Reading Lynne Thompson’s Beg No Pardon is like running into an old friend and falling right back into the easy groove of deep and meaningful conversation. Thompson, a Los Angeles poet with Caribbean roots, definitely speaks my language, and I am happy to have met her earlier this summer. Her spirit exudes the same genuine warmth I associate with my godmother, so it’s not surprising that I felt an immediate connection to her. She greeted me with a smile and a hug when I showed up at her reading in downtown L.A, and I knew then that we were cut from the same cloth, or as she says in To Blacnkness, “cowrie shells and krobo beads [were] sewn into our fading fabric.” Lynne embraced me like I was family, the way only a fellow West- Indian can, and, as I sat before her, a member of the small audience gathered in the intimate exhibition room at LA Artcote, I was ready to listen to whatever she had to say.
Surrounded by art pieces from Italy and L.A, which set the mood for what I now think of as a guided meditation, her naked voice, unmodified by microphone, filled the room and the sound washed over me. As Robert Pinsky says in The Sounds of Poetry “we sing all day to one another, when we speak,” and well, Lynne sang to me. I followed the dancing rhythms of her Caribbean lilt as she read How I Learned Where We Come From, and I was introduced
to her Vincentian heritage as she mentioned things I know well, “curried goat, sticky-wicket,” “pigeon peas, mangoes,” “cassava root, callaloo, very little sugar cane” and “Rasta and Bob Marley for us young’uns.” Lynne allowed the audience a glimpse into her childhood, with Back Seat, a true story, and spoke directly to me with Seed of Mango, Seed of Maize, as I recognized my own desire to understand my Caribbean roots, a desire to have known my great-
grandmother, who was also a Carib. I enjoyed the brash chatter of women in The House of Many Pleasures; heard their voices over brass, bugles, blues and Louis’ horn. Lynne’s voice expressed all the intended meaning, rhythm and motions that the written word can’t. Sometimes smooth, sometimes jagged, always fitting, her voice guided me through a meditation on words. Her voice, her presence, her warm energy all added to the enjoyment of the experience, and when I got the chance to study the full collection, I had the memory of that voice with me.
I welcomed the opportunity to read silently, taking a little longer to think about the deeper meanings of words, or meanings hidden in structure, and form of the individual poems and the collection as a whole. At the reading, images had sprung lively and vividly to mind, but in reading and studying the poems alone, silently, I recognized layers of meanings that gave a fullness and richness to her words. At the reading I had focused solely on recognizing our Caribbean connection, but on closer examination, I realized that connectivity is a major theme throughout the text. Although the collection is divided into three distinct parts, the parts form a cohesive whole as the reader gets to witnesses the speaker’s evolution from childhood right into womanhood. And, as the speaker discovers and reveals herself, so does she form endless connections with people, things, places and the reader.
In I Ask the Malagasy, one of the first poems in the collection, the speaker asks, “Where are my ancestor’s buried” and “How do you remember me?” and also, in this first section, Imperfect Ghazal for an Unknown Mother, demonstrates a connection between the living and the dead, as she says, “because memory lives beyond death.” Then, in Seed of Mango, Seed of Maize, the speaker demonstrates that sometimes the only tool for making a connection with our ancestors is our imagination, as she says, “The other grandmother I composed from myth/and half-told stories.”
In the second section, a physical connection between the speaker and her lover is expressed in Firestorm as she remembers the feel of a lover’s burnt flesh “a startled tenderness that is sparked by communion between/ souls as well as bodies.” In Raffia the speaker says of connectivity, perhaps more clearly than in any other poem, “Relatively speaking everyone/ is connected, Grandmother explained.” Lynne also demonstrates that one can even have a connection or strong bond with a special item of clothing as expressed in Elegy for the red Dress, “ the slip, the silk of the sleeve;/molten to my hips, my breasts,/the drum of my heart.” And, as if to demonstrate the extreme extent to which one can become connected with all things, the speaker, in part three, ironically becomes an inanimate object, the canvas, in Canvas Reluctant to Become Joan Miró’s Dog Barking at the Moon, and even an island in I Am Grenadine.
Both Lynne and her poetry demonstrates that no matter what we’re experiencing at the moment, it is always comforting to know that we are all connected. The warmth and friendliness she displayed that evening, and what I felt later, as I read through the text, gave me hope that there are still people out there, perfect strangers even, who will embrace you like their own. So, if you’re looking for an evening out, trying to decide where to go, how about something different? Find a local poet doing a reading near you and make it an evening of poetry and meditation, something that will broaden your mind, put you in touch with yourself, and who knows, you just might make a connection.
Lynne Thompson will be reading at Chapman University as part of the Tabula Poetica reading series on October 12. If you can’t come hear her in person, do take a moment to enjoy her written and audio works online at Fishouse: http://www.fishousepoems.org/archives/lynne_thompson/index.shtml.