JAM | Mar 21, 2023

A look at the pre-Independence Poets Laureate of Jamaica

Candice Stewart

Candice Stewart / Our Today

Reading Time: 3 minutes

In the last of this series, we highlight the pre-Independence Poets Laureate of Jamaica.

John Ebenezer Clare McFarlane (1953 – 1962)

He was a poet who helped to establish the Poetry League of Jamaica in 1923. Prior to that, he participated in a University of London summer course in English Language and Literature in 1931. McFarlane produced several books of poetry. They include: ‘Beatrice’ in 1918; ‘Poems’ in 1922 and 1924; ‘Sex and Christianity’ in 1932; ‘Jamaica’s Crisis’ in 1937; ‘The Challenge of our Times’ in 1945; and ‘The Magdalene: the Story of Supreme Love’ in 1950.

McFarlane also edited anthologies of poetry, namely: ‘Summerland: Anthology of Jamaican Poetry’ in 1929 and ‘A Treasury of Jamaican Poetry’ in 1950.

In 1935, he was awarded the silver Musgrave Medal from the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ) and in 1958, he received the gold. McFarlane died on October 13, 1962, two months after Jamaica became an independent country.

John Ebenezer Clare McFarlane. (Image source: National Library of Jamaica)

The Poet’s Corner at Hope Gardens was established by Clare McFarlane in December 1953. 

Thomas MacDermot (1910 – 1933)

As a journalist using the pseudonym Tom Redcam (which is MacDermot spelled backwards), his creative work gained him recognition as a great poet. However, he never published a collection of his poetry in his lifetime.

In 1903, MacDermot started the ‘All Jamaica Library’, a series of novels and short stories written by Jamaicans about Jamaica. Alongside his work in media, he wrote two novels. The first, ‘Becka’s Buckra Baby’.

He was posthumously proclaimed Jamaica’s first Poet Laureate for the period 1910-33 by Poetry League of Jamaica, the local branch of the Empire Poetry League. John Ebenezer Clare McFarlane, the League’s founder and president, championed the effort to bestow the honour on Redcam.

Thomas MacDermot. (Image source: National Library of Jamaica)

It is said that patriotism and love of Jamaica are recurring themes seen throughout his poetry. His poem, ‘O Little Green Island Far Over the Sea’, tells of his longing for home while in England, which is where he lived for the last 11 years of his life due to illness.

A few publications that feature Redcam’s work include: 

  • How Britain got her West Indies (1929)
  • The King’s dominion of the islands major and minor West Indian notes. (1916)
  • Orange Valley, and other poems. (1951)
  • Our West Indian colonies (1919)

His work was not collected into a single volume until 1951.

This is part three of an informational three-part series highlighting the Poets Laureate of Jamaica. Parts one and two are linked below.

The Poets Laureate of Jamaica

A look at the Poets Laureate of Jamaica

Read more:

World Poetry Day and literary devices used in poetry

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