I wish to thank Geoffrey Philp for his review!

Thank you Geoffrey Philp  for reviewing my book, Eliot Bliss, Spring Evenings in Sterling Street, A Collection of Poems.

Geoffrey Philp, Eliot Bliss: Jamaica’s Forgotten Mermaid

Neglected authors fascinate me. While the particulars for their disregard may vary over time and from culture to culture, one thing remains constant: their perseverance despite official recognition. Such is the case of Eliot Bliss, a “white, Creole, and lesbian” Jamaican novelist and poet whose collected poems have been resurrected by Michela A. Calderaro in Spring Evenings in Sterling Street.

In the introduction to the collection, Calderaro pays tribute to Patricia Allan-Burns, Bliss’s “faithful companion for about 60 years,” and places Bliss within the context of Caribbean herstory: “The story of Eliot Bliss is the story of a mermaid, as Creole women from the Caribbean often envision themselves. Indeed they are mermaids – half something, half something else.” Calderaro also provides a brief biography, which traces Bliss’s troubled life from her birth in Jamaica to England where she died.

We’ll try to follow Eileen Bliss in her journey to become herself, to witness her struggle to cast off the white British colonizer’s daughter persona and take on that of the Creole expatriate, not feeling comfortable in either. We’ll see her transformation from the perfectly educated daughter of a British army officer to the acclaimed new voice of 1930s London applauded by the elite literary circles and the scandal of lesser-known lesbian clubs in that city. And, finally, witness how in her later years she found herself exiled and forgotten.

Eliot Bliss was the author of two novels, Saraband and Luminous Isle and “very few poems in various journals in the 1920s.” Her poems, however, were never published in a single volume and Calderaro provides the details of her discovery:

The poems in this collection were found in 2004 in the little apartment where Eliot Bliss spent the last years of her life. There were two almost ready collections, Selection of Poems: 1922-1931 and The Wild Heart: Poems 1922-1929, and then a considerable number of loose poems – originals and edited versions – in various places around the house, piled on dusty shelves, inside drawers, inside old cocktail-bags, some folded in books, others in envelopes. These uncollected poems are grouped under “Miscellaneous Poems” in this book.

Many of the poems in Spring Evenings in Sterling Street display Bliss’s “rich and sophisticated” language. And while poems such as “The Green Tree,” “If I Write With My Blood,” and “The Chameleon” from Selection of Poems: 1922-1931 and “Rain During the Night” and “The Departing Amorists” from The Wild Heart: Poems 1922-1929 demonstrate Bliss’s commitment to her craft and mastery of a carefully wrought line, it is the poems in the “Miscellaneous Poems”–the poems that she chose not to reveal to the world–that interest me.

In “Transubstantiation” and “Introibo ad Altare Dei,” Calderaro points out that despite their seemingly pious titles, the poems “subvert religious evocations and transform them into sexual allusions.” I will not attempt to paraphrase Calderaro’s insightful exegesis of these poems. Instead, I focus on “The Confession,” where Bliss pursues a similar strategy.

In “The Confession,” originally titled “The Thief,” the reader is offered a glimpse of the “inventiveness with words” that Bliss employed in “Transubstantiation” and “Introibo ad Altare Dei.” However, in “The Confession,” the sonnet form restrains her choice of rhyme, yet frees her to explore the theme of unrequited love.

In the first four lines, the speaker provides the context for her seeming act of penitence:

Shall I confess to you I am a thief,

And do your gracious absolution ask?

Would you Confessor, promise me relief

If I should set myself to this silly task?

The use of the word “silly” undermines the supposed piety of the confessor and signals the unrepentant tone of the poem:

How sweet would perils be, if you but were

My judge, to weigh the balance of my crimes,

And to impose a punishment severe,

To hear your voice I’d sin a thousand times!

Then, at the volta, Bliss introduces the motive for the “confession”:

Yes, I will risk your high and dread displeasure,

Last night I lay beside you in a dream

And stole your love, and broke into your treasure

Of hidden wealth; and strangely it did seem

That your delight nigh equalled mine! I know

I only dreamt it – do not tell me so!

What intrigues me is the clever subterfuge of dream that Bliss uses for the speaker’s desire for the consummation of love: “Last night I lay beside you in a dream/And stole your love, and broke into your treasure/Of hidden wealth,” and then, in a plea of recognition asserts, “and strangely it did seem/That your delight nigh equalled mine! I know/I only dreamt it – do not tell me so!”

According to the American poet Robert Frost, “Poetry provides the one permissible way of saying one thing and meaning another.” The tension of paradoxical utterance is the source of poetic complexity and rewards with repeated readings. Eliot Bliss’s work embodies this principle and Calderaro is to be congratulated for recovering these poems from obscurity, and for bringing them back to our attention.

Spring Evenings In Sterling Street – A Collection of unpublished poems by Creole writer Eliot Bliss


New Kindle Book on Amazon


ELIOT (EILEEN) BLISS was a Creole writer born in 1903 in Kingston, Jamaica, a British colony at the time. She died, forgotten and neglected, in Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, in December 1990. At her side was her lifelong companion, Patricia Allan-Burns, who had supported and taken care of her for 60 years.

She was born Eileen, but changed her name to Eliot when she moved to England.
She was a known lesbian and a good friend of poet Anna Wickham, who introduced her to the literary circle headed by feminist activist Natalie Clifford Barney.
Being white, Creole and lesbian shaped her personality and her life, leading her to choices that were not always accepted by society.
 The poems collected here were written from 1922 to 1931, and were found in 2004 in the apartment she had shared with Ms Allan-Burns.These poems reflect different stages and periods in Eliot Bliss’s life: There are poems that bring to mind the Caribbean, where she was born and whose memory she would always carry with her; others are dedicated to spiritual life; some to important literary figures, women who had an influence on her life.
The book is on sale on Amazon.com, and will be downloadable for free, for three days, from 8th to 10th February 2015.
Enjoy the reading and give me your feedback.

St. Martin Literature Studied In Italy At University Of Trieste

From caribsweek.com


GREAT BAY (HNP) — This year the English Literature course at the University of Trieste, Italy, is focusing on “Caribbean Short Stories: Language, Politics, Family, Myths,” said Dr. Michela A. Calderaro, professor of English at the Department of Humanities.

“In the last few years I have been focusing on Caribbean Literature, teaching prose and poetry; this year it was short stories, and I thought that a writer such as Lasana Sekou deserved to be introduced to Italian students,” said Prof. Calderaro.

“Since I began the course talking about the Middle Passage, I thought it was fitting to first discuss ‘A Salting’ from Brotherhood of The Spurs. Water is always a fascinating subject, and we closed with ‘New Year’s Eve Birth’ from Love Songs Make You Cry,” said Prof. Calderaro. Both books of St. Martin short fictions are by Sekou. The first semester of the 2013-2014 academic year ran from September to December 2013.

Prof. Calderaro said in an interview last week that, “What the students noticed most was the way society was described, how ‘social’ life was impossible to be separated from ‘private’ life, and the importance, in the stories, of political themes.”

“Further, the discussion of Caribbean political themes roused the students’ curiosity to learn more about the current situation of other islands besides St. Martin. Students also enjoyed the richness of language and the use of figures of speech and

metaphors,” which Sekou is known for in his poetry, said Prof. Calderaro.

The professor recalled one of her students recently discussing his term paper with her. “He said that he was struck by Sekou’s language, a language so powerful that it drew him into the story, making it easy to identify with the characters and understand their plight, though they seem so different from him and live far away, on an island on the other side of the world,” said Dr. Calderaro.

The encounter of students with Caribbean Literature at the University of Trieste is probably right in line with the institution’s high learning drive. The mid-size university is known for its intensive academics, high-level research activity and international connections, and has ranked as ‘the best Italian university” by Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2010).

Calderaro is herself a critical scholar and has written extensive papers on English Literature, Caribbean Studies, Literature and Philosophy, and on writers such as Lord Byron and Lorna Goodison. “To me, the major challenge for Caribbean Literature today is twofold: on the one hand it needs to go beyond the borders of the Caribbean and be better known worldwide, without losing its local roots; on the other hand, it needs to help build a larger reading public at home.”

University of Trieste and the University of the West Indies (Trinidad) are both teaching Brotherhood of the Spurs for the 2013-2014 academic year, said Jacqueline Sample, president of House of Nehesi (HNP), the book’s publisher.



News Release

News Release
Second university in Italy teaches new Love Songs by Lasana Sekou

Course interests students in Caribbean literature and politics
GREAT BAY, St. Martin (July 7, 2014)—Though only launched here in June, “Love Songs Make You Cry – Second Edition by Lasana M. Sekou has already been studied in the Caribbean literature course at CIELS university in Italy.
“The students enjoyed the class and are becoming more and more interested in the
literature and politics of the islands,” said Dr. Michela Calderaro, professor of the course.
The comparative literature class is part of the undergraduate program in Language
Mediation at the private university, said Calderaro.
“It also encourages creative competition when even before the book of short
stories was launched on its home island of St. Martin, it was a required course reading in
the historical city of Padova, Italy,” said Jacqueline Sample, president of HNP, the
publisher of the collection. The course ended in May.
Calderaro said that Sekou’s “subject matters give his short stories … a universal,
yet unique, character that goes well beyond the boundaries of a Caribbean readership.”
CIELS is the second university in Italy to use books by the St. Martin author
during the first half of 2014. The first was the University of Trieste, where Calderaro also
teaches and is a leading comparative literature scholar with a focus on the Caribbean.
“Over three years ago, Jubilee Library statistics showed that Love Songs had
made a dramatic comeback with young readers. In 2009 alone some 300 students took it
out of the library for homework. It was decided then to just reprint the book, which was
first published in 1989,” said Sample.
“When the publishing project picked up last year, it was realized that the stories
about teen pregnancy in Dutch Quarter, jumbies in Middle Region, ‘Fatty and the Big
House’ in French Quarter, courting in carnival village, murder at Grand Case beach,
immigration raids, family and political secrets and all that, could be tweaked. In that way
we got better storytelling by Lasana and faster-paced fictions for story lovers,” said
In the new Love Songs Make You Cry, Calderao does point out that, “Following
one of the principles of Modernism Sekou reinvents his prose” but he does not
shortchange readers on “The depth of his discourse and the scope of his subjects.”
Love Songs Make You Cry is available at Van Dorp, Arnia’s, www.amazon.com,
spdbooks.org, BookIshPlaza.com, and other stores.
Photo caption1:
University students in Italy studying Love Songs Make You Cry – Second Edition, pose at CIELS with their
comparative literature professor Dr. Michela Calderaro (standing 9th, R.). (MC photo)
Photo caption2:
Love Songs Make You Cry – Second Edition by Lasana M. Sekou.
Jacqueline A. Sample
nehesi@sintmaarten.net P.O. Box 460
Philipsburg, St. Martin
Tel (721) 554-7089
E-mail: Offshoreediting@gmail.com
Offshore Editing ServicesProfCalderaro_CIELSstudent_2014 (2)LoveSongsMakeYouCry_2014 (2)