Olive Senior was named Jamaica’s Poet Laureate for 2021-2024 on Wednesday, March 17, 2021.
In the past, the poet laureate was an eminent poet appointed as a member of the British royal household. In modern times, they are officially appointed by a government or conferring institution, typically to compose poems for special events and occasions. In Jamaica, they are expected to stimulate a greater appreciation for Jamaican poetry, write poems for national occasions, preserve and disseminate the island’s cultural heritage through prose. The Caribbean nation has had several poet laureates in the past like John Ebenezer Clare McFarlane and Tom Redcam (Thomas MacDermot).
In modern times, the laureates have been selected by the powers that be to hold the position for a finite amount of time before a new person takes the role. The most recent ones have been Professor Mervyn Morris (2014-2017) followed by Lorna Goodison (2017-2020).
The newest poet laureate, Olive Senior, was announced by Jamaica’s Governor-General, Sir Patrick Allen at a Ceremony of Investiture of the Poet Laureate this past Wednesday. Senior is one of the Caribbean’s most celebrated literary artists with over a dozen books in fiction and poetry published, including Gardening in the Tropics, Summer Lightning and Other Stories, The Pain Tree, and Dancing Lessons. Her non-fiction work includes two seminal titles The Encyclopedia of Jamaican Heritage and Dying to Better Themselves. She has won numerous prestigious awards for her work including the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, the OCM Bocas Prize and the Gold Musgrave Medal.
During her tenure, Senior intends to engage the nation in the reading and writing of poetry that speaks to the land.
“To use what is called ecopoetics to develop a lasting awareness, especially among youth, of the need for environmental protection, care, and ownership of Jamaica’s national resources. The urgency is great as fragile Caribbean islands are in the forefront of the destructive challenges posed by global warming,” she said.