Poems About Dominica Inspired by the 2015 Nature Island Literary Festival’s Writing Competition

For the first time in several years, I was in Canada when the 8th annual Nature Island Literary Festival  (NILF)took place in early August. I have always enjoyed the fascinating sessions and stimulating interactions with literary artists from Dominica and abroad. This year, a Nature Island Writing Competition formed part of the festivities. I was inspired to ‘try my hand’ in a genre in which I had little  practical experience, with the exception of enjoying the study of a variety of poems on the syllabus that I taught in senior English  literature classes at Orion Academy  a few years ago. My humble submission was a way of staying connected to this wonderful and popular annual event!

As the theme of nature and the environment particularly intrigued me, I felt compelled to draft the required entry of three poems as I waited for my flight to Canada at the Barbados International Airport in mid-June.  I applied some of the literary devices and techniques that I had explained to my eager students  when we analyzed poems once upon a time. (They should smile when they read that!). I even revised the pieces on the plane, which I discovered was a very pleasant way of passing the time on a long journey.

Before I show them to you, I would like to congratulate Ms. Jamie Alleyne, who placed first in the poetry section of the 2015 NILF Writing Competition.  I haven’t seen her poems yet, but certainly look forward to reading them in the near future.  You can keep abreast of their release on the NILF website by clicking Nature Island Literary Festival and also checking their Facebook page.

Meanwhile, my heartfelt creations are recorded below, for posterity’s sake, if nothing else.  I certainly delighted in this literary exercise and intend to pursue it again sometime.

  1. Springfield’s Splendour

Dominica is a beautiful green gem.

A mix of rich history and vibrant culture2004_1103Dominica0015

Complement its stunning emerald blend.

Nestled in the mountains near the rainforest

There sits a stately, comely, old estate

That epitomizes the essence of this place.

Springfield Plantation is her original name

And she is of an impressive old age

Her 18th century charm endures and fascinates.

I love to wander along her forest trails

While students of science search all over the grounds

Looking for large insects and rare plants.

In the nearby river, I feel completely at ease

This river pool at Springfield is a place where I spent many moments in meditation whenever I visit Springfield.

A bath in its refreshing waters does please

And washes away my cares until tomorrow.

The old estate whispers in the night

Her ghost stories could cause a terrible fright

But I have never ever been afraid.

Myriad sounds: squeaks, creaks and groans

Fill my imagination and capture my soul

As night falls all over her.

Mornings, I gaze down the verdant valley

And focus on the tallest Royal Palm.

It seems it’s been there for almost forever and a day.

The distant Caribbean Sea calls to me

Sending assurances that all is calm and bright

When I spend time in Springfield’s paradise.

As dawn is breaking on the old estate, I am always reminded of the magic and mystery of this beautiful place.

From Springfield, the view of the Antrim Valley down to the Caribbean sea always evokes a feeling of tranquility.

The old wooden beams hold secrets

But rustling trees in gentle breezes reveal

That Springfield is filled with enchanting magic and mystery

Which will never cease to charm and captivate me.

2.  Cry for the Nature Isle

A hike through the rainforest:

Whistling birds, stunning orchids, tall, tall trees

The trail is challenging, steep and somewhat remote.

Down a deep ravine, partially concealed by shades of green:

A rusting fridge and a pair of bald tires,

And a little further along, a recently cleared garden patch in chemical yellow.

I sigh for the Nature Isle.

An afternoon by the river:

Cool, refreshing, reviving,

Revelling in its fast, frigid, flow.

Swimming further upstream to a more accessible spot

Provokes a shock-

Picnickers have left plenty on its banks:

Styrofoam plates, plastic cups, chicken bones and rum bottles too.

Midstream, a hummingbird flits around a blue banana bag caught on a rock.

I weep for the Nature Isle.

A brisk stroll along the windswept Atlantic coast:

Wild waves crash onshore

Pulling in ubiquitous overgrown Sargassum seaweed

Carrying with it a flotsam and jetsam of plastics

Of all descriptions:

Abundant bottle caps, motor oil containers, a bait bucket from Virginia,

To name a few.

I sob for the Nature Isle.

A critically endangered turtle, needing to lay her eggs:

Searching for a once-familiar spot on the beach.

In the distance, a lone man wanders along the shoreline

Late at night, and when asked about his presence there,

Vaguely admits to “doing something wrong.”

The 1,000 pound Leatherback never had a chance;

Soon the species will be no more.

I howl for the Nature Isle.DSCF4390

A Boa Constrictor freely inhabits the suburban grassy terrain

And in the dry season, burns to death in an intentionally-set fire.

Iguana lizards cooked for lunch are enjoyed by all generations

Who savor their exquisite taste, despite laws and declining numbers.

I wail for the Nature Isle.

Climate change, global warming, pollution, DSCF4546

Thoughtlessness and selfishness most of all

Have taken precedence in this country of rare beauty, splendour

And sometime national pride.

If we don’t come together to preserve this precious place

Then I will have no choice but to constantly

Cry for the Nature Isle.

3. Dreams of Waitukubuli*

Hot, warm, cool waters

This forceful natural hot water shower at Tia's provides a strong massage for sore muscles

Strong smelling, soothing relief

A healthful respite.

Spouts seen on the sea

Secretive, gentle and  strong

Dive into the deeps.

Cascading torrentsDSCF1160

Flow in synchronicity-

Electricity.

Three emerald peaks

Silver clouds and sapphire sky

Tall is her body.

“Whoop-whoop” breaks silence

A common sound in the nightDSCF5438

Once upon a time.

*Waitukubuli (pronounced Why-too-KOO-boo-lee) is the Kalinago name for Dominica, which means “tall is her body.”

**The above three poems were submitted to the NILF Writing Competition in July 2015, several weeks before Tropical Storm Erika devastated the Nature Island – but the sentiments remain the same! Gwendominica

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A Celebration of Flowers in Giraudel, Dominica: Nature’s Finest on Display Indoors and Out!*

The Giraudel Youth Group organized a Flower Festival for the first time this year.

The Giraudel Youth Group organized a Flower Festival for the first time this year.

It was a relief to wake up on Saturday May 9th, 2015 to intermittent rain showers after days of unrelenting heat and high winds in Dominica.  This slight change in the weather was good news for everyone. It brought some relief to parched plants and quelled bush fires that had recently erupted on the west coast of the Nature Island.

Although the higher elevations were not as adversely affected by this hot weather, I was glad of slightly cooler

I wish I could have taken this bowl of Dahlias home with me from the Flower Festival!

I wish I could have taken this bowl of Dahlias home with me from the Flower Festival!

temperatures for a planned walk from the village of Eggleston to its nearby neighbour, Giraudel.  There, the Giraudel Youth Group had organized a weekend-long Flower Festival, as the usual Flower Growers’ Show, a very grand and longstanding annual event, would not be taking place this year.

My mountain chicken (crapaud) research friend Jenny, a keen nature enthusiast, was eager and able to explore this mountainous area near Roseau with me.  As well, we have Dutch/Dominican friends, Gijs and Georgie, who live in this lovely region. We intended to drop in for tea on our way to the Flower Festival, a short distance away from their home.

This time, Jenny drove, and I had the pleasure of taking my eyes off of the road and gazing at the gorgeous views below us.  When we reached the hamlet of  Eggleston, we turned in to a long lane that lead to the beautiful and secluded Holy Redeemer Retreat Center, which is run by Redemptorist missionaries. We parked  nearby with permission from the priests on the site, as we intended to walk along some of the peaceful trails on the property after our foray to Giraudel.

These lovely anthuriums graced the entrance-way to a home on the road to the Retreat Center.

These lovely anthuriums graced the entrance-way to a home on the road to the Retreat Center.

The view across the Roseau Valley from Eggleston is one to be admired!

The northerly view across the Roseau Valley from Eggleston is one to be admired!

We trekked back up the lane we had just driven down, but this time, we both could enjoy views overlooking residential areas, the Caribbean Sea and mountains to the south of the island. Then we were back on the main road. This time, we looked over the distant Roseau Valley, to the villages of Morne Prosper on its south side and  across to Cochrane on the north side.  Jenny and I remarked to each other that we had appreciated this view from the opposite side only last weekend, when we hiked from Springfield to Middleham Falls!

As we continued along, we admired lovely hedges of flowers,fertile gardens and gave thanks for the tall shade trees on either side of the road.

Even the disco in Eggleston is named after a flower! (although I imagine it is associated with a lady's name...)

Even the disco in Eggleston is named after a flower! (although I imagine it is associated with a lady’s name…)

The main road between Eggleston and Giraudel is well-shaded.

The main road between Eggleston and Giraudel is well-shaded.

Jenny told me that this plant is Pride of Barbados.  We admired this hedge along the main road.

Jenny told me that this plant is Pride of Barbados. We admired this hedge along the main road.

After about an hour and a quarter, we arrived at Gijs and Georgie’s beautiful home.  While we were a little late for our appointment, our friends greeted us  warmly and bade us enter and rest awhile on their pleasant porch, facing the Caribbean Sea. Georgie served us mixed mint tea, picked moments earlier from her  herb garden.  Then she offered tempting sweets: tamarind balls, coconut ‘cheese’, and sweetened local gooseberries.  While we chatted and covered a broad range of topics, including mountain chickens, boa constrictors and lizards, Jenny and I cooled off from the first ‘leg’ of our walk.  After we were refreshed, we toured their  lush, fertile grounds, admired distant views across the Roseau Valley and became introduced to two of the most beautiful hens I have ever seen: Rosie and Blanche.  These tame free-range ‘layers’  roamed the property at large, cheerily clucking away as they foraged for plentiful bugs and favourite grasses.  They certainly stole my heart!

Gwendominica admires one of Gijs and Georgie's beautiful hens.

Gwendominica admired one of Gijs and Georgie’s beautiful hens. Photo taken by Jenny Spencer.

Giraudel's history is explained here in a nutshell!

Giraudel Dominica’s  history is explained here in a nutshell!

When we heard loud music playing a short distance from our friends’ home,  probably signalling the start of the Flower Festival, we said our good-byes and continued along the main road. We passed the bandstand and stopped for a snack of tuna bakes (like a deep-fried biscuit).  Then we continued up the road until we noticed a tent, where we spied flower arrangements through its opening.  We crossed the street and discovered that we were indeed in the right place for the floral display.  We entered the site by paying $5.00 ECD, and took in the lovely arrangements.  We also admired a variety of paintings by renowned local artist, Caesar Catin. Then, one of his daughters engaged us in conversation and told us about the Giraudel Youth Group and their concerted efforts to organize this Flower Festival.  Jenny and I felt that  they had done a good job, on a small-scale, although I was concerned about the strength of the tent’s supports in the high winds! (Everything was still standing when we left about an hour later.)

Some images from the Giraudel Youth Group Flower Festival 2015:DSCF4967DSCF4976DSCF4980DSCF4968DSCF4987DSCF4982

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Jenny admired ginger lilies on the rack between Giraudel and Eggleston.

Jenny admired ginger lilies on the track between Giraudel and Eggleston.

From there, we walked back through the village and headed for a shortcut that Gijs had recommended that would take us through the forest, where we would exit just above the neighbouring village of Eggleston. It was a lovely

Heliconia plants grow prolifically in the rainforest -even when it's rather dry!

Heliconia plants grow prolifically in the rainforest – even when it’s rather dry!

downhill saunter, and we paused several times to admire wildflowers, tended plants and the occasional insect!  We exited the trail after about 30 minutes and continued along the main road, returning to our starting point at the Retreat Center. By now, the clouds had lifted and the afternoon was once again, very hot.  We looked up at Morne Anglais, towering over the village of Giraudel, and wished for a few moments that we were on its peak!  (It’s a two-hour trek to the summit of Morne Anglais.  Although it can be a very steep and muddy trip, the reward at the top is a 360 degree view of Dominica and beyond).

Morne Anglais towers above the mountain village of Giraudel.

Morne Anglais towers above the mountain village of Giraudel.

My legs were now feeling rather ‘wobbly’.  We wandered along a few of the trails, but we both gave in to hunger pangs so did not fully explore the lovely grounds of the Retreat Center that day.  We seated ourselves on a wooden bench, and would have appreciated the natural solitude of this meditative place, except that the Flower Festival was now in full swing, and their  music makers’ melodies carried long distances (including to my home far below, as I later discovered!).

Pretty plants are seen along the Retreat Center Road.

Pretty plants are seen along the Retreat Center Road.

Poinsettias seem to be scarce right now, but we found this one along the Retreat Center road.

Poinsettias seem to be scarce now, but we found this one along the Retreat Center road.

The Retreat Center has plenty of places for quiet contemplation, prayer or meditation.

The Retreat Center has plenty of places for quiet contemplation, prayer or meditation.

The Retreat Center is adorned with beautiful plants and shrubs in this tranquil setting.

The Retreat Center is adorned with beautiful plants and shrubs in a tranquil setting.

These bright flowers captured our attention along the Giraudel main road.

These bright flowers captured our attention along the Giraudel main road.

Time to go home!  The drive out of the Retreat Center is peaceful and pastoral.

Time to go home! The drive out of the Retreat Center is peaceful and pastoral.

As we had been several hours ‘on the road’, Jenny and I felt content with our varied exposures to numerous

varieties of beautiful flowers that grow prolifically in the Giraudel-Eggleston area.  We also agreed that plentiful pure, clean mountain air, a good, long walk and  time well-spent with lovely  friends contributed to another wonderful day on the Nature Island!

*This piece is dedicated on Mother’s Day to my late mother, Vesta.  She truly loved nature and its beautiful offerings. She really liked hens too!

 

Springfield Dominica: My Favourite Place on the Nature Isle*

Painting of Springfield Plantation by Dominican Artist Earl Etienne in 1996.

Painting of Springfield Plantation Guest House by Dominican artist Earl Etienne in 1996. It presently hangs in the dining room, which is the former Great House.

Over the past week, I had the good fortune to visit  Dominica’s Springfield Plantation on three occasions.  This stately property was  my first home in Dominica, and there are times when I wish I had never left her  pristine  air and peaceful beauty!  I have also had the pleasure of getting to know some wonderful people there: Mona George-Dill, who oversaw the then Springfield Plantation Guest House in the 1990’s and early 2000’s; Nancy Osler, current manager of the on-site Archbold Tropical Research and Education Center; and members of the Eusell family, who lived nearby and  are still associated with the estate.  All of these folks have always been very welcoming and kind to me, which contributes to my  ongoing affection for my favourite place on the Nature Island. While it is no longer a hotel, I enjoy spending a little time there whenever possible.

Springfield has a longstanding reputation as a garden on the edge of the rainforest..

Springfield has a longstanding reputation as a beautiful garden on the edge of the rainforest.

From my first visit, I was so taken with this charming estate, which is set on the edge of the rainforest, that I wrote a poem about it during my early days in Dominica.  It was dedicated to Mona George-Dill and I presented it to her in 1997.  She helped me familiarize with Dominica’s culture and customs, for which I am forever grateful.

During my second stay at Springfield, I thought I heard a strange voice call my name in the middle of the night.  As the property dates back to the mid-1700’s, I thought it might have been a ghost – a friendly one, of course!  Even though I am not a poet, these words came tumbling out of my head via my pen the next morning:

The Ghosts of Springfield

There were some very melodious voices on the night on August 21, 2013, as the Just Us Youth Choir from St. Lucia was in the house.

There were very melodious voices at Springfield on the night of August 21, 2013, as the Just Us Youth Choir from St. Lucia was in the house.

Voices in the night.

Dominica's popular Sisserou Singers were there in full voice too!

Dominica’s popular Sisserou Singers provided glorious vocal harmonies too!

A light mist falls

and caresses the old plantation

like a lover in the night.

Stifling hot stillness is relieved

by soothing breezes.

The spirits speak kindly

to those who stay

From Springfield, the view of the Antrim Valley down to the Caribbean sea always evokes a feeling of tranquility.

From Springfield, the view of the Antrim Valley down to the Caribbean Sea always evokes a feeling of tranquility.

and seek refuge

in a tranquility

rarely found elsewhere.

This plaque on the Great House's veranda complements my feelings about Springfield.

This plaque  is found on a pillar of the Great House’s veranda. It perfectly complements my thoughts about Springfield.

The garden of Springfield

blooms eternally

with a love

that will never die.

The track to the Springfield River envelops one in serenity as one walks through this rainforest garden.

The track to the Springfield River envelops one in serenity.

To Mona,

The cool and coursing Springfield River offers an idyllic respite from the everyday.

The cool and coursing Springfield River offers an idyllic respite from the everyday.

Love, Gwen

 October 14, 1997

*For more information about Springfield, Dominica (past and present), refer to my article in Domnitjen Magazine.

The Nature Island Literary Festival 2013: Inspiring the (unlikely) Poet in Me!

I am rejoicing over all the wonderful presentations, encounters and inspirations that I experienced at Dominica’s 6th annual Nature Island Literary Festival (NILF), which was held from August 9th – 11th at the University of the West Indies Open Campus.  I will be writing a full blog report about its program to follow this one.

Although I am not spontaneous by nature, I impulsively entered their poetry writing contest without giving it much thought.  I think I was motivated by the ideas and creative works that had been shared by various literary artists and academics up to midday on the first full  day of the event.

At the  lunch  break that Saturday, I picked up an entry form for the short story and poetry competitions, and headed home.  As I sipped my soup, I read over the instructions.  The poem was to be of no more than  20 lines and had to  be about Roseau.  I overlook the fair city from my porch, and I never tire of doing so. Between spoonfuls,  I simply picked up my pen and out poured some thoughts and  feelings about the lovely capital,  in non-rhyming  free verse.  As directed, I wrote it out on the back of the instruction form, and put my name and contact info on a separate sheet that had a corresponding number with this  anonymous  instruction form.  So when I headed back for the afternoon sessions, I discretely dropped it in the entry box, and absorbed myself in other awesome literary distractions.

While I did attend most of the event, I was not at  Mero Beach for the Sunday afternoon performances and closing ceremony.  When a NILF committee member called me on Monday morning, I was more than surprised to hear that I had placed second in the poetry contest!  And even stranger, when the telephone rang, I had been sorting through some poems I had written many years ago when I first arrived on Dominica! I’ve never penned one since, that is, until this past Saturday! I’ll post my old poems in due course.  But in the mean time, here is what I wrote about lovely Roseau, on the spur of the moment:

The Botanical Gardens are a cool and lovely respite from the afternoon heat in Roseau.

The Botanical Gardens offer a cool and lovely respite from the afternoon heat in downtown Roseau.

Roseau

Stately Victorians mingle with modern designs

English street names mark places once French

Sweltering sidewalks lead to a garden of green.

 

Bayfront, cruise ships rest some days,

I love to watch  the cruise ships arrive and depart from my porch overlooking Roseau.  Photo by Edwin Whitford.

I love to look at the cruise ships. They easily anchor in the deep waters  beneath the pier on the Bayfront in Roseau. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Roseau is a bustling little Caribbean city and is the capital of Dominica.  Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Dominica’s capital city Roseau is a bustling place. Photo of King George V Street looking west, by Edwin Whitford.

While their passengers experience

The hustle and bustle of a day in port.

 

Most nights, all is quiet

The historic Fort Young Hotel hosts a lively Happy Hour on Friday nights.

The historic Fort Young Hotel hosts a lively Happy Hour on Friday nights.

With the exception of Fridays,

When happy people meet and greet

Over loudspeakers producing pulsating beats.

 

It’s the serene spots I like best:

The Carnegie-designed Roseau Public Library was built in 1906.  It has a treasure trove of books inside!

The Roseau Public Library was built in 1906. It has a treasure trove of books inside (and computers and wireless too)!

Spending time at the century-old public library;

Or taking the steep walk up to Morne Bruce.

 

There, I can meditate over brightly coloured roofs

From Morne Bruce, the Roseau roof-tops are a riot of colour that contrasts with the calm Caribbean Sea.

From Morne Bruce, the Roseau roof-tops are a riot of colours that contrast with the calm blue Caribbean Sea.

And an endless sea view

Where the setting sun always promises another day

Roseau sunsets are simply breathtaking!

Roseau sunsets are simply breathtaking!

To really enjoy the diverse faces of lovely Roseau.

 

                                                                                                Roseau, Dominica

                                                                                                August 10, 2013

* Thanks to the organizers, sponsors, participants and enthusiasts of the Nature Island Literary Festival for inspiring the unlikely poet in me!