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Using poetry as a self-defence tool

Goodison, Cherry Natural teach girls how to protect themselves by using words

Staff reporter

Sunday, August 12, 2018

CELEBRATED Jamaican, Poet Laureate Lorna Goodison has been sharing the gifts of expression in her five-week summer series held at the Institute of Jamaica, Junior Centre, downtown, Kingston.

In this her second year hosting the series, Goodison teamed up with Jamaican dub poet and martial arts trainer, Cherry Natural, born Marcia Wedderburn.

The two have curiously paired poetry and self-defence in their Tuesday and Thursday afternoon sessions with girls aged nine to 17.

The Jamaica Observer had the opportunity to sit in on one of the workshops, where we caught up with Goodison and Cherry Natural in their second week going.

“Oh it's been brilliant. This is the second year of the programme. Last year I wasn't here for the entire time; this year has just been wonderful because I'm here for the duration”, said Goodison. “It's just wonderful to talk to them about poetry,” she continued.

Quizzed as to why girls were the targeted participants in the sessions, both poets explained in similar veins an observed deficit of self-confidence in girls compared to boys.

“I think that maybe the young girls need a lot of that kind of care and attention...that sort of being able to protect your personal space. And they're teenagers. A lot of them are at such a vulnerable age where it will help them to express their innermost thoughts and feelings in a safe setting,” Goodison said.

Cherry Natural, who conducts the self-defence aspect of the sessions, explained that in her professional practice as an instructor, she has noticed that girls shy away from learning self-defence.

“So I always try to pull them in. You hardly ever see a little boy who is not confident. They are always the quickest to want to be involved, but the girls like to hide and make themselves smaller so you don't call on them. So it's important that we get the girls to be confident and own dem space.”

Considering the ongoing public discourse surrounding the issue of sexual harassment, made popular in recent times with the #Metoo movement, Goodison spoke about the utility of words in self-defence.

“We talk to them about the business of being able to defend oneself physically and the fact that you can defend yourself verbally, that you can make a world with your words and express your innermost feelings. And they have come up with some really wonderful things.”

The girls, through writing and then sharing their thoughts and emotions, engaged with the literary tool as a means for healing and self-awareness.

“It's a good way to give them an outlet to be able to make something of these feelings, which can overwhelm them if they don't find a way to share them,” Goodison suggested. “Writing, it's cathartic, it's therapeutic. It gives you an outlet for something that's potentially damaging,” Goodison elaborated.

Goodison further suggested a connection between poetry and self-defence.

“One of the exercises we did was just thinking about your senses ... hearing and smell and taste and feeling and so on. And we were thinking just how they're not all that removed, they are very closely connected — because poetry engages all the senses and so do the martial arts.

“We are saying that you have to be really aware of your senses. If you on the street you have to aware, any kind of movement, in just an effort to be in as much control as you can be of your personal space. And poetry does that. It kinda helps to heighten those senses. So there are connections.”

Primarily though, the objective Goodison highlights is holistic development. “Mostly, it is an attempt to develop the whole person, you know, all aspects of yourself; your physical self, and your emotional self, spiritual self.”

During the Sunday Observer's visit, the girls were asked to each write a poem depicting the theme of nostalgia.

“I have been introducing them to a wide variety of poetry. We did a Claude McKay poem about nostalgia and I spoke with them about how you can evoke some feelings about home sickness,” Goodison said. “Obviously, some of them have parents who are not here, so that's just a way for them to express their feelings about missing their parents.”

The girls, some of whom were from the surrounding communities, were also engaged on issue of stereotypes. And as Goodison suggested, some of them shared, movingly, about how stigma has affected them.

“We did the song of the Banana Man, and we spoke about stereotypes. Everybody suffers from being stereotyped. And we talked about if you living at a certain address, people assume all kinds of things about you because of where you live.

“So that exercise was very moving because everybody had something to say about having some sort of personal experience being stereotyped,” Goodison said.

The summer series continues until Thursday, August 16.