Professor Mervyn Morris Appointed Poet Laureate

Photo: Michael Shaw Tourism and Entertainment Minister, Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeill (left), having a light conversation with Professor Emeritus, University of the West Indies (UWI), Mervyn Morris (centre), and wife, Helen Morris, during Tuesday’s (April 15) ceremony at the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ), downtown Kingston, where Professor Morris was announced as Jamaica’s first official Poet Laureate.

Story Highlights

  • Distinguished academic, Professor Emeritus, Mervyn Morris has been appointed to serve as Jamaica’s first official Poet Laureate, over the next three years.
  • The Poet Laureate is a national honour that recognizes a distinguished Jamaican poet for his or her significant contribution to the literary community.
  • Governor-General, His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Patrick Allen, will present Professor Morris with the official Badge of Office, during an investiture ceremony, scheduled for King’s House on May 21.

Distinguished academic, Professor Emeritus, Mervyn Morris, of the University of the West Indies (UWI), has been appointed to serve as Jamaica’s first official Poet Laureate, over the next three years.

The Poet Laureate is a national honour that recognizes a distinguished Jamaican poet for his or her significant contribution to the literary community.

Professor Morris’ role will entail playing a proactive and integral part in promoting Jamaican poetry as an art form that portrays the country’s cultural heritage, as also a medium for entertainment, by stimulating a greater appreciation of poetry, writing poems for national occasions, and preserving and disseminating the country’s cultural heritage, through prose.

His appointment and scheduled engagements during his tenure form part of the Poet Laureate Programme, which has been re-established by the Government, and is being funded over the three-year period by the Tourism Enhancement Fund (TEF) at a cost of $3.4 million.

Governor-General, His Excellency the Most Hon. Sir Patrick Allen, will present Professor Morris with the official Badge of Office, during an investiture ceremony, scheduled for King’s House on May 21.

Professor Morris’ appointment, which was announced by Tourism and Entertainment Minister, Hon. Dr. Wykeham McNeill, during a ceremony at the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ), downtown Kingston, on Tuesday, April 15, is the third such in Jamaica’s history.

The first appointee was Thomas Henry McDermot, better known as Tom Redcam, who was posthumously bestowed with the title in 1933. He was followed by John Ebenezer Clare McFarlane, in 1953. Both were appointed by the Poetry League of Jamaica.

After being dormant for 61 years, the Government, through the Ministries of Tourism and Entertainment, and Youth and Culture, moved to re-introduce the Poet Laureate Programme this year.

A nine-member Selection Committee was established to review nominations for Jamaica’s Poet Laureate, which were invited and submitted in late 2013. Professor Morris was selected from a short list of persons who met the criteria, which included having had their work published.

In his remarks, Dr. McNeill said Professor Morris “remains one of the most resourceful and technically brilliant of Caribbean poets.”

“He is a supreme poet…and although a serious poet, he is also a performer, a wisecracking cynical versifier with a sharp wit, and a sparkling gift for ingenious rhymes,” the Minister added.

Dr. McNeill said the Poet Laureate Programme will help to “positively position the island as a key cultural tourism destination by helping to revitalize the arts and preserve our rich literary history.”

In his reply, Professor Morris said he anticipates fulfilling expectations of the position, while noting the “detailed discussions” he will need to have with various stakeholders “to understand exactly what my role can be.”

“I am especially keen to help put many poets in closer contact with the potential Jamaica audience…that is, certainly, my priority. I look forward to learning, just how any work that I do and can arrange to have done, can assist in promoting tourism and entertainment,” he said.

Principal Director of Culture in Ministry of Youth and Culture, who represented Portfolio Minister, Hon. Lisa Hanna, Ms. Dahlia Harris, commended Professor Morris’ appointment and also welcomed the Poet Laureate Programme’s re-introduction.

“The Poet Laureate Programme is a significant display of how the Government, not only intends to preserve and archive national memory, but will also be instrumental in how we develop and encourage the talents of poets islandwide…how we inspire Jamaicans to express themselves,” she said.

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