Daily Observer (Jamaica)
Stitching Together Memories: An Interview with Poet Grace Nichols
forms can inspire each other.
For example, one of the popular shows we staged was Dora vs Picasso. After writing Picasso, I Want My Face Back with that sequence of poems in Dora’s voice, I felt I needed to let Picasso have his say. So I came up with his responses to Dora. We got two professional actors who engage in a passionate exchange and this is interwoven with live flamenco dance and music to complement their intensity. We also showed images of both Dora’s photography and some of Picasso’s paintings. It was a multi-arts thing. Crosspath Theatre also staged, among other things, John’s one-man show Roll Over Atlantic, a satirical look at Columbus (both directed by Mark Hewitt.)
As regards living and working together, we do bounce off and inspire each other. We are each other’s first reader and critic before sending off a manuscript. Naturally, we have our own passionate likes and dislikes and arguments about poetry. We are very different poets, in a way. My sense of wonder in the natural world inspired by my early childhood in the country is always there, while John grew up in the city. I tend to be much more secretive about my work. Someone once asked me if we ever wrote poems together, which I found strange, as poetry is such a solitary activity, coming as it is from your own intuitive awareness and imagination. But we have collaborated on anthologies such as A Caribbean Dozen (Walker Books) which features the work of 12 Caribbean poets who also write for children, with an extra poet thrown in as a bonus, hence the name. We also wrote a collection of Caribbean nursery rhymes; No Hickory, No Dickory, No Dock. We each wrote 20 poems, exploring nursery rhyme rhythms from both the British and Caribbean tradition, some with a playful twist.
Finally, you make a distinction between poems that are for “young readers” and poems that are not. What would you say is the difference in writing for these two groups?
When I’m writing for children, I think I’m writing for the child in me.
My children’s poems tend to be more playful, but sometimes a poem can cut across and equally appeal to both children and adults. Maybe my poetry for younger readers has a more pronounced rhythm. I’ve written several poems exploring the rap rhythm, for example. My adventure with language began with my mother reading us nursery rhymes and telling us fairy tales, also hearing schoolyard rhymes. I like to think that I bring both a sense of thoughtfulness and fun to my work for children.