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18Jan

Hurricane Watch by Olive Senior review – a champion of inclusion

Jamaica’s poet laureate gives equal attention to magpies, rum-soaked puddings and racial injustice in a playful, empathic collection

There can be no excuse for not knowing Olive Senior – who has recently taken over as poet laureate of Jamaica, where she was born (although she has lived in Canada for much of her adult life). Yet I have to admit that I had, unaccountably, not read her until now, and after days immersed in her splendid Hurricane Watch: New and Collected Poems, I have emerged with the sense of having met a life-enhancing person through the most beguiling poetry – filled with intransigent tropical gardens, singular birds and a keen social conscience. I cannot think of a better way to read your way into 2022.

Olive Senior – the name itself nudging towards becoming a poem – has an inclusive attitude towards her work and never disdains humble things. She will give full, equal and affectionate attention to mango trees, magpies and even to a Christmas pudding (a recent, gorgeous poem, soaked in rum) as well as to global and racial injustice and environmental issues. There are playful, shaped poems here too: an egg about to hatch, a nutmeg charged with history, slanting rain. She is unlofty, humorously humane and I read her back-to-front, beginning at the end, focusing on her fine new work and later learning, by chance, how she has propped herself and readers up, internationally, during the pandemic.

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