Short, sharp and effective – that’s Ivory. Ivory Kelly’s Point of Order: Poetry and Prose holds answers to many of today’s social and individual challenges, offered in what has clearly emerged as a distinctive Ivory Kelly style. Indeed, the structure of Ivory’s writing itself is to the point, and the aptly chosen title poem is indicative of the neatly chopped blocks of carved words, each clearly and cleverly chosen. Jose Sanchez’s brilliant Introduction, coupled with mama Zee’s Foreword, will jumpstart the reader immediately, and they both provide excellent summary analyses of this latest addition to Belizean literature.
Sanchez reviews Kelly from the point of post-colonial themes, and I am in total agreement with his view that Kelly’s writing is reflective of “the high wire act of balancing tradition versus modernity” (p. 3).
Ivory Kelly’s style is what is so distinctly captivating. Witness her four-word poem “And I lost. Fortunately.” This poem leads off with its own title: “I Had a Fight with God the Other Day.” The power of the anticlimax is gripping, and this poem, in particular, is a definite tool to jumpstart any writing class.
Kelly’s short, sharp and effective poetic style is woven throughout, and it is evident both in her poetry with universal themes like the fight with God, as well as in poems that speak to the Belizean in us.
Again, the careful crafting of succinct images grabs the reader, today’s reader. “Civil Disobedience” uses a mere 13 words to deliver what can be the start of a classroom discussion on crime and society, particularly as the reference to “Jeffries’ gun” can generate multiple outbursts of reflection from students, given that Jeffries was just recently appointed the big gun, the Commissioner of Police.
Moreover, history students can use this same 13-word piece to get into research on what the streets were like in Belize a generation or two ago. For example, a search at the archives will reveal at least one outraged Billboard reporter decrying an incident on Belizean streets where rocks and sticks were used. The reporter suggested that the violence of the rocks and sticks was taking crime to a new level in the Belize of then, the late 60s to 1970s. Fast forward to 2009, and Ivory Kelly offers the following 13 bullets:
“Some braved Jeffries’ gun.
Threw missiles at policemen.
Me? I drew my pen.”
That’s it. The entire poem, yet it speaks of pages of Belizean social upheavals. This is quintessential Ivory Kelly.
As short, sharp and effective as Kelly often is in her poetry, she can also take one on stirring, more lengthy journeys, as the Duet in “Heart and Soul” does in exploring the age-old man-woman business. Again, though, the distinctive Kelly style of jerking one back to reality comes through, as in the pithy saying that concludes the poem, “Our Love is a River.” From trickle to stream to dammed water, Kelly cautions, “But a river should always be a river.”
Now to Kelly’s prose. Point of Order serves up four breezy yet serious pieces. They explore themes that are classic Belizean even while still reflective of human nature. The reader will smile as she or he recognizes someone in the political supporter whose affiliation quickly changes to the winning candidate. Kelly impishly portrays one such in “If Yu Kyaa Kech Harry.”
“Andrew” offers several glimpses of Belize. There are solid images of rural schooling, with portrayal of a value system many teens today can benefit from. In “Andrew,” for example, instead of being envious of who had new clothes or shoes, upper primary students “were more likely to compete over who could swim across the river the fastest or who was bad enough to run past Mr. Theodore’s cow pen when the gate was open” (p. 73).
Then, too, parents didn’t “mind too much that he [Teacher Castro] ruled us children with an iron thumb” (p. 74). Interesting parallels can be drawn to recent incidents of attitude to school discipline, as with the current Solid Rock Academy incident that saw over 400 teachers in early May 2009 protesting, among other things, the low fine a parent received after attacking a teacher who had disciplined his child.
Ivory Kelly should also be highly commended for being bold enough to address the issue of the colonial Creole[sic]-Garifuna prejudices. Yet she makes the discussion palatable, putting it in the hands of a school teacher, a parent and a student.
“Family Tree” is resonant of the typical Belizean scenario of the half-sister/half-brother, but more to the point of the story’s plot, of no contact between the two, thus leading to a near incestuous relationship, albeit inadvertently.
A secondary school teacher could have fun with this, starting the class discussion and pre-reading with an activity like playing a tape of the song popularized by Lord Rhaburn, “I am my own granpa.” A cautionary note to teachers, though: be sensitive to any student who wishes only to observe this activity; make it an option.
The final short story, “The Real Sin” touches on an educational social issue, and the code of conduct of a Church school with the Educational Rules. Hints of the 2004 Teacher Roches case come to mind, and having students research that Belizean court case would make a great follow-up activity.
As Zee Edgell notes in her Foreword, “private and public lives are often intertwined” in small communities, and Kelly presents the dynamics in edible chunks.
Above all, Ivory Kelly’s love for Belize comes through in every piece. If the theme at any given point is universal, it comes wrapped in local imagery. In the poem “If I Had to Choose between Smart and Pretty,” Kelly places UB and Yale as equally admirable to aspire to. Her use of Kriol also gets “a big thumbs up,” whether it is in titles or as the main language of an entire poem. While a few Kriol spelling inconsistencies occur, the Kriol spelling used generally follows that of the standard spelling of the Kriol-Inglish Dikshineri. A decided gem offered is the “saal hed” etymology in “Andrew,” and already the Belize Kriol Project has noted it for review and possible inclusion in the next edition of the dictionary. Her use of Kriol also provides the Project with excellent feedback.
Whether it is her outright decrying of the “schoolbooks full of yellow girls” or the decided embracing of an Afro, or the sarcasm in her advice to get to the dyooti-byooti shop to buy some “eekwal apachooniti” with “skin-laitnin kreem,” Ivory Kelly’s paramount message to this reviewer is one of accepting and loving one’s body [self] and one’s Belizean-ness.
She offers readers an excellent command of two languages, timeless themes, and, of equal importance, interesting and entertaining reading. Her juxtaposing of conflicting emotions is gripping, particularly when her language use also jerks one into the reality of what she portrays. Finally, it is precisely because of matters “incidental to the tongue” that Ivory Kelly’s Point of Order should be on order for anyone who loves reading and particularly for teachers of writing and language arts classes. Additionally, history teachers can find great discussion starters and ice-breakers in many of Kelly’s poems and short stories.
Ivory Kelly writes from the heart, of things she knows, of Sittee River and the river of life. Her book is real. Reading her writing brings into sharp focus what she herself in the poem “Friend” says: “…the tongue [is] an inadequate witness, so I give my heart to a pen” (p. 56). Writing makes thoughts concrete without the careless slip of the tongue, and Point of Order is another concrete manifestation that Belizean writers are necessary for our nation’s soul.
Silvana Woods is a lecturer at UB, currently acting as its Public Information Officer. She is also an active member of the Literature Committee of the Belize Kriol Project of the National Kriol Council.
(Ed. note: according to our records, the song "I am my own granpa" was first recorded in Belize by George Gardiner who reportedly learned it from an unknown Scotsman)