IT IS an indisputable fact that young people, especially the current generation, shape all aspects of the world through their artistic, scientific, political, philosophical and social contributions. One may call more popular names like Zendaya, Yara Shahidi and Sasha Obama when listing today’s most influential young people; but our region, including our own country, also has passionate young people of equal intellectual stature, power and influence.
One such person is 18-year-old Britney Gabbidon. As a fresh, poetic savant, Britney was shortlisted from more than 70 participants and 350 poem entries in The Poet Laureate of Jamaica and Helen Zell: Young Writer’s Prize for Poetry competition. She walked away with the runner-up prize.
PUTTING PEN TO PAPER
While a lot of us were only just learning to read, a seven-year-old Gabbidon was immersing herself in the world of poetry. “I started off with song lyrics and that developed into short stories and poems, until I think I seriously started writing poetry at around 11. I was basically trying to replicate stuff that I had read, so I focused more on things like structure,” she explained.
At such a young age, Gabbidon was already taking note of the structural components of work by the likes of Shakespeare to stimulate progress in her own poetry. Youthlink would agree that Shakespeare, the Englishman regarded as the greatest playwright and one of the world’s most influential writers, doesn’t seem too shabby a mentor for an adolescent.
Her passion for literature, she explained, emerged from her relatively introverted personality.
“I still am, somewhat, but I was even more introverted when I was younger. When I say I was ‘quiet’, I mean I DIDN’T talk,” Gabbidon confirmed. So, naturally, much of her attention was focused on reading and her xpression
centred on writing.
“I moved from focusing on structure and trying to replicate other people’s work, to focusing on developing a style for myself – the subject matter became stuff that meant more to me,” the young writer told Youthlink. Her poetic subject matter then made a shift from her earlier interests in emotions and became more focused on social commentary.
“I guess you could say it kinda switched to subjects that meant a lot to me, or issues I saw playing an important part in the world at the moment,” she shared.
Thus, images that inspired her wouldn’t be those of flowers or autumn leaves, even though she can appreciate the simpler and more natural things in life. Instead, the visual catalyst for Gabbidon’s work were more austere images.
Referring to the 2014 marches in Ferguson, Missouri, protesting the killing of a young black man, Michael Brown, by a white police officer, Britney related: “There was this image of one of the protesters holding up a sign
with a burning tyre rolling by him, and I just thought that was a really powerful image. It inspired me to write a poem regarding the situation.”
While racial tension is one of the themes that have inspired this young poet, her poetry touches other region-specific themes such a colourism – an especially prominent plague in Jamaica. In light of these Caribbean themes, a natural inquiry was made into the link between Gabbidon’s regional and poetic identity. When asked if she considered herself a ‘Caribbean poet’, Gabbidon was quick to assert, “I don’t like labels”.
Despite firmly approaching poetry from universal angles, this young woman has a deep appreciation for the Caribbean perspective. She looks up to the Derek Walcotts and Lorna Goodisons of the region, knowing
that “those persons come from where I come from. They have accomplished so many things, so there’s no limit to what I can do”.
Aside from Caribbean poets, Britney also admires American writer and activist Audre Lorde: “The way I feel when I read her poems is the way I want other people to feel when they read my poetry.” Along with racial tension,
Britney’s poetry has even more recently been inspired by themes of black femininity and spirituality in nature.
The writing zone: “Writing is my time – it’s my time to sit down and focus on me and something that I love doing.” Despite writing being a lifelong passion, Gabbidon has only recently started to delve into the literary world as a budding professional. “It was only shortly before the Poet Laureate competition that I’d actually taken the time to sit down and commit to writing,” she shared, describing poetry as “something I love, but also something I don’t spend enough time with”. To get into her poetry ‘zone’, Gabbidon listens to music, naming artistes like Lorde, Nina Simone, Erykah Badu and Damian Marley as inspirations. Her ideal aural background for a writing session
also often ranges from Afrobeat to Indie rock. To network on the poetry scene, Gabbidon suggests attending literary open-mic events, which are often held at various Jamaican high schools. The Calabash International Literary Festival, hosted in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, is a huge event that our young poet hopes to attend in June.
FIRST, A POET
“I am a poet first and foremost, but I’m not just a poet,” she notably professed during her interview with Youthlink. As an aspiring marketing major at the University of the West Indies, Britney declared, “Overall, I want to be a writer. Yes, I have other goals and aspirations, but this one is closest to heart.” She is currently working on a manuscript, the first among many literary works of both prose and poetry that will be published from this young writer. It is safe to say that we should take note of the likes of Britney Gabbidon, a marked and guaranteed trailblazer in Jamaica and the expansive literary world.