Governor-General Sir Patrick Allen has lauded Jamaica’s new Poet Laureate, Olive Senior, for her work focusing on issues of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speaking on Wednesday during virtual investiture ceremony, at King’s House – the Governor General’s officials residence, Sir Patrick said Miss Senior’s recent collection of literary works, called ‘Pandemic Poems’, is a “book for the future, when we want to look back at these times”.
“Miss Senior will leave a legacy as a poet in these unprecedented times, a time when the protocol requires us to sanitize our hands, wear masks, social distance, and to take a vaccine. I have taken the vaccine, and I am continuing to follow the protocols, and I encourage all Jamaicans to do so for the protection of everyone,” the Governor-General said.
For her part, Minister of Culture, Olivia Grange, said for generations Miss Senior has been a “beacon of light” to readers across the globe, from her “ever-expanding canon of acclaimed work”.
“As an academic, a poet, historian, and cultural activist, Miss Senior has etched her name, but more so all our names and identities, into the tapestry that is Jamaican cultural knowledge,” the Minister said, adding that the poet’s diaspora focus allows Jamaicans and other nationals everywhere to access understanding for “a better Jamaica”.
Declaring that she has accepted a “great responsibility”, the new Poet Laureate said the potential of poetry to provide a whole new perspective on what “we might call news” has guided her over the past year to “write what I call ‘Pandemic Poems’ – ways of speaking truth, while engaging the reader in reflecting on the dark times that we are going through”.
She underscored that the times have generated around the world a renewed consciousness of the power of poetry to enable people to connect, heal and to be resolute.
“It is this power of poetry that I hope to exploit during my tenure, moving it beyond the popular conception of something useless, to recognise it as a powerful force for transformative change, such as spurring youth into action for environmental protection activities,” said Senior who will serve for four years, which will end in 2024.
She replaces another poet, Lorna Goodison, who has completed her four-year stint.
Olive Senior is also a journalist and author, and served as Publication Editor for the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of the West Indies; Managing Director of the Institute of Jamaica, and Editor of the then Jamaica Journal.
She won several awards for writing poetry and short stories, which include the Institute of Jamaica Centenary Medal for Creative Writing, in 1979. In 1987, she won the Commonwealth Prize for Literature, and the following year she was awarded the Silver Musgrave Medal for outstanding work in the field of Literature.
In 2003 she was awarded the Norman Washington Manley Award for Excellence in the field of Preservation of Cultural Heritage, and in 2005, she won the Gold Musgrave Medal for Literature.