|Articles, Biography, Caribbean/Latin America, Media Archive, Women on 2014-10-21 21:33Z by Steven|
Hyacinth M. Simpson, Associate Professor of English
Ryerson University, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Olive Marjorie Senior was born in the parish of Trelawny on the Caribbean island of Jamaica on 23 December 1941. The seventh of ten children, she grew up in the shadow of the Cockpit Mountains and spent her formative years criss-crossing the adjoining western parishes of Westmoreland, Hanover, and St. James. As Velma Pollard points out, “[t]his environment—the topography and the people—is continually reflected in Senior’s poetry and prose” (479). Moreover, as the daughter of a small farmer and a stay-at-home mother, Senior grew up close to the land. Her vast knowledge of local plants, their history, their medicinal and culinary uses, and the rich folklore associated with them— which is evident in a number of poems in Gardening in the Tropics including “Guinep,” “Pineapple,’ “Starapple,” and “Mountain Pride”—is rooted in this early experience. So too are the intimate portraits she paints, in this collection and her other works, of the people whose survival depends on how well they navigate both the physical and social landscape.
In Senior’s immediate family, money was scarce. While not auto-biographical, the poem “My Father’s Blue Plantation” provides insight into the lives of small rural farming families like the one Senior was born in and the hard graft that defines such existence. Even though Senior, who is of mixed race heritage, was born with what Jamaicans term “light skin” and “good hair,” those usual markers of privilege did not set her, or her family, apart from their predominantly African-heritage neighbours in the village of Troy. Class, rather than race, as Senior explains in an interview with Anna Rutherford, was then and still is the main marker of difference in the complex web of Jamaica’s social hierarchy. Because they were poor like their neighbours, the Seniors “lived as a part of the village” (12-13).Troy was, like many other rural villages of the time, close knit. Everyone knew everyone else, and the Senior family was well integrated into their community. Village life was Senior’s first school. A world away from the “refinements” of the city and with no television or cinema and very little radio for distraction, members of the community found instruction and entertainment in the only likely/available source: the oral culture…
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