Be it resolved the focus of Olive Senior’s Gardening in the Tropics is not on the spectacular elements of nature but on the diverse experiences of people. Olive Senior like most post-colonial poets plays with the conventional forms of poetry, sometimes the ‘subject matter’ of a particular poem is only a guise through which she highlights pressing issues affecting her intimate surrounding (the Caribbean community). The subject matter is only used to create a ‘photograph’ for the reader to understand the focus of the particular piece of writing. It is Senior’s brave and ingenious technique of deconstructing and reconstructing typical poetic forms which make us (the readers) appreciate her work more so that her counterparts. In proposing the moot given we will be highlighting the true focus of Senior’s poems and proving that her poems are in fact explicitly exploring human experiences. Such experiences are brought out in themes such as romantic love, love as it relates to the family, poverty, ambitions racism and ethnocentrism. In support of these points, individual poems will be used as reference, however, before this is done, it is necessary for the key word ‘focus’ in the moot, be defined. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word focus may be defined as “an act of concentrating interest or activity on something.”
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There is no denying that the preponderance of Olive Senior’s poetry deals with the spectacular elements of nature; however it must be clearly noted that it is not the focus of her poetry; it is not the concentrating interest. It is instead used to give insight into greater issues; the experiences of Caribbean people. Senior’s poetry highlights the element of the Caribbean region; its people, history, culture and the issues that affect them. Olive Senior uses the milieu of the Caribbean and allows it to be her focus. The experiences, concerns and issues of Caribbean people are the inspiration behind her insightful poetry. She is in tune with the people of the Caribbean, and as such, she shares their experiences, and makes them the subject of her poems. For example, in the poems, ‘Hurricane Story 1903,’ ‘Hurricane Story 1951’ and ‘Hurricane Story 1988’, although a spectacular element of nature; hurricane is highlighted, it is not the focus. The focus however, is on the effects of hurricane and how it affects the common Caribbean people and their ability to combat the unfortunate circumstance. In ‘Hurricane Story 1903’, the subject matter is in fact the hurricane; however it is how the family deals with the hurricane that is the focus. The poem highlights how a common family living in a rural area prepares for a hurricane. The grandparents in the poem are hardworking, humble, and resourceful and were in tune with the nature which is as a result of them living in a rural community.
It can be said that the metaphor of gardening is just a mere method used by Senior to collect or record information about the region, however, nature is only used figuratively to compare and discuss human experiences. Born and grown in rural Jamaica most of Senior’s poems reflect her early childhood experiences, she places emphasis on ‘country life’ and the splendour of its simplicity. Given her upbringing, it is no wonder the theme of poverty is an underlying issue in almost all her poetic pieces. In her poem ‘Hurricane Story 1903,’ Senior highlights just how important farming is to persons living in rural Jamaica. The persona’s grandparents when facing disaster opts to secure their livestock and agricultural produce before any thought was given to their house or other material property. “When the wind rose in ’03, he opened his tin trunk, took his good clothes out and packed the corn in.” (Stanza 2) Though the hurricane seemed to be the focus of this poem it was actually used to bring out themes in the poem such as love for the family and poverty. The theme of poverty is also expressed in the fact that the family could not be notified like other residents, of the hurricane because of where they lived (“Living in the bush, Grandfather couldn’t see her rush to broadcast the news…” Stanza 3). In ‘Hurricane Story 1988,’ the theme of poverty is also highlighted however in a different light. The persona’s mother suffered a complete loss in the hurricane after all her goods were destroyed. Being in urban Jamaica where emphasis is on industry she fared much worse than the dramatis personae in Hurricane Story 1903. The phrase “she ban her belly and bawl,” (line 13) is linked to the mother’s anguish, anger and frustration at the destruction of her only source of income for her family, her livelihood. She fell into what seemed to be deep depression where she turns to smoking to probably ease her devastation. “…things so tight her breasts shrivel, the notes shrinking…” this shows how deeply her economic stability was affected by the hurricane’s passage.
Senior through her own creative techniques explores domestic issues such as male/female relationships, racism and the struggles faced in single parent families. In the poem ‘Tropic Love’ male/female relationship is the main theme explored. In this poem Senior highlights the determined and resilient side of women. The persona in the poem is portrayed to be a strong-willed woman who gives her lover the ultimatum; if he is going to be with her he is expected to take her family as his own and in doing so provide for them. He is also expected to treat her kindly and if these expectations are not met, she advises him to leave and she will in turn do whatever it takes to care and provide for her family. This is shockingly the situation of many single parent mothers in the Caribbean. However, not many are willing to take the initiative to set standards for their partners and see to it that they are met. “With your sweet words, Lover tempt me not, if you’ve come empty handed” (Stanza 2).
Racism and ethnocentrism is brought out in her poem ‘Meditation on Yellow’ where we see even after history and all the talks about integration and the modernized world, blacks are still seen as ‘inferior sub-humans’ to the ‘superior’ whites. The ethnocentrism of the Anglo-American world has for many centuries led to the penal servitude of the aboriginals and consequently blacks. The persona in the poem is exploited not by penal servitude but by a form of involuntary servitude. It may be different from the chattel slavery under which our forefathers had to contend with however it goes to show that even with ‘freedom’, as blacks we still continue to be inferior to whites. By this poem, Senior was criticizing the whites and ultimately the church since politics and religion seem to go hand in hand. The continued frustration of the persona is brought out in the poem. This is highlighted in the statement “and I reach a stage where (though I not impolite) I have to say: lump it or leave, I can’t give anymore” (P. 16, Pp. 1). One may seek it necessary to argue that it was the fertile and rich resources of the region that led to the Europeans enslaved thus alluding back to that the fact that Senior by this poem may be praising the spectacular nature and resources of the region. However it cannot be ignored that the exploitation of our land and resources have ended but the exploitation of our people continue until this very day. Thus Senior must have intended to focus on the diverse experiences of people with highlighted issues such as racism, discrimination, ethnocentrism and exploitation.
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To invalidate these arguments, it must be proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that the subject matter and focus of Senior’s poems are the same. The stance of the proposition cannot be nullified by any rebut since we are not saying that the subject matter is not on the spectacular elements of nature, however it is not the focus. Gardening in the Tropics see Senior reaping out the ideologies of Europeans in the region and planting something purely indigenous for Caribbean Islanders. Be it resolved that the focus of Olive Senior’s Gardening in the Tropics is not on the spectacular elements of nature but on the diverse experiences of people.
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