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Roach Marks Publication of First Book of Poetry

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Feb. 23, 2008 — Write about what you know is the classic advice that's been drummed into aspiring writers since writing classes began.
Tregenza Roach needed no such advice. He is what he knows, what he has lived. His poetry is immediate.
His first published book of poetry, The Blessing of Rain and Other Poems, reflects stages in Roach's life and growth. The first section "Ancestors and Memories," takes one to Roach's childhood on his native St. Kitts, growing up in his grandmothers's house on Pedra Street in the shadow of Mount Liamuiga.
Roach moved to St. Thomas when he was eight, but he carried with him the spirit of his grandmother and grandfather, Mam and Papa Bethel. He would not see Mam again until he was 14, but her spirit was with him every day.
"What I think about," Roach says, "is that lots of these people didn't have the opportunity to read or write. I try to contextualize it for the reader." The first section of the volume, "Ancestors and Memories," lyrically evokes the memories of the three women, each courageous in her own right, who formed his life. "I owe them my life and the great substance of my imagination."
Roach says of his grandmother, "She was a poem waiting to be written." He says he knew that at an early age, far too young to write it. He writes now eloquently of his great-grandmother, Annie, his grandmother, Mam, and his mother, Iona.
Annie left St. Kitts, with its fading sugar economy, to move to St. Croix when Mam, her daughter, was 18, neither knowing how to read or write. In "Annie Mason Garvey 1915," Roach gives Mam voice, writing as he imagined she would have written to her mother, Annie.
"And had they / not taken and / sealed the books / to put them / so far beyond / your sight and reach / then you just might / have had the chance / to read of Homer / and the creatures / of the ocean deep / who made hell / the lives of men / as they challenged / the water."
Asking Mam's permission, Roach writes in Annie's voice to her daughter, Mam, in "What to Tell a Child About the Surrender." Annie tells Mam, that it has been "my single prayer / that you forgive / any trespass / .now that you know / what it requires / the title mother / with no life / to call your own / neither space / nor solitude / just so much / the weight / of hungry tears / which follow / the troth."
Roach honors his mother, who was a seamstress on St. Kitts and St. Thomas, in "The Kingdom of the Cloth." He learned from his mother, he says, his love of cloth and color. "Cloth of every kind dominated each room on Petra Street," he says.
The volume speaks from Roach's heart and to his history. It is divided into five sections. The first section is followed by "Passages," "The Natural World," "The Spiritual Life," and "Love and Other Essences." Of the last, he says, "The pieces are love songs, but they are wild and complicated, not simply the stuff of sonnets which lend themselves to quick memory and seduction."
As is the way with artistic expression, much of the poetry has been years awaiting voice. Roach now says, "It's the texture of my life as a Caribbean person — my grandparents left emotional kinds of experience, high emotional content comes to me as I document it to share."
And he had other influences, one of whom has become an internationally published poet.. He attended Wayne Aspinall Junior High School, (now Addelita Cancryn), where he came under the tutelage of Althea Romeo-Mark, whom he credits with stimulating his imagination. "She has had an incredible life," he says. "She moved to Liberia where she taught for 14 years, and then, because of the political situation, to Switzerland."
Roach hesitates a bit, considering who most influenced his work. "I like Toni Morrison," he says, "and I like the work of the Jamaican poet Lorna Goodison. My favorite author would have to be Gabriel Garcia Marquez, his One Hundred Years of Solitude, his imagination."
Roach partnered with St. John artist Karen L. Samuel who did the illustrations for the book. "I've known her for 15 years," he says. "I love her intuitive response to my work. We discuss the poems; I read them to her and she interprets them and comes up with her drawings."
Though Roach has nurtured his gift over the years, he has veered far from poetry — he is an attorney, a teacher and coordinator of the 2007 V.I. Constitutional Convention. He is a member of the adjunct faculty of the University of the Virgin Islands, where he teaches humanities and a law course.
Some of the poems in The Blessing of Rain and Other Poems are published for the first time. Others have appeared in The Caribbean Writer, Calabash Journal of New York University, Yellow Cedars Blooming and Seasoning for the Mortar. He is working on his first novel.
The book can be purchased at Dockside Bookshop, the Owl and Seahorse Book Store at Crown Bay on St. Thomas, and its companion store on St. Croix at Sunshine Mall. It can also be ordered online at Amazon.co.uk. It is $15 soft cover and $25 hard cover in the Virgin Islands.
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