The first official event in the LAS Cultural Programme pulled in no less than Mervyn Morris, current Poet Laureate of Jamaica and the first since the country gained independence.

In a tight, focussed 45 minutes, Morris read some of his most famous work, filtering such universal themes as death, love and religion through distinctively Caribbean lenses.

Mervyn Morris

On Holy Week was the stand out, a sequence of poems exploring Jesus’ last week through the eyes of the people who knew him most. We hear from Mary and Judas of course, but also Pilate’s wife and Simon of Cryene. Crucially, Morris never sides with any of these voices; instead he gives us different interpretations of the crucifxion and challenges us to reunderstand what we think is familiar.

Morris’ verse is warm, often flecked with dry wit. Subtly alternating between Jamaican Creole and “standard” English, his performance was one of highly practised ease – an audience member later commented that the delivery of the poems hadn’t changed in twenty years. It was meant as a compliment but it has its downsides: the steady stream of a poet’s own “poetry voice” can be difficult to engage with. Morris’ sincerity and humour are clear to see on the page; in recital from the man himself, occasionally there were times when poem blended into poem blended into poem.

He was more impressive and truly engaging when speaking without his words in front of him, as he did in a brief Q&A session after the reading. The challenges of dialect, poet laureateship and Dub poetry were explored with great insight, Morris not being limited to being in “recital mode”.

Clearly, the organisers are looking to attract big names to this new programme of free events and there is no disputing the potential here for real academic and cultural exploration. If anything, the fact that the first of them wasn’t perfect only whets the appetite for future guests.

Sam Forbes //