by Curlan Campbell
- Marché de la Poésie takes places 7 – 11 June in Paris
- First time 10 Caribbean poets will be featured
- John will read from her books Between the Rhymes and The Sky is the Limit
“I also try to utilise our Grenadian Standard English and Creole as a way to demonstrate the language’s viability and instil pride in ourselves and our identity,” said Kamille Leisha Judith John, a Grenadian poet, who is expected to perform written pieces from her published and unpublished work at this year’s Marché de la Poésie, the 40th edition of the Poetry Market in Paris, France.
For someone who appreciates the value of reading at the tender age of 7, the art of writing poetry was not on her radar until she was encouraged by her English teacher during her years at St Joseph’s Convent, St George’s.
“I had always loved reading, and this bolstered my imagination. I found myself telling stories from the age of 7,” John said. “At 11, when I entered secondary school, my English teacher at the time, Queen-Annie Gill, required us to write an alternative version to a poem in our textbook.”
John discovered she had a talent for writing rhythmic poetry. “The poem was called “The New Boy.” For homework, we had to write one called “The New Girl,” John said. “When I came back with my poem, I had 5 stanzas written in an AABB rhyming scheme, which, apparently, wasn’t normal.”
She added, “My efforts were lauded, and after that, my friends would ask me to write poems about any topic that popped into their heads. And that’s where my foray into writing poetry began. I haven’t stopped writing poetry since.”
John is certified in Modern Languages, which includes French, Spanish and English Literature from TA Marryshow Community College (TAMCC). She obtained her Bachelor’s Degree in English and a Master’s Degree in French as a Foreign Language from the University of the Antilles in Martinique. Currently, she is an Assistant Lecturer at TAMCC, teaching French Literature, Communication Studies and Basic French.
It was her love for the French language and a referral by her cousin that John applied to the UNESCO programme Transcultura: Integrating Cuba, the Caribbean and the European Union through Culture and Creativity, which extended a call for young poets from across the Caribbean in February 2022.
“My cousin, Russel John, sent me the advertisement. He’s always on the lookout for opportunities for people in the arts, “she said. “He wanted me to take a look and pass it along to anyone I thought would be interested. I saw that it was being held in Paris, and as a lover of the French language, it was always my dream to visit France. The Transcultura programme would allow me to mix my passions for poetry and France. I couldn’t say no.”
Carded to take place from 7 – 11 June 7 in Paris, the Poetry Market will feature, for the first time, 10 poets from the Caribbean, selected from 252 applications. The other selected poets are Taimi Dieguez Mallo, Cuba; Jacinth Freanna Howard, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines; Cyndi Marshall, Barbados; Arguens Jean Mary, Haiti; Ronaldo Elijah Mohammed, Trinidad and Tobago; Angella O’Brien, St Lucia; Víctor Andrés de Oleo de Oleo, Dominican Republic; Tanicia Pratt, Bahamas and Christena Antonia Valaire Williams, Jamaica.
The Assistant Lecturer is quite grateful for the opportunity to travel to Paris to perform her poetry which she described as infusing Grenadian Standard English and Creole. “As a poet, I try to be relatable.” John said, “I find the pervading thoughts about poetry to be that it is hard to understand. I want anyone to be able to enjoy my writing, even if they’re not necessarily a fan of the genre.”
An avid writer of poetry exploring social and political issues, John tries to be as related as possible to her audience. “I enjoy writing about social and political issues, as well as language, because these are topics that everyone can relate to and understand, and these are things about which I am passionate,” she added. “I dabble in other topics, but the aforementioned are the main ones you would find. I also try and utilise the Grenadian voice, i.e., our Grenadian Standard English and Creole, as a way to demonstrate the language’s viability and instil pride in ourselves and our identity.”
Performing at the Marché de la Poésie is a privilege for accomplished poets, and John is eager to introduce a new audience to subtle nuances of the Grenadian cultural experience.
“I’m elated to be chosen as 1 of the 10. There were over 200 candidates who applied throughout the Caribbean. It’s something that has brought me immense pride. I am going to be representing Grenada in every capacity, with my work and my voice, and also bringing along some tokens from Grenada,” she said.
As part of their application, participants were required to compile a poetry portfolio with 10 chosen pieces. At the event, John will read from her 2 books.
“I will be going with 2 books: Between the Rhymes and The Sky is the Limit. Between the Rhymes is an anthology that was published in 2019 and focuses on themes such as alcoholism, the strength of a woman, and racism, among others, “ she said. “The Sky is the Limit has not yet been published. It is in its final stages. It is a collection of short stories written in verse. It will cover a variety of themes, including abuse, heartbreak, love and revenge, to name a few,” she continued. “The Sky is the Limit” is scheduled to be published in June 2023.
John will use the opportunity to network with other authors, publishers, and promoters. She hopes to make her mark in the poetry art form and have more Grenadian literary work recognised in the formal school system and internationally.
“I hope to make not only a name for myself but also present Grenada to the world. It is my aspiration that my inclusion in this event will encourage young Grenadian poets to continue writing, sharing, and performing their work. Their voices are viable,” she said. “Their poems are part of the recording of culture and history in Grenada. If I can encourage one person to do so, I will have done my part.”
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