I first heard about Miss Lou as a child; my mother used to retell my sisters and me her poems and rhymes. I remember finding them amusing and even tried to read one at my mother’s 80th birthday party in front of around 50 guests. I’m not sure if I read it as Miss Lou would have done, but I certainly did my best.
She was born Louise Simone Bennett on 7th September 1919 in Kingston, Jamaica and died aged 86 in 2006 in Canada. She was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica to Augustus Bennett (baker) and Kerene Robinson (dressmaker) but was mostly raised by her mother after the death of her father when she was seven years old.
Louise attended both elementary school and college, later in 1943 studying Jamaican folklore at Friends College, Highgate. By the age of fourteen, she was first recognised for the ability to write poetry and then soon after she was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts; after which she worked as a drama teacher in the UK for many years.
Before her return to Jamaica Louise, she also hosted two BBC radio programmes: Caribbean Carnival and West Indian Night. Upon her return to she lectured across Jamaica and America teaching folklore and drama.
During these times and throughout her life, Louise wrote poems, books, took part in children’s tv, radio and film. She could also be found working with other well-known celebrities such as Harry Belafonte which led to a well know children’s song Day – O (The Banana Boat Song).
During her role as a Jamaican folklorist, performer, writer etc. Louise won several awards including an MBE, the Norman Manley Award for Excellence, the Order of Jamaica and Honorary Degree of Letters from the Univerisity of West Indies.
Miss Lou was well known for her ‘bigger than life’ performances using patios, she was proud of her heritage and celebrated this using it in many forms. Her love of people and performing took her around the world and in her later life, following the death of her husband (Eric Coverley) in 2002 she emigrated to Canada where she died.
Shet up yuh mout an tap de nize!
Yuh tink yuh grievance strong
Because yuh never get de chance
Fi jine de dress-puss gang?
Stop jump an kick an bawl an gwaan
Like chigger-fly hah bite yuh.
Yuh hooda tun big poppy show
Ef dem did go invite yuh!
For yuh no got no scissors-tail-
Coat an top hat fi wear,
An de waistcoat grampa dead lef
Nyamy-nyamy up an tear!
Moresoever, koo yuh head top
How it shape like big seed pear!
Wha yuh tink yuh hooda favour
Eena dem-deh kine a gear?
A no piaw–piaw tings did outa
Big church Sunday mawnin gawn.
Me never see more nose-veil
An han–stockin from me bawn!
Church yard wasa play dress circle.
It was jus like dress parade –
More plastic boot an jersey frock!
More embroidery an braid!
All de mout-dem dah put awn de
Scritchy-scrutchy high class talk!
All de foot-dem dah try out de
Scripsy–scroopsy high class walk!
When de breeze dah meck fi blow weh hat,
Gloves han pon head dah cotch it;
Nose veil dah tickle up nose, an
Glove finger-dem dah scratch it!
Yuh waan see Matty Walla-lef
An Mary Halfa-brick
Wid Sweetie Charles dah roll him eye
An wheel him walkin stick!
So stop shoot off yuh mout bout how
Parson did out fi spite yuh,
An calm yuhself an praise de Lawd
Dem never did invite yuh!
Ay ya yie!
Taken from Aunty Roachy Seh – Louise Bennett (Edited by Mervin Morris)
2020© Sharon RM Stevens