Dr Maria del Pilar Kaladeen, research fellow at the School of Advanced Study’s Centre for Postcolonial Studies, provides a brief introduction to an innovative poetry event that will address a topic most of us have difficulty talking about – bereavement.
In the final month of Guyana’s independence jubilee, the Centre for Postcolonial Studies will play host to the Guyanese-born poet and playwright Elly Niland who will read from a selection of her poems that detail the emotional journey of the bereaved. During the event she will also address the idea of loss as it relates to the migrant experience.
Winner of the 2006 Guyana Prize for literature, Elly Niland’s work is defined by an exceptional ability to successfully fuse a potent mixture of tragedy and comedy. And her skills as a poet able to carefully shape grief into beautiful poems is demonstrated by her first book, In Retrospect, which was in response to the untimely death of two of her sisters within a few years of each other. Such a move could only have come from a writer determined to confront the best and worst of life in her work.
Beyond its consideration of grief, In Retrospect faces up to issues such as migration, domestic violence, motherhood, and the creative writing process. Dr Lynne Macedo from the University of Warwick’s Centre for Caribbean Studies, writes in her introduction to Elly Niland’s Selected Poems, that it is ‘impossible’ to consider Niland’s work without mention of the way in which ‘she utilises humor to undercut the darker aspects of human experience’.
Indeed, one cannot read In Retrospect without reflecting on the extent to which the poet’s use of comedy is as much an act of resistance against grief as it is a meditation on it. As she explained in a 2007 interview in Guyana’s Stabroek News, In Retrospect is about lament, a love, a loss.
Moving easily between continents and languages, Guyanese Creole and English, her writing is a powerful demonstration of how the traumas of life can be artfully crafted into writing that encapsulates the myriad emotions of bereavement as well as the complex, individual stages of grief. However, while the theme of death or loss may have been the catalyst for her first books of poems, there is no limit to the subjects that interest her and can provide raw material for her poetry.
The Elly Niland poetry reading event is in room 246 at Senate House on 15 December (2pm). It will be followed by a Q&A, and all are welcome to attend. This event may be of particular interest to women working on their own creative writing, as well as students of Caribbean and postcolonial literature.