This month we interview Jamaican poet, author and photographer Gina Rey Forest. She has been writing poetry since the age of 10 years. She has played a major role in the Jamaica’s poetry and spoken word revival. She is an award wining photographer and has authored 3 books. spent fourteen years in the computer industry before she finally decided to pursue her two loves; Massage therapy and poetry writing. Her passion is “true” self expression and her poetry reflects this.
You have been writing poetry since you were 10 year old. Did you think you would grow up to be a poet back then?
I don’t think is it a matter of growing up to be a poet, I have always been. But I was considered a leftie and rightie – meaning I excelled at both sciences and art, but poetry was always a very private outlet for me to express myself without prying eyes. After a while I began to share and realised that my work tended to resonate with others and speak to their experiences as well.
The typical parent would probably say to their child there is no money in poetry. What did your parent say when you let them know you would like to be a poet?
My mother always supported any honest venture that I wanted to do. By the time I had decided to publish I had already excelled in the technology field. What a lot of people don’t understand is that although technology was not my first love I did not see the point in being involved in the field and not excelling.
What was your big break into poetry?
My friend Jiivanii introduced me to my first open mike at Firefly one cold December night. We drove all the way from Montego Bay to Port Maria to participate in the moonlight poetry event being hosted by Connie Bell. I was sooo nervous but somehow it clicked in my head that this was it and I performed – I think – to the shock of most of the audience
You are an out of the box poet and you tend to challenge the status quo. Some say your poetry is sexually explicit. What are your thoughts on your work?
I would not call my work sexually explicit. As a matter of fact if you examine my poetry (the sensuous ones that is) you would agree that they are sensuous but do not cross the line ever to explicitness or vulgarity. I have always believed that any work that I write I must be able to perform in front of my mother.
Poetry and the spoken word have gained popularity in Jamaica . What has been your involvement in this movement?
I would say a renaissance in the spoken word happened just about the time I decided to write my first book. I saw it happening and decided to get involved in any way I could. But I am not the type of person who gets involved in societies and associations – so I started to think outside of the box and decided to put on my own shows.
Tell us about 3 Deep Poetz?
Recognizing the need to have poetry seen as a viable form of entertainment – Rodney Campbell and myself formed 3 Deep Poetz with Duane Francis. The aim was to break away from the norm where you would have poets performing during a band change and have music as the interlude for poetic events and PAY POETS. I think we achieved our goal – unfortunately we had to break up the group but while it lasted it was good.
How has poetry evolved in Jamaica ?
I think, for example, that I have certainly helped to change the view of poetry as an old “fuddy duddy” thing. But also, I think more and more poets have come into their own. Some like Charlie Bobus host their own events, are performing on big stages like Sumfest. I have been told by a few of them like LSX, Charlie and a few others that I inspired them to go out on that limb and promote themselves. Unfortunately corporate Jamaica still won’t take a chance on a poetry event (is like pulling teeth without anaesthetic) but hopefully that will change. I would just like to see the Spoken Word get some of this support – no matter how small.
You did a show with poetry on HIV/AIDS. How was that received and what were the challenges on doing this show?
Reality Check! was my baby – my pet project. I spent every cent that I had to produce that show. I was disappointed in the outcome – that is low audience turnout. But those who came raved and loved. Maylynne Walton was my director of choice, it was her debut as a director and I think she did a superb job in the execution of my vision. The other actors, Bruce Alexander, Sheldon Shepherd, Noelle Kerr, Deanne Allgrove, Canute Fagan, Nadia Khan, Andrew Clarke as well as my stage manager Mijane did a wonderful job and I will always be grateful for their participation. The Public Affairs Office of the US Embassy gave us some last minute funding which helped tremendously.
Are you going to do this show again?
I would if I had some financial backing.
Do you consider yourself an advocate for HIV/AIDS in Jamaica ?
I would consider myself and advocate against the discrimination of people living with HIV/AIDS in Jamaica .
How are you involved in the HIV/AIDS fight in Jamaica ?
I became a member of the Sunset Optimist Club of Kingston – a member of Optimist International and participate in anyway that I can regarding their projects regarding children and HIV/AIDS
If you a magic wand that provided all the resource (money, people) to tackle an issue in Jamaica what would it be?
I guess the cliché answer would be “Crime”. But I think I would prefer to educate and employ. Therefore by providing education and employment I think crime would be reduced.
Have you participated in Calabash in St Elizabeth?
My first Calabash experience (2002) will always remain my favourite.
How was that experience?
I remember that it was the first time I was hearing about Calabash and promptly rented a car for the weekend – bear in mind that all the hotels and guest houses are usually booked out by February. I camped in my car, slept in a hammock outside of Jack Sprat and was “rescued” by friends who had a spare bed at their villa in the nick of time. The skies opened up after that.
Do you plan to participate this year?
I am not sure if I will be participating this year. It depends on my vibe at the time. I tend to be very spontaneous.
Tell us about the books your have written?
1. Hot Sweet Chocolate – A Celebration of Love and Desire. The Collector’s Edition – is my first book. A hard cover edition illustrated by Christopher Gonzalez (one of our premier artists and sculptors). There will only be 1000 in print and they sell for USD100. Each book is numbered and signed by me. 2. Interlude – Volume I – published in 2003- a mix of sensual poetry and social commentary. currently out of print but will be available either on Blurb or VioVio soon. 3. No Lube – I’m Telling It Like It Is – strictly social commentary on sexual and physical abuse of women.
Are you working on any new books?
Well I am currently about to publish “Musings” which is basically my blog in book form on Blurb.com. I am starting a new blog called In The Spirit which is really about my spiritual experience. The reader can expect photography, poetry, and some more “musings”. I am also working on “Bushman Trails – A Walk Into History” which is an (mainly) photographic expedition in the bushes of St Catherine Jamaica, of ancestral sites. Some of these pictures can be seen on my gallery (Click on Bushman Trails or Shutterbug Treks) – These pictures will soon come down though.
You also wrote a few plays. How was that experiencing seeing our words come to life? Were you involved in the production?
I have only written one play – Reality Check! Let’s just say when I saw the rehearsal I bawled (not even cried) the poor actors thought that they had messed up my play. I was only involved in the production side in terms of financing.
Any new plays in the making?
Not yet – my plate is kinda full at the moment. But I have been toying with a few ideas.
In 2005 you won an award for work in photography. How did you get interested in photography?
I took a picture of my breast and it looked so good that I sent it to friends (not telling them it was mine J and they raved about it) I said “Hmmm – I think I should do photography” bought as many books and magazines as I could and taught myself. Attached is a picture of my latest award also.
What are your favorites subjects to photograph?
I love candid portraits but especially I love black and white nudes. I once controlled quite a market of clients who had me photograph them during “the act”. I asked myself a lot at the time – “what the hell do people see in pornography” – anyway, the pictures came out artistic they paid me and were happy. I stopped when their referrals started asking me to participate (eeew) I guess I liked doing it at the time because – my clients trusted me, and because it was so “out there” – I cannot think of any photographer in Jamaica who was doing the same thing. Unfortunately I will never get any of those pictures to display. And I love to photograph food. I want people to want to eat the food off the page when I have finished with a picture. You can see some of my food pics in my gallery. I also love to photograph really mundane looking things and make them look spectacular. Case in point – check out a picture on my gallery called “An unbelievable Place” – It is actually the sewers of Greater Portmore in St Catherine. (hee hee)
You contribute to the magazine Dine Jamaica are you a taster or a budding chef…lol?
I love to cook – I actually had a catering business once. I get a lot of pleasure seeing people finish off the food I prepare. Ironically I am a vegetarian – but I can cook up a wicked Roast Chicken or Roast Pork – go figure
Thanks for the interview and all the best. Any final words for the visitors at jamaicans.com?
It is not all bad – as with anywhere in the world you cannot throw caution to the wind. Come, be wise and just enjoy yourself.