP, 1971)


Le paysan declare son amour

High-yellow of my heart, with breasts like tangerine
You’re tastier to me than eggplant filled with crab
You are the tripe in my calalou
The boiled dumpling in my peas, my bush tea brew
You’re the salt beef rind of my heart’s delight
My cornmeal mush with syrup that slips down my gizzard
You are a steaming dish, mushrooms with rice
Crisp fries and small fish done brown
My taste for love follows you wherever you go
Your butt is a big basket with meat and fruit packed to overflow.

(Emile Roumer, translation from French Creole,Dr. Gershator)
          
Emile Roumer
VIP back cover

Regular contributors to VIP, published by the C.V.I (College of the Virgin Islands), were Judith Botsford (Boston), Janet Collins (St. Thomas), Vincent Cooper (St. Kitts), Michael Daniels (Texas), Enid Dowling (St. Croix), June Esannason (St. Thomas), Richard Glover (Queens, N.Y), Howard Gumbs (St. Kitts), Bertica Hodge-Hendrikson (St. Thomas), DeEtte Krueger (Michigan), Althea Romeo (Antigua-St. Thomas) and Glen Wilcox, art contributor and art instructor. Bertica Hodge-Hendrikson and I became the most prolific writers in the group.










Nager Man

Bocrah man*
lashing whip
‘pon back

Nager man
lashing whip
‘pon back

When slavery
done gone
long time.

Colonialism,
independence,
cultural identity.

Nager man
lashing whip
‘pon back

*White land owner
© Althea Romeo-Mark, VIP, 1971

Some of us participated in poetry workshops (conducted by Allen Ginsberg and Judson Jerome) and poetry readings on local television.
Breadloaf Inn, Middlebury, Vermont

Dr. Gershator became my mentor and secured me a waitership-work study scholarship to attend the prestigious Breadloaf Writers Conference* in 1971 in Vermont. 








At this conference I attended workshops, participated in poetry readings, was invited to my first tea party, and worked as a waitress in the cafeteria as part of my scholarship.

In 1974, Revista Review InterAmericana, University of Puerto Rico, San Germain,  was the second Caribbean journal to publish my poems and I appeared in several of their issues after that- Revista Review Inter-Americana, Vol.3. No. 4, Winter, 1974, Vol.4. No.1, Spring, 1974, Spring, 1975,  Summer,  Volume 6, 1976,  Vol. 6. No. 2, Winter 76-77, Inter American University,  Puerto Rico. Three poems published in the 1975 edition are  “ I Am Juju,”  “Old No Teeth Mama,” which won a poetry prize at the Cuyahoga Writers Workshop in Ohio, and “Festival on the Beach.”


 I was a teaching assistant in the Department of Pan-African Affairs, Kent State University at the time some of these poems were published.
My passion for writing poetry was further fuel by Dr. Edward Cosby* head of the then Institute for Pan-African Affairs (later the Department of Pan-African Affairs). He motivated the budding poet that I was and assigned me a creative writing course.  This gave me the opportunity to stimulate creative minds and nurture writers like myself. 


The end product of this course was a poetry collection entitled, Shu Shu Moko Jumbi: The Silent Dancing Spirit. This anthology, published by the Department of Pan African Affairs, is still listed in my publication history to this day.


While at Kent State University I joined writers groups, took part in readings at local pubs and continued to send out my work for publication.  







Some of the journals that published my work at that time include: Proud Black Images, Ohio State University, Ohio, 1972,“A Tribute to Black Men,” Black Ascensions Literary Magazine. Dept. of Black Affairs, Cuyahoga Community College, Ohio, June 1972, Human Issue. Vol.4. No. 2, Dept. of English, Kent State University, 1973, Flyer Two.  Vol. 5. No. 2. Dept. of English. KSU, 1974, Echoes of the Unlocked Odyssey. Ed. Sal St. John Baltaci, New Jersey, USA, 1974, Welcome to My Pad. Afro-American Society, Case Western University, May, 1974, Black Odyssey: A Search for Home, The Harvard Advocate, Harvard University Press, Mass. USA,  1974, Handmade Soap: Anthology of Poetry. California, 1975, Hell Is for Those Who Glitter: An Anthology of Black Creative Writing, Dept. of Pan African Studies: AAA Monograph Series, Vol. 3. No.1, Spring Quarter, 1974, Kent State University, Kent Ohio, Sun Jewels: Anthology of Virgin Islands Poetry. Ed. Valdemar Hill,  Val Hill Enterprises, 1975, Black Ascensions. Cuyahoga Community College, Winter, Summer, Ohio, 1975, “Research Papers in Afro-American Studies,” JUJU, Spring, Case Western University, Ohio, 1975.“Excursions,” New Kent Quarterly, Spring. Kent State University, Ohio, 1975, Shellys, Shelly’s Book Bar, Kent State Univ., 1975 and Ptah, Dept. of Pan-African Studies, KSU, Ohio.


My first collection of poems, Palaver (Downtown Poets Co-op, New York, 1978), was published with the help of my mentor, Dr. David Gershator.
















Reading poems in St. Thomas, 2002

It was Dr. Gershator who discovered and nurtured the poet in me.  All budding writers are blessed if they have mentors who push and encouraged their mentee to follow their dreams. 





I am not a Pulitzer Prize winner, nor I am lauded with a list of prizes. But, I love what I do and will continue to write; I will continue to learn from other poets and become a better writer.

Every poem I write should be better than the last. I will strive to give the best of me that I can. This is the challenge I give myself. It is my hope that I inspire others to do the same.


Notes

A moko jumbie (also known as "moko jumbi" or "mocko jumbie") is a stilts walker or dancer. The origin of the term may come from "Moko" (a possible reference to an African god) and "jumbi", a West Indian term for a ghost or spirit that may have been derived from the Kongo language word zumbi.

Émile Roumer (5 February 1903 - April 1988) was a Haitian poet.[1] Roumer wrote mostly satirical poems and poems dealing with love and nature. Born in Jérémie, he was educated in France before studying business in Manchester, England. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Émile_Roumer

The Middlebury Bread Loaf Writers' Conference is a writers' conference held every summer at the Bread Loaf Inn, near Bread Loaf Mountain, east of Middlebury, Vermont. Founded in 1926, it has been called by The New Yorker "the oldest and most prestigious writers' conference in the country."[1] Bread Loaf is a program of Middlebury College and at its inception was closely associated with Robert Frost, who attended a total of 29 sessions. (Frost lived in nearby Ripton.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bread_Loaf_Writers%27_Conference

Edward Warren Crosby (born November 4, 1932), is an African-American professor/administrator emeritus, in the Department of Pan-African Studies at Kent State University (KSU). As a pioneer in the field of Black Education his most notable accomplishments include the creation of the Institute for African American Affairs, the predecessor of the Department of Pan-African Studies and The Center of Pan-African Culture at KSU. The Pan-African Studies Department (1969) and the Center of Pan-African Culture (1970) were two of the first institutions of their kind to be established at institutions of higher education.[1][2]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_W._Crosby

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Interview by the Liberian Listener: 11 Questions-Althea Romeo Mark

Interview by the Liberian Listener
This interview was conducted by Daniel Geply. I wish to thank him for providing this wonderful opportunity.




11 Questions: Althea Romeo Mark, Writer, Poet, Educator
Althea Romeo Mark is an educator and poet who grew up in the U.S. Virgin Islands.  She earned a B.A. in English and Secondary Education from the University of the Virgin Islands and a M.A. in Modern American Literature from Kent State University in the U.S.A. She considers herself a citizen of the world having lived and taught in the Virgin Islands, U.S.A, Liberia, England and now currently Switzerland.  She has published 5 collections of poems as well as various short stories and poems in a variety of literary magazines.

Where published and literary influences?
1a. I have been published by two prominent Caribbean journals. First The Caribbean Writer, which just published its 29th edition, and is published by the University of the Virgin Islands. It has been publishing my poems and short stories off and on since the 1990s. Then there is POUI, a literary journal from the University of the West Indies, which has just put out its 16th edition. Coming from the US Virgin Islands, having one’s work published in a journal from the University of the West Indies is considered a great achievement, as they tend to focus only the work of writers from former British colonies. Being published in the New Yorker will be a major achievement.  I just need to do it.

1b. I have been part of a few anthologies on Caribbean writing. The earliest is Sisters of Caliban: Contemporary Women Poets of the Caribbean: A Multi-lingual Anthology edited by MJ Fenwick, USA, 1996; Karibia Forteller, published in Norway in 2001 (in Norwegian); The Hampden-Sidney Poetry Review: Poetry of the Caribbean (Virginia, USA), WomanSpeak: A Journal of Writing and Arts by Caribbean Women, Bahamas 2014. I am also blessed to be part of Seasoning for the Mortar, a special anthology on Virgin Islands Writing, published by the University of the Virgin Islands in 2004, and have just signed an agreement for the follow-up anthology of Virgin Islands Writings, First the Kata, Then the Bundle which comes out in 2016.

1c. I haven’t been influenced by one particular poet but have learned the craft of writing and sculpturing  poetry from Maya Angelo and Allen Ginsberg. Maya Angelo mentored young poets at a poetry workshop in Liberia in the 1980s and Allen Ginsberg, one of the famous Beat Poets, mentored young poets at the University of the Virgin Islands in the early 1970s. I think my rhythm might be influenced by the rhythm and rhyme of Calypso singers and writers, and the natural sing-song of Caribbean speech patterns. I am a visual person, so I like to work with images. I started out painting and drawing in high school, and switched to painting with words when I got to university.

2.         With these accomplishments, what do you hope to still achieve in this celebrated sojourn?
I hope to be an established name in the Caribbean Literature, and maybe in the world. But that requires constantly being in the limelight which I tend to shy away from. It is more important that I can inspire others to fulfill their dreams of becoming great writers.

3.   Would you say your writings reflect your collective personal life experiences?
Yes they do.  All writings are inspired by experience, or some seed of truth planted in the world in which you live through mediums like news headline, your immediate environment, traditions, culture, history and the world in its crazy pulse of existence.

4.   As an educator, what level of teaching do you find the most rewarding. 4a. Your students must be lucky to have such a well traveled and accomplished writer?
a) Teaching at university is very rewarding.  I miss the intellectual stimulation provided by fellow lecturers and students. As a lecturer you learn from the brilliance of students.  Your role is not only to impart knowledge but to also to learn from the knowledge that students share. You evolve as a teacher as a result of that experience. There are many opportunities (forums, conferences, workshops, research) for growth offered in such an environment.
b) Teaching English to people, for whom English is not their mother-tongue, is equally rewarding. You get to witness their transformation from speakers of a few English words to people who can hold an intelligent conversation. Students are motivated because they need English for work or to travel around the world. They recognize that English is the language used on the international stage for communication.
d)  Unfortunately, I haven’t had the opportunity yet to teach Creative Writing. It requires a language competence equivalent to mother-tongue English, and most students at that level are concerned with building their careers. I have offered courses though.  A course needs to have a minimum of eight students to run. I have done booklets of descriptive essays written by my students though.

5.   You quote that “I write because I have to,” could you please elaborate further?
For me, writing is like breathing and eating, things that are necessary, things you need to do to stay alive. You don’t think much about it. You just do it. The environment provides the stimulation.  Sometimes when I see a blank page, I just have this urge to fill it with meaningful, communicative, transcending words. Fulfilling this desire can be very successful most times; there are times when the words are not ripe, and you cannot force them.

6.   Are you working on another collection of poems to be published in the near future?  
I have had a collection ready since 2014-2015, but I have written and published so many poems since then, I need to do a revision.  Then, there is the nagging question of whether to self-publish or to send the manuscript to a Caribbean publisher.  I do not teach at university, so I do not have contact with university presses. This is why I send my work out to various publications.  One has to build a resume in the publishing world, so people can recognize your name when they see it. You need to publish several times a year to be taken seriously.

6b. Any advice to young writers and especially Liberian/Caribbean writers?
If you love writing and want to establish yourself as a writer, you have to write, be open to others critiquing your work.  You have to get the opinion of someone who can look at your work with an objective eye. Join a writers’ group. I have been a member of a writers’ group wherever I have lived (USA, Liberia and Switzerland). Writers’ groups help to stimulate the individual growth of writers. Do not be daunted by rejection letters. Sometimes you look back at work you sent out and realize that it was “crap”  and your work was correctly rejected. I started writing as university student in the 70s and haven’t stopped. You have to be willing to learn from others, have determination and believe in your dream. You never stop learning as a writer. Take advantage of all opportunities for publishing that come up whether big or small. Remember: You are building that resume and preparing for the big break.

7.   You are well travelled and have lived in many places, what was your favourite location to reside?
 Liberia was the country in which I grew as a person the most.  I arrived at a naïve age of twenty-six.  I became an adult there.  I met my husband, married, had three children, survived several political upheavals, and had to declare myself a refugee upon arriving in England and decided to start over. I was forty then and had spent the prime of my life with beautiful, expressive people. I also learned about my Caribbean past because I heard some of the folktales my father told again in Liberia.  One makes that connection and embraces one’s West African roots.

7b. You recently travelled to Africa as a guest poet, commendable indeed.
I wanted to visit the African continent again and the Kisii International Poetry Festival provided that opportunity.  It felt great to be back on the African continent, this time East Africa, to be among humble people with big hearts. The people in  the villages were very welcoming. I missed that very much.

8.   What would you like your writing to be most remembered for? It is my hope that my poems carry a message about the strengths and weakness of human nature, whether it be the message of love, betrayal, the frailties of man or the continuity of traditions. It is my hope that they make some kind of impact.

9.   Besides writing, what do you like to do in your leisure time?
I like to travel if I can and learn about other cultures. Otherwise, I go to the gym and try to prolong my life by exercising.  I need to do more of that unfortunately.

10. With all the places you have been, how many languages do you speak? 10a. Which is the hardest?

I speak only two languages: English and German. I understand Swiss-German. It is a medieval version of German which I find difficult to express.

11. Thank you for your time Ms. Romeo-Mark, do you have any final thoughts?
As a writer, as long as you live, there is always something to write about. The world is a fascinating, sometimes disappointing place, filled with human beings exercising their will, not always in our favor, but we try to find the good in all the craziness that we live through. Life gives you much food for thought.

Neighbors Sanderson

Warm summer night.
Windows flung open,
are dressed in curtains of light.
Old Mr. Sanderson across the way,
kneads his wife’s plump arms,
rubs her hands and swollen feet.
The scent of eucalyptus,
wafting into the air,
subdues the smells
of frying oils and salsa,
and settles in our noses.
The fragrant ointment
glistens on Mrs. Sanderson’s
thick, veined hands
and fleshy fudge-brown arms.
Her face, tense with the
hurdles of aging, slackens.
Evening ritual done,
Mr. Sanderson nestles
next to her and reads
from a well-read book
she had dedicated to him.
and made famous long ago.
It is then we shut out distractions,
shush those in mid sentences,
strain our ears to hear elegiac words
that speak and sing for a
voice now stilled by stroke.
In baritone, Mr. Sanderson reads
about seductive flesh and
love in spring shifting into summer.
There is no autumn or winter.
It is a love superior.

Republished with permission by Althea Romeo-Mark, from Moko Magazine, November 2014 issue (www.mokomagazine.org).  


Below are some of the journals in which Althea Romeo-Mark has been published. 


Althea Romeo-Mark's last poetry collection