On compiling the Caribbean Poetry Anthology Give the Ball to the Poet – A guest post by Morag Styles

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Established in 2003, the annual CLPE Children’s Poetry Award (CLiPPA) encourages and celebrates outstanding poetry published for children. The winner of the 2015 award will be announced next week.

Today we’re delighted to bring you a guest post by Morag Styles, an editor of one of the shortlisted titles, ‘Give the Ball to the Poet -A New Anthology of Caribbean Poetry’, illustrated by Jane Ray. Styles’ anthology (co-edited with Georgie Horrell and Aisha Spencer) is a celebration of Caribbean culture and environment. It also explores the anger and sorrow begotten of the interdependent history of migration, slavery and exploitation between the Caribbean and Britain.

morag

Now over to Morag:

“When we conceived the new Caribbean poetry anthology, Give the Ball to the Poet, it was some time since I’d edited a volume of poetry for children. CUP were my first publishers after they asked me to collect international poetry for young people, resulting in I Like that Stuff and You’ll Love This Stuff (1984/86) with the subtitle ‘poetry from other cultures’. I went on to edit many more anthologies after that, always ensuring they included a good representation of international poetry in general, Caribbean in particular, and plenty by women – to counteract poor representation of these groups in most anthologies at that time.

I have always been a poetry enthusiast but researching international poetry in the 1980s enabled me to learn about wonderful poetry with appeal for the young that I hadn’t been aware of – and I especially fell in love with Caribbean poetry. It was an exciting time with events like the Black Book Fairs in Brixton and other parts of London which included vibrant poetry readings, discovering bookshops like Bogle L’Ouverture in Finsbury Park, joining organisations such as ATCAL (Association for the Teaching of African and Caribbean Literature), promoting anti-racism in the training of teachers etc. I was lucky to meet James Berry, a distinguished poet and key figure in the Caribbean poetry scene, who introduced me to many fine poets who are still popular today. This was a time when dub poetry was becoming very popular in UK and the Caribbean and Marley and other reggae musicians ruled the airwaves.

Since 2010 I had been directing a Caribbean Poetry Project, a collaboration between Cambridge Faculty of Education and its Centre for Commonwealth Education and The University of the West Indies. Together we had constructed a Teaching Caribbean Poetry course which has been promoted across the Anglophone Caribbean (and to a lesser extent in UK) and written a book of that title for teachers and scholars. Now it was time to turn our attention to the ultimate focus of our project – young adult readers – and compile a book of poetry for them. We decided to share the editing among 3 members of our team – Georgie Horrell who specialized in teaching post-colonial literature at Cambridge, Aisha Spencer who taught literature and education at UWI and me, in my final year before retirement as professor of children’s poetry at Cambridge. I was the old hand of the trio and I thoroughly enjoyed working with younger colleagues, inducting them in the joys (and trials!) of anthologizing.

All those balls you have to keep up in the air at the same time: poets of the past and present – the greats and the new voices; good representation of poetry from the whole of the region, and of women; different styles of writing and uses of language from Creole to standard English; different forms and moods; some poems were specially commissioned; and always to keep the sound of Caribbean poetry in the forefront. We were determined that we would not avoid the horrific history of slavery which pervades a lot of Caribbean poetry, while offering humour, joy and lyricism as well and a strong sense of the landscape and the sea. We began by selecting likely poems for that age group from the widest range of poets, ending up with many more than we knew we would be able to use. As we read the poems, themes began to emerge. We had already chosen sport as one section since the book was planned to be published in time for the Commonwealth Games. Mervyn Morris, now Poet Laureate of Jamaica, sent us a wonderful poem about Usain Bolt and we were off!

Once again, I discovered superb new voices, rediscovered old favourites and generally felt myself to be steeped in powerful poetry. Although Aisha lived in Jamaica and we only physically worked together once during the process of selection, we found we were in harmony throughout. Aisha did the lion’s share of the task of providing a full glossary of terms so that teachers, parents and pupils alike should be able to understand unfamiliar words and phrases. Our research assistant, Sabine Edwards, worked like a trooper on the hardest part of anthologizing – permissions!

Something like twenty-five years before, I had the good luck of working with Jane Ray as illustrator of Mother gave a Shout! When it came to thinking about who might illustrate this book, Georgie and I both separately thought of Jane. How thrilled we were when she agreed and how well she has captured the environment and people of the Caribbean. We made several trips to London to meet with Jane, Judy Curry and John Picknett of the Commonwealth Education Trust who were generously funding the anthology, and with Bonnie, Neil and Matt of Third Millennium who dealt so creatively with all the design aspects of the book. It was such an enjoyable process and I learned so much about what is involved in putting a book together that authors and editors don’t normally encounter working for a conventional publisher. We are incredibly pleased that so many people like the anthology as much as we do and we hope it is a fitting tribute to our deep regard and respect for this life-affirming poetry.”

Morag Styles June 2015

This guest post was provided by Morag Styles. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the Federation of Children’s Book Groups.

You can find out more about all the other shortlisted titles and poets by following the CLiPPA – Poets’ blog tour #CLiPPA2015:

Monday 6th July
Reading Zone http://www.readingzone.com
Hilda Offen’s poetry writing tips

Tuesday 7th July
The Federation of Children’s Book Groups blog
Morag Styles on compiling the Caribbean Poetry Anthology Give the Ball to the Poet

Wednesday 8th July
Young Writers blog https://www.youngwriters.co.uk/blog/
Rachel Rooney: Where I Write

Thursday 9th July
Manchester Children’s Book Festival blog http://m-cbf.blogspot.co.uk
Mandy Coe and the story of Let in the Stars

Friday 10th July
Playing by the Book blog http://www.playingbythebook.net/
Joseph Coelho: The Ultimate Writing Tip

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