Poet Paulette Ramsay speaks on Caribbean culture and womanhood


Katelyn Kruzewinski | Staff Writer

Paulette Ramsay recites her poems over Zoom at the Global Hub last Thursday.

By Katelyn Kruszewski, Staff Writer

The poet Paulette Ramsay spoke with confidence, beginning with a reading of the tale of a stunning Black woman with high cheekbones and a beautiful smile hidden behind a stamp seal. 

In the poem, titled “Her Majesty’s Seal” from her collection “Under Basil Leaves,” Ramsay writes about a woman who is about to journey to England. It discusses how the Majesty’s seal “blotted out” the woman’s Black image and uniqueness. Ramsay said it encompasses themes of women and Blackness.

“I’m going to read what I think is perhaps my favorite poem of all that I have. This is a poem that was conceptualized in one sweep,” Ramsay said. “Sometimes as a writer you just get a compulsion. You have to pen these words, and this was one of them.”

Paulette Ramsay recited her poems at a Friday evening webinar. ADDverse, a student organization at Pitt dedicated to celebrating BIPOC and LGBTQ+ writers and poets, invited Ramsay to present her works to students. During the webinar, she read excerpts of poetry, followed by a discussion afterward in which attendees could ask her questions. The event was open to all Pitt students either in person at the Global Hub at Posvar Hall or free via Zoom registration.

Ramsey is a professor of Afro-Hispanic Studies at the University of the West Indies in Mona, Jamaica. She is a translator, novelist and academic who studies race relations in the Caribbean. The poet writes on topics related to womanhood, Caribbean culture and Blackness. 

Ramsay’s poetry reading is the first of a series of webinars that ADDverse will conduct at Pitt, specifically to trace how writers of African diaspora think and write about place, identity and history within their own cultures. 

Darrelstan Ferguson, the business manager of ADDverse and former academic adviser of Ramsay, moderated the event. He said Ramsey’s poetry encapsulated a range of emotions for him and other readers. 

“Ramsay’s poetry can be described at times as witty, funny, erudite, socially and racially conscious,” Ferguson, a PhD student in Hispanic Languages and Literatures, said. “It will be both educational and entertaining.”

Don Joseph, the vice president of ADDverse, said Ramsay is a “powerhouse” academic in her field, and few can rival her expertise. Joseph is a PhD candidate in the Department of French and Italian Languages and Literatures.

“She graciously agreed to have a reading and conversation to share some of her work,” Joseph said. “The adjective that describes Dr. Ramsay is powerhouse. She is not only a poet but a professor, translator, journalist, novelist and so many other things.”

Ramsay has published two novels and four collections of poetry, including “Under Basil Leaves,” “October Afternoon,” “Star Apple” and “Avocado Green and This Thing that is Not a Thing.”

Ramsay read a number of her poems and took suggestions of what to read from participants. She said she is inspired by the image of women in her work, especially the works of Caribbean women within society.

“I think that not enough attention is given to women and Caribbean women within society. In nurturing all of the people who have become great scholars and intellectuals,” Ramsay said. “I think the core of that is the mother. That’s one reason I have so many grandmother poems because that Caribbean grandmother has been such a central force in the lives of so many Caribbean people shaping and molding. Women have ongoing strength.”

After reading a series of her works, Ramsay answered questions from the moderators. She said she wants her works to have meanings that are accessible to her audiences.

“A lot of my poems are very political even though you may not think so. They may be shrouded in humor or whatever but underneath I also like to use simple language. Sometimes we think that for a point to be complex it must be knotted up and tied up,” Ramsay said. “But I want my poems to be accessible. I want people to also love being deceived because allowing them to be simple — it means the meaning is simple.”

Joseph said ADDverse wanted Ramsay to speak at its event because of her excellent work and Ferguson’s positive stories about her.

“We decided to reach out to Dr. Ramsay because we love her work, but we were also enamored by presentations that we saw online that she gave,” Joseph said. “We were also inspired by the stories that ADDverse board member, Darrelstan, shared about her — she was his adviser during his master’s degree studies.”

Ferguson said Ramsay’s work focuses on a variety of subjects and can affect audiences in various ways.

“Paulette Ramsay’s poetry teaches race, gender, history, culture and ecology in the Caribbean,” Ferguson said. “Depending on her use of language and attitude, you may burst out laughing, cry inside a little, pry frantically for hidden meanings, think and rethink, learn something new, beg for more or even decide to spend your next vacation in the Caribbean.”