SEEN UP NORTH: Teacher with flair for poetry
By Tony Best | Sun, May 06, 2012 - 12:00 AM
At 24 years of age, Loriann Toppin, a teacher at a Roman Catholic school in Tampa, Florida, has dreams of someday becoming a poet whose work stirs the emotions of people everywhere.
“I use poetry to express my personal feelings,” she explained. “Actually, I started out by writing about those feelings and then moved on to my experiences.
“Poetry is an excellent vehicle for self-expression and I often focus on the range of emotions and subjects, everything from love and ancestry to the negative and positive things people go through in their daily lives.”
The aspiring poet, the daughter of Bajan immigrant parents, Larson and Aquinda Toppin, who now make their home in Port St Lucie, Florida, has made some tentative steps along a well travelled path used by some of the brightest and the best from the Caribbean.
In Bim Classics, a special publication circulated more than four years ago, a re-emergence of what was once the Caribbean’s most outstanding literary magazine whose pages allowed readers to engage such literary icons as Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, Professor Kamau Brathwaite, Roger Mais, George Lamming, Frank Collymore, Edgar Mittleholzer and many others between 1942 and 1996, editor Esther Phillips wrote about their work and the truth they “told about us that we all recognize, whether it relates to race, class, cultural practices or other experiences with which we feel an instant connection”.
Toppin, who doesn’t lay any claims to being in the same league as those giants, has some obvious writing talents which she put to good effect and published her first volume of poetry, Poetic Simplicity, 16 (degrees) Of Emotion, a 39-page volume.
“I am a very emotional person and I put my emotions in what I do,” she said, explaining the force which drives her writing.
“This work is like my pride and joy, coming after a time when I once felt that it just wasn’t good enough. Now, I have confidence and I trust that people would appreciate it.”
Indeed, she said, the reaction to the 16 poems “has been entirely positive” as readers indicated “they can relate to what I have written with emotion”.
That came through in Get It Together, a piece she created while working with teenagers who were on the verge of graduation from a school in Philadelphia but didn’t have any plans to deal with the real world.
In that poem, she asked:
When will they wake up from this slumber?
realize their helping hand has reached its limit
starting to pull back from the fore ground ready to give all
the hope that we’ve ever had to mould them into
something more than they are capable of being all they can be if they tried
to be a little better than what they’re used to.
“I was working in an after-school programme,” she said, “and I simply wanted to help encourage the teens to get it together. You had to try to do that.”
The Bajan American, whose favourite poets run the gamut from Langston Hughes, Mayo Angelou and Nikki Giovanni to Amiri Baraka, started writing poetry when she was an 11-year-old elementary school student in New Jersey.
“I began writing first for my mum but expanded it when I went into middle and high schools,” she said.
“I wrote even more after I joined the school’s drama group and it continued well into college. My parents, especially my mother, have always been there for me.”
A graduate of Florida Southern College, which awarded her a Bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing, Toppin currently teaches 11 to 14-year-olds at one of Tampa’s oldest predominantly black Catholic schools.
In the classrooms, she uses English to motivate the students in much the same way that her favourite poets, especially Langston Hughes, were able to stir people into action or reflect on their lives.
More than a decade before Kamau Brathwaite wrote The Visibility Trigger: A Poem For Kwame Nkrumah; before Walcott penned Berceuse, a thoughtful work that focused in part on guilt; and Frank Collymore created the poem Half-time, Hughes published his first collection of poetry
The Weary Blues that expressed the despair of blacks over their economic and social conditions.
In her introductory volume, Toppin didn’t dwell on that subject but zeroed in on trust, fear, disappointment and what she called “mail order love”.
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