U of T honours Jamaican Poet Lorna Goodison with Doctor of Laws degree

By Lincoln DePradine

Lorna Goodison

Jamaica-born internationally acclaimed poet, Lorna Goodison, urged a group of University of Toronto (U of T) students to use their “precious’’ education to care for the world’s people.

“As you venture out there into the great wide and utterly unpredictable world, remember on your doubtful days that what you have been given here at the University of Toronto is deep and wide and precious. It is more than enough to help you cope with the unexpected reversals and unscheduled pit stops you encounter as you press on to reach your life’s goals,’’ Goodison said in addressing a recent ceremony of U of T graduating students.

At the ceremony, Goodison was presented with an honourary Doctor of Laws degree “for her excellence in the arts, as an internationally admired poet, performer, and storyteller.”

Goodison, 71, is a former visiting professor at U of T. She now is a professor of English language and literature at the University of Michigan, splitting much of her time between the United States and Canada.

She’s also a painter whose work has been exhibited internationally, and remains close to her birthplace as Jamaica’s Poet Laureate.

“Never doubt how enriched you have become by being part of the great united nations of people from all over the known world with whom you are now fellow travelers in this shining city,’’ Goodison said in her U of T address.

“Yes, dear graduating class, you have much of what you need to make your way through the world now, provided you do not think that what you’ve earned here makes you better than other people. Because what you now are, are people who are appointed to help take care of the world. You are, from henceforth, minders and menders and repairers of the breach.’’

Goodison, as a teenager, began publishing poetry anonymously in the Jamaica Gleaner newspaper. At the urging of family and friends, including the late St Lucia-born author and Nobel Laureate, Derek Walcott, she started releasing her work under her own name.

According to Goodison, she did not “choose’’ to be a poet. “It chose me,’’ she has said. “It’s a dominating, intrusive tyrant. It’s something I have to do – a wicked force.’’

Goodison has published more than 15 works of poetry, short stories and non-fiction and earned earn numerous awards and honours, including the B.C. Award for Canadian Non-Fiction. Many of the illustrations on the covers of her books are her own paintings.

Goodison’s U of T speech was interspersed with lines of poetry. “Go forth now and flower, oh University of Toronto graduating class of 2019,’’ she said. “Spring has sprung. Go send flowers to yourself. And to everyone, bye, bye. Thank you.’’

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