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By Love Possessed: Stories

Lorna Goodison
272pp pages
Reviewed by G. K. Abraham

Jamaican poet, short-story writer, and illustrator Lorna Goodison is known primarily as an empathetic poet whose work often focuses on women. She writes about the different roles a woman can play: mother, daughter, lover, warrior, object of desire, object of abuse, and object of worship, which was evident in her previous book, Tamarind Season. When she writes of women, she writes with an understanding of their situation, whatever that situation might be.This time, she writes about love in her second book, By Love Possessed: Stories. 

Goodison is praised for being able to write true feminist poetry without separating men from women. Although at times she exposes the injustices that women experience at the hands of men, Goodison also writes highly acclaimed love poems. In By Love Possessed, her focus is the price women often pay for a man’s sometimes fleeting attention. It is a fascinating discourse on men, women, and love. In the Pushcart Prize-winning title story within this collection, humble Dottie thinks her luck has turned when she meets Frenchie, the best-looking, if not most reliable, man in the whole of Jamaica.

 In "Henry," a young boy turned out of his house to make way for his mother's lover sells roses on the street to survive. On a whim, he bites off a bloom, which he can feel burning inside his mouth like a red pepper light, hoping it will take root and beautify his own life. In "The Helpweight", an accomplished woman must bear the burden of an old flame's renewed affections, when he returns from a life abroad with his Irish bride in tow. These, and over a dozen other evocative stories, create a world in which pride can nourish a soul or be its ruin, and where people are in turn uplifted and undone by love. 

At first reading, it might seem as though Goodison singularly points an accusatory finger at men’s foolishness and their sometimes abusive and irresponsible behaviors. A closer inspection reveals that Goodison equally scolds both for their abuse of such a sacred gift. This ability to both chastise and praise is a singular gift of Goodison, and lends I to be an entertaining read.

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