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In 2002, with the recital of “The Frock,” Laurelle’s poems began to evolve out

of what may be called her “Spoken Word” presentations. The story-filled

dress that she wore also became more characteristic of her public performance persona.

Yaya in younger days. (LR photo)

 

 

Books by Lasana M. Sekou

37 Poems / Brotherhood of the Spurs / Big Up St. Martin  / Born Here Love Songs Make You Cry

Mothernation: Poems from 1984 to 1987  /  National Symbols of St. Martin / Quimbé: Poetics of Sound

The Salt Reaper: Poems from the Flats

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Laurelle "Yaya" Richards was herself a “community center”

 By Lasana M. Sekou

 

GREAT BAY, St. Martin (May 26, 2010)—The St. Martin folklorist Laurelle Richards, affectionately known island-wide as “Yaya,” passed away on May 26, 2010 and will be laid to rest in Marigot on June 4. She was 55 years old. 

Laurelle Richards was born on April 28, 1955 in Freetown, the first of nine children to Alvira Bryan and Albert Richards. At age 14, while she was attending elementary school, Laurelle obtained her sewing diploma from Clara Mingo. At age 16, she left the Girls School of Marigot to help her parents raise her brothers and sisters—which included making the family’s clothes. At the time her father was a construction sub-contractor, and her mother worked in housekeeping at La Samanna resort.

In 1972, Laurelle began what she called her “first job training,” making pizza and serving as a waitress at the Portofino restaurant/guesthouse at Mt. O’reilly. When her mother passed away in 1974, Laurelle found employment in housekeeping at La Samanna.

In 1988, after the death of her husband and now a mother herself, Laurelle obtained her taxi license. (She was still an independent taxi driver and worked at La Samanna at the time of her death.) In keeping with a deathbed promise to her mother to “always” keep her “brothers and sisters united,” her family would gather “once a week” for dinner at each other’s homes in Freetown, a hamlet of St. Louis.

In 1990, Laurelle founded the Cultural Women Association of Rambaud-Saint Louis to promote domestic knowledge of traditional cooking, folk and carnival costuming; and how herbs, ground provisions, and fruits were used in both villages and generally on the island. Around 2006, Laurelle became a founding member of the Rambaud St-Louis Fête Association, a cultural promotion group of which she was the president. On May 17, nearly 10 days before her passing both associations joined forces to hold the annual cook-out of traditional foods that Yaya was famous for organizing under or around an ancient tamarind tree in St. Louis. She called that “tamon” tree the “community center.”

Schools and cultural organizations from both parts of St. Martin regularly invited Laurelle Richards to exhibit and talk about the nation’s folklife.

Laurelle “Yaya” Richards in her folkloric frock preparing to recite at the Poetry Garden, Marigot, 2010. (Saltwater Collection/C. Tiber) 

In 2002, with the recital of “The Frock,” Laurelle’s poems began to evolve out of what may be called her “Spoken Word” presentations. The story-filled dress that she wore also became more characteristic of her public performance persona. In 2009, she was a special guest poet at the Poetry in the Garden series, organized in Marigot by the arts and culture department of the Collectivité Territoriale.

In April 2010, Yaya appeared at Miss Ruby’s cultural retreat in Friar’s Bay and stunned audiences with her “modeling” of the “pantylette,” stitching humor and sensual elements into an original vignette. Audience members who had seen her in Clara Reyes’ record-attendance Vagina Monologues in 2007 and 2008, were already prepared for her style of dramatizing the “private” and “ordinary” parts of traditional St. Martin with extraordinary personal affect. Essentially, as a folklorist she projected the folklore aspect of the nation onto modernity, with pride and confidence.

Carnival, UNESCO Mother Language presentation, Fish Day, Boardwalk Mas on Great Bay Beach, Christmas fête at the Waterfront, like a village chief welcoming folks to the annual St. Louis food fair, our Yaya was there  . . . with us, for us. When we saw her coming, her eyes finding us in the crowd, looking upon us with a warm livingroom smile, we smiled back . . . to memory, not in mockery nor mimicry but in that modest way of oldtime S’maatin people.

In her presence we did not have to find our way home, home came looking for us, found us, and never judged what we had become. And by the time she passed on in the procession or picnic, we knew, if only for a moment, that we came from far more grounded places than we’ve been made to believe, that we could be better than who we wanted to be when that solitary “want” was less than our best solidary selves.

Laurelle “Yaya” Richards dining out. (LR photo)

Before her passing Laurelle Richards had collected her poems into a manuscript for publication by House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP) as her first book, which will be called The Frock & Other Poems . The team coordinated by HNP that has been working on various aspects of the Richards book include Minerva Dormoy, Rhoda Arrindell, Lenny Mussington, Roland Richardson, Sundiata Lake, Shujah Reiph, and Laura Richardson. A number of family members and friends that assisted Yaya typing the draft manuscript are acknowledged by her in the book.

When leading Caribbean Impressionist Roland Richardson painted Yaya’s image on a larger-than-life canvas a few months ago, the village griot told the painter how she came to fashion her frock out of strips of colored cloth. The pieces of cloth reminded the artist of dolls as he painted Yaya’s story about her own family and village life. The painting will grace the cover of the posthumous title.

In Yaya’s upcoming book Richardson concludes his impression of the “culture woman” like this: “I saw that Laurelle had been transformed, had become a living embodiment of these generations of tiny dolls. Enrobed in this living fabric, nourished by the stream of multiple lives, she has become a living doll, mother to them all.”  

Yaya fêting in a carnival costume. (LR photo)

Many of us are so saddened by the sudden passing of Yaya, one of the nation’s beloved cultural mothers. O “Death be not proud” with his one.  Rest In Glorious Peace, Laurelle “Yaya” Richards.

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The Frock by Yaya Richards

for UNESCO Mother Language Day in St. Martin

Marigot, St. Martin (February 13, 2011)—A book party for The Frock & Other Poems  by Laurelle “Yaya” Richards will be held at the Marigot Waterfront on Sunday, February 20, at 7 PM, said Minerva Dormoy, head of the Collectivity’s Department of Culture.

The new book launch is one of two activities, on February 20 and 21, organized by the Collectivity for the annual UNESCO International Mother Language Day.

The new book party will feature guest speaker and USM lecturer Alex Richards, along with readings by artists honoring the late folklorist Yaya Richards, and celebrating the St. Martin way of speaking as cultural heritage, said Dormoy.

“The young generation poet Melissa Fleming will perform Yaya’s poetry from the book. And we’re inviting the general public to the book party,” said Dormoy.

Other guest artists will include Fabien Richards and Leon Noel. There will be a skit of oldtime sayings and proverbs by Alphonso Conner and Lucita Richards, both natives of Free Town, Yaya’s village, said Dormoy.

The use of the nation’s mother language, “the way we speak naturally on both parts of our island, is the sweetness to the ear and the heart of Miss Yaya’s spoken word, storytelling, and talks about St. Martin’s folkways,” said Jacqueline Sample, president of House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP).

Richards had completed working on The Frock with HNP at the time of her death at age 55, on May 26, 2010 – about four months before the book was published.

The plan to launch the book on the UNESCO-declared day in 2011 came out of meetings between the culture department, the publisher, and Yaya’s family representatives Priscille Figaro, Adrienne Richards, and Laurellye Benjamin.

“We need to recognize our artists like Yaya who are working so hard for our people and our identity,” said Dormoy. “It’s an honor to be involved with this book as part of Yaya’s legacy that can live on, and to launch The Frock in connection with the International Mother Language Day,” said Dormoy.

Book cover of The Frock & Other Poems  by Laurelle “Yaya” Richards. Cover art by Roland Richardson.

“When Yaya came to the Department of Culture she explained that her book was a way to pass on her style of storytelling and cultural information to the young people. The book party on Sunday evening is a way to show our commitment and to take home a copy of Yaya’s first and only book,” said Dormoy. Refreshments will be served at the affair.

The Collectivity’s President Frantz Gumbs, the human development sector directors, and the Executive Council supported the government’s partial sponsorship of the book’s publication, said Sample.

The Frock & Other Poems  is available at Roland Richardson Gallery in Marigot, Van Dorp in Simpson Bay and A.T. Illidge Road, Arnia’s bookstore at Bush Road/Zagersgut Road, Philipsburg Jubilee Library, and www.houseofnehesipublish.com.

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Spirit of the Fish Pon

Fish pon, fish pon, where you gon?

Yo mean yo gon gon gon fo true?

Ah wha we goin do now?

Gon fo true: no mo fish in the pon.

Shrimp pon, crab pon,

Yo mean to tell me every ting gon from us?

We lost the love in a sauce ah shrimps

A lil bowl ah crab to eat.

No mo crab in rice;

Ah where the cult culture gon?

No mo shrimp n rice n bread

The pon belly dry up.

No mo 10-pounder 'n' cremole\No mo hedo 'n' mullet

No mo bass 'n' fini, no mo, no mo

No mo corn mullets 'n' corn fish to send away

or even to carry marigot or Great Bay.

We culture dry up; corn mullet 'n' cassava gon

You can't even fry on wood their own fat

because they gon, gon, gon!!!

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*   *   *   *   *

Pelican Heart—An Anthology of Poems by Lasana M. Sekou

Edited by Emio Jorge Rodriguez

Passion for the Nation is what comes out of Sekou’s poems at a first glance and at a deeper reading. The book is a selection gathered from eleven of Sekou’s poetry collections between 1978 and 2010. Rodríguez is an independent Cuban academic, writer, and essayist. He has been a researcher at Casa de las Américas’s Literary Research Center and founded the literary journal Anales del Caribe (1981-2000). María Teresa Ortega translated the poems from the original English to Spanish. A critical introduction, detailed footnotes, and a useful glossary by Rodríguez are also found in the book of 428 pages. The collection has been launched at conferences in Barbados, Cuba, and Mexico.

Rodriguez’s introduction to Pelican Heart refers to Dr. Howard Fergus’s Love Labor Liberation in Lasana Sekou, which is the critical commentary to Sekou’s work that identifies three cardinal points in his poetics.

I would add as cardinal points: Belief or Driving Force of people in political processes, like his political commitment to make St. Martin independent, as the southern part of the Caribbean island is a territory of the Netherlands, while the northern part is a French Collectivité d’outre-mer; Excitement over his literary passions, which led him to found House of Nehesi Publishers at age 23; co-found the book festival of St. Martin, organized with Conscious Lyrics Foundation and to expand his culture considerably; Enthusiasm, which springs out of his eyes and words when you listen to his poetry being performed or when you speak to Sekou in person.—Sara Florian

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The Frock & Other Poems  

By Laurelle “Yaya” Richards

The use of the nation’s mother language, “the way we speak naturally on both parts of our island, is the sweetness to the ear and the heart of Miss Yaya’s spoken word, storytelling, and talks about St. Martin’s folkways,” said Jacqueline Sample, president of House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP).  Richards had completed working on The Frock with HNP at the time of her death at age 55, on May 26, 2010 – about four months before the book was published. The plan to launch the book on the UNESCO-declared day in 2011 came out of meetings between the culture department, the publisher, and Yaya’s family representatives Priscille Figaro, Adrienne Richards, and Laurellye Benjamin.

“We need to recognize our artists like Yaya who are working so hard for our people and our identity,” said Dormoy. “It’s an honor to be involved with this book as part of Yaya’s legacy that can live on, and to launch The Frock in connection with the International Mother Language Day,” said Dormoy.

*   *   *   *   *

National Symbols of St. Martin—A Primer

By Lasana M. Sekou

The hard cover book, a primer about St. Martin’s culture, historical personalities and natural environment, is listed on the US government department’s Bureau of Administration website. “We think this is a good thing to share with the St. Martin people,” said Sekou. “In fact, House of Nehesi is firstly thankful to the St. Martin people for continuing to read, enjoy and study this book. “Having National Symbols listed as recommended reading in the IPS section of the US State Department adds to the venues where folks abroad can be put in touch with original material about St. Martin and the St. Martin people.” The material from the book continues to be used for popular events such as carnival, for research by scholars, as teaching material in schools, and for presentations by government and tourism departments, churches and civic groups.

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The Salt Reaper: Poems from the Flats

By Lasana M. Sekou

The Salt Reaper, Sekou's most recent offering, is made up of 18 poems from the decade of the nineties and about 40 new poems from the current decade. An informative introduction by Hollis 'Chalkdust' Liverpool and some intriguing photographic illustration are included in this text. They serve to cushion the provocative and intense voice that issues from these pages and lend perspective to the call for nationhood.

Sekou's multi-creole vocals are subtle, but ever-present ('becausein') and his words insist on oralitythey sing the nation off the page and into being. He has followed the example set by Brathwaite and writes with visual text that leaps off the page

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 2 June 2010

 

 

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Related files:  The Frock by Yaya Richards