Poet Laureate - The National Library of Jamaica

Welcome to the website of the Poet Laureate of Jamaica!

Professor Emeritus Mervyn Morris, OM, Poet Laureate of Jamaica

Professor Emeritus Mervyn Morris, OM,
              Poet Laureate of Jamaica

On May 21, 2014, the Honourable Professor Emeritus, Mervyn Morris, OM, was invested with the Poet Laureate of Jamaica Insignia at a nationally recognised ceremony at King’s House. This official sashing by the Governor General of Jamaica made Professor Morris the first nationally recognised Poet Laureate of Jamaica.

A Brief History of the Poet Laureate in Jamaica Programme

The practice of countries naming a Poet Laureate was made popular by the appointment of Ben Johnson in 1616 as England’s first Poet Laureate, in what has since been an unbroken line of Poets Laureate appointed by the Royal Household. A Poet Laureate is selected from amongst a country’s most esteemed and accomplished poets and he/she occupies an exalted position in a nation’s literary heritage.

Prior to April 15, 2014, there have been two Poets Laureate of Jamaica: Tom Redcam and John Ebenezer Clare McFarlane, who were both named by the Poetry League Society of Jamaica. Redcam received the title posthumously in 1933 and McFarlane, who was founder and President of the Poetry League Society of Jamaica, was crowned and robed Poet Laureate at a ceremony at the Ward Theatre on April 7, 1953. McFarlane served in that role until his death in 1962.

The effort to re-establish a Poet Laureate of Jamaica was spearheaded by the Chair of the Entertainment Advisory Board Literary Arts Sub-Committee, Justine Henzell, National Librarian and CEO of the National Library of Jamaica, Winsome Hudson and Senior Director of Entertainment in the Ministry of Tourism and Entertainment, Gillian McDaniel. The process of selecting the Poet Laureate of Jamaica was managed by the National Library of Jamaica (NLJ) with both the National Librarian and the Chairman of the National Library’s Board of Directors serving on the Selection Committee. The NLJ was the only institution with two positions on the Committee and this is consistent with other countries in which the National Library is the focal point for the Poet Laureate position. The public was invited to submit nominations for the post of Poet Laureate on a prescribed form. Nominations were open from November 10, 2013 and closed December 20, 2013. Nominations which fit the stated criteria were considered by a nine-member committee and the Laureate selected by secret ballot. The announcement of the first nationally appointed Poet Laureate of Jamaica was made at the NLJ on April 15, 2014 by the Minister of Tourism and Entertainment the Honourable Dr. Wykeham McNeill.

The duties of the Poet Laureate fall within the general ambit of promotion and development of Jamaican poetry locally and overseas. The Tourism Enhancement Fund has financed the first three years of the programme. The NLJ serves as Secretariat to the programme as well as the repository for the publications, recordings and ephemera which will emanate from the Poet Laureate programme of activities.