Lorna Goodison: Biography & Poems

Instructor: Natarielle Powell
Lorna Goodison's high school teachers compared her to her sister and said that her writing wasn't as good, but she showed them and the world by not only mastering the craft of writing but also painting. Read on to learn more about the Jamaican-born poet and writer, Lorna Goodison.

Early Life

'I am definitely a poet of place. Even when I am not writing about Jamaica, it is always on my heart.' - Lorna Goodison

Lorna Goodison, a West Indian poet, was born on August 1, 1947 in Kingston, Jamaica. The day that she was born is significant because it is Jamaican Emancipation Day, when Jamaicans celebrate the abolition, or end of slavery. Lorna was the eighth of Marcus and Doris Goodison's nine children. She was raised in the city but often traveled to visit family in the Jamaican countryside, where the Harvey River is named after her great-grandfather, William Harvey.

Education and Early Career

Lorna loved reading books as a child, a trait she got from her mother and sister who read frequently. While attending St. Hugh's High School, she wrote her own poems, some of which were published anonymously in the Jamaican Journal. After graduation, Lorna went on to the Jamaica School of Art, where she studied both writing and painting. Later, she moved to New York City to study at the Art Students League, after which she returned to Jamaica to work in advertising and teach art and writing to high schoolers and college students.

Poetry Collections

As a young adult, Goodison wasn't always so confident in her writing skills because they were often compared to the work of her older sister, but she persevered. In 1980, Goodison published her first collection of poems entitled Tamarind Season. The term, tamarind season, refers to a particular time just before the harvest when food is extremely limited. This is usually a period of struggle that requires strength and optimism, a reoccurring theme in Goodison's poems.

Six years later, Goodison released her second book, I Am Becoming My Mother. Her other collections of poetry include:

  • Heartease (1988)
  • To Us, All Flowers Are Roses (1995)
  • Turn Thanks (1999)
  • Guinea Woman (2000)
  • Travelling Mercies (2001)
  • Controlling the Silver (2005)
  • Goldengrove (2006)

In addition to her poetry, Goodison published a collection of 12 short stories in 2012, By Love Possessed, about men and women who encounter challenging situations. In her memoir, For Harvey River, she tells the true story of her family and mother, as well as the history of her beloved Jamaica.

Poetic Themes

In her poems, Goodison primarily writes about the scenes and culture of Jamaica, including the struggle and triumphs of the Jamaican people. Many of her poems highlight the many roles that women play in the home and marketplace. For example, in her poem, For My Mother (May I Inherit Half Her Strength), Goodison describes her mother's determination, as well as her ability to create 'a garment from a square in a span that defied time.'

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