Festival Internacional de Poesía de Medellín

Poetry Is Painting with Words

By Althea Romeo-Mark

When I was a teenager, I sketched in black and white and painted in water colors. My painting class was one of my favorite extra-curricular school activities. The culmination of that period, age fifteen or so, was winning a prize, during our pre-carnival season, for a water color painting of a Moko Jumbi. The Moko Jumbi is our traditional dancer on stilts that has its origin in the West African “country devil.

Upon entering university, I acknowledged the calling to write which had lain dormant in me. My seventh grade school teacher had praised an essay I had written about my dog and had encouraged me to enter the essay in a writing competition. But I was painfully shy and resisted all entreaties. However, at the University of the Virgin Islands, an English Professor discovered my gift for writing and nurtured it. This time I did not resist because I learned that poetry is simply painting with words.

I paint pictures with words, see my poems as paintings. Each word, like the stroke of a brush on canvas, shapes a picture that speaks to the eyes. The visual imagery is predominant, but coming from the Caribbean, where speaking is musical, where speaking is rhythm and sound, words also tease the ears. So my poems are filled with, not only words I have painted on paper, but also the sound of the Islands’ voices, the sounds of our daily lives, the sound of sea and wind; that in turn, awaken hopefully all our senses.

I have lived in the USA, Liberia, (West Africa), England and now live in Switzerland. I paint my impressions and interpretation of the lives of ordinary people and the cultures in which they live. The two paintings/poems below represent two diverse places and cultures. Each new experience makes me a better interpreter of impressions and a better painter of words.

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