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January 30, 2017

Book Notes - Ann-Margaret Lim "Kingston Buttercup"

Kingston Buttercup

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Ann-Margaret Lim's poetry collection Kingston Buttercup is filled with unforgettable lyric poems that feature strong senses of place and identity..

Olive Senior wrote of the book:

"Ann-Margaret Lim’s lyrical gold transmuted from pain, passion, and a deeply felt historical consciousness mirrors the hardy Kingston buttercup that hides sharp thorns beneath a seductive golden flower. Her brave and triumphant exploration of home, family, personal and racial identity through twenty-first century livity will resonate long after closing."

In her own words, here is Ann-Margaret Lim's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection Kingston Buttercup:

While actively putting together Kingston Buttercup, I was seriously feeling Bob Marley and the early reggae pioneers, such as Clancy Eccles. I was watching Marley concerts, playing him; watching and listening to Tosh-related interviews and of course that unforgettable Red X documentary on his life and murder. (You should visit the Peter Tosh Museum on the PULSE8 compound.)

One of the things I ‘discovered’ during that time was that our very own Clancy Eccles’ ska song “Freedom” (recorded 1959) was used by Martin Luther King during his public appearances and marches in the Civil Rights movement in the 60s in the United States (US). So of course, part of the song that goes “before I be a slave, I’ll skip over my grave/ and go home to my father and be free,” had to be the epithet introducing the first poem focussed on slavery in the collection – "Echoes in the Bone."

The second poem in that section, "On Reading Thistlewood's Diary" has two reference songs – one the slave/negro spiritual “I’ll Fly Away” and the other a popular dancehall song "Syvah." Thomas Thistlewood, a slave owner in plantation Jamaica shacked up with a slave woman called Phibba, which rhymes with Syvvah, the Jamaican popular dancehall song and dance move for 2014/2015. The interesting thing about the dance move Syvvah, was that for me, there are aspects of it that simulates a bird in flight, which brought me right to Phibba and her fellow slaves on the plantation signing "I’ll Fly Away" at the numerous plantation funerals they attended for their mistreated fellow sufferers.

The fifth in that group of poems that deals with our slavery past is titled "So Much Things To Say," from Marley’s song of course and because yes, we do have ‘so much to say.’ In that poem I’m speaking to a fellow poet from and living in Africa. We had agreed years ago to dialogue in poems and see where that leads, the poem in this anthology is therefore my attempt at beginning the written conversation.

And as I alluded to earlier, I was in a serious Bob Marley phase during the time I was actively putting the book together. Truth is, throughout my life, I go through Marley phases. An early childhood memory was my father who’s half-Chinese and who sang along with his Chinese Opera cassettes, bucking the volume on his turntable, which was at the time spinning the “dem a go tired fi si mi face”, section of Marley’s "Bad Card," when his wife told him that the neighbours were complaining about the volume of his music. From then, I was drawn to Marley– introduced to him by the man I’ve always loved.

In that moment, I connected the dots between Marley the revolutionary and my father also in his own sphere of rebellion, trying to find his footing in a world where his haberdashery was burnt down because of his Chinese name and mostly Chinese family.

Although none of my daddy poems in Kingston Buttercup actually mention Marley, he’s all over them. In "Daddy" for example, I ‘re-finger’ defining memories of times spent with my father, Oswald Lim, and though it never makes an appearance in the poems, that turntable incident was forefront in memory when writing the poem. It surfaces often, when I think of my father. In "At the Karaoke Bar, 21st Century Beijing," guess what songs I actually sang there? – all Marley songs, and guess who I thought of all the time I was there? my father.

Truth is, Marley is all over my book, but in "The Artist," he seems to be the definite anchor for the three moving characters in that poem. It was the Marley statue done by Christopher Gonzalez that drew me to Gonzalez’ house in 2005, with my beautifully eccentric friend and co-worker at the time, Liz Levy. As you know, Gonzalez was commissioned to create a statue of Marley after his death, but this symbolic statue was rejected and a more ‘realistic’ one demanded. So as I interviewed Gonzalez and the three of us liaised and swam at the beach, "Chant Down Babylon," "Cornerstone" and "Easy Skanking," could easily have been playing that day. And as I state in the last stanza of that poem, Redemption Song is the song I picture Gonzalez’ statue picking on his guitar, as he continues chanting down Babylon, now at the island Village in St. Ann.

In 2015, I represented Jamaica at 12th World Poetry Festival in Venezuela. I was mainly in Caracas and visited Merida. Whilst in Merida, they brought a special guest down from the Mountains, because there was a Jamaican poet with them this year, and do you know what he played? He played Marley. He rocked it up and burned down the place! So in "Shell," my ode to friendships formed deeply and quickly through a common ground and love for the arts, Marley’s "Satisfy My Soul" is more than the background track, it, along with the other Marley songs Stephan Marsh Planchart played on my last night in Merida, Venezuela, was the silken strand, introducing and weaving friends together.

Kingston Buttercup is divided into two parts Spirit Trees and Kingston Buttercup. In the second section, I try to capture 21st century Jamaican living, or as Olive Senior says in her blurb, Jamaican livity. And that ‘livity’ often times includes women bawling for their gunned down, sons, lovers brothers, etc. We see it on the news, we see it in the lane, and we experience it first-hand. Marely’s "Johnny Was" plays in my head most times I see a woman crying for a gunned down man, so in Marginal, where a woman wails for her murdered lover, Marley’s "Johnny Was" is the psalm to go to.

The last poem in the book takes the name from Marley’s song "Rebel." As the poem attempts to illustrate injustice done to the marginalised through the centuries and the vampire like nature of Babylon (the powerful) its ends with Marley’s song title and the call to rebel. As you know, Marley’s revolutionary words are still alive and very relevant right now, so naturally, his songs and he, the singing poet, will be a muse, a fountain head to go to.

Going back to the first section of the book, titled Spirit Trees, the poem "The Score," which looks at death’s wicked hand and my, no, all our fights and (phyrric?) victories against it, has Abba’s song "The Winner Takes it All" as its musical guide. Although that song could be considered mainly a commentary on a failed love affair, I took the lines the gods may throw a dice/their minds as cold as ice/ and someone way down here/loses someone dear as an on point commentary on death.

Kingston Buttercup also has some poems focussed on that blight we experience called eros love. For those poems, John Holt’s "Love I Can Feel," with lyrics like “I want a love I can feel/ not willing to go by something I heard, don’t you know actions speak louder than words,” seems to be the illusive ideal. Picture it playing through "Immerse," and Peeny Wally."

And oh to have a love as in Jimmy Cliff’s "Shelter of Your Love," to go to. Cliff’s song was an ideal, that none of the ‘love’ poems could represent, not even THESE TWO.
So there, you have it, for me, music and poetry is synonymous. The first book The Festival of Wild Orchid also has a soundtrack, which includes Tyrone Tylor’s "From a Little Cottage in Negril," Peter Tosh’s "Stepping Razor," Tracy Chapman’s "She’s Got Her Ticket" and others.

Ann-Margaret Lim and Kingston Buttercup links:

the book's page at the publisher

also at Largehearted Boy:

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