Sometimes gifts don’t come in pretty boxes

The worst thing about being a human is humans.

I have a chronic disease. It is called “always thinking the best about people/always giving the benefit of doubt (even when past events would steer any logical person in a different direction)”. It has been; however, impossible to live my life any other way. This often leads to a lot of disappointment and sadness but also many lessons. Maybe I am not learning the lessons as well as I could or perhaps this is the way things are meant to be.

These lessons; however, have been in many cases gifts. Gifts that at the onset may not have seemed to be gifts at all. They did not come wrapped in pretty paper, with a bow and a lovely card wishing me well. Instead they may have come with tears and feeling low but when I think about it long enough, I see the gifts. Affirmations that what I believed was true, is true, even though I may have wished it was not to be so. So with my skin just a wee bit tougher than before, my life goes on with the people I can count on and the people I am meant to help.

Earlier this year I was faced with a couple of situations involving people and being lost about how to handle the situations. I thought about them, I talked to other people about them, thought about talking to other people about them, and I prayed about them. Both times the answer that came back was “love”. If you love someone, you will help them, wish them well etc. I have been trying to show the love even when its hard, even when human nature wants to take over and do tit for tat, but sometimes its hard.

In the grand scheme of things and despite the hours, minutes and days that are lost to depression, there is in fact more good than bad in the world and those really badly wrapped gifts often hold great surprises.


My umpteenth post on Gratitude

I am taking part in the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project and my thirty days ends in three. I should be writing my poem for day 27 (it is still July 27 in Jamaica) but I am too tired to think, on the one hand, and am overwhelmed by the sense of gratitude I am currently feeling.

I think gratitude is the one word that best sums up the calendar year I have been having so far.

I am grateful to God for being alive, for the wonderful transformation that is taking place in my life and for showing his awesomeness time and time again when I definitely thought that this was it.

I am grateful for my awesome family, the ones related by blood and the ones I chose but especially to my number one fan and supporter of all my endeavours, even when he feels a bit neglected, hubby.

I am grateful to Tupelo Press for having this project that has thought me some discipline, even though I have failed at times (thanks to Karen, for asking where the poems are when she doesn’t see them).

I am grateful for a great team at work.

I am grateful that I am learning so much about myself.

I am grateful that I can say I participated in a Poetry workshop that was led by someone who would become a Pulitzer Prize Winner in 2015.

I am grateful for my “checkers-in” (that’s my name for the people who are always the first ones to send that Whatsapp message to ask “how you doing?”).

I am grateful for mango season and the only thing I want is for the neighbour’s mangoes to be ready so I can get some and pretty soon it will be time for guinep season! in earnest.

I am grateful to be a Toastmaster at the best club in Jamaica, the ICAJ Toastmasters Club, and to be working with an excellent team. I am grateful for Toastmasters in general, because it has become a huge part of who I am.

I am grateful for my mentors. I just need  one more, so hopefully you will see another post that says “he said yes” LOL.

I am super grateful that I can afford to buy books, even though I can’t buy all the ones I want. I could buy more books if I bought less fried chicken so maybe that will become my strategy – Eat less, read more.

I am grateful to everyone who has been supporting me throughout the past 20 odd days, whether you did so with a monetary contribution or just reading the poems. They actually had a map showing where the readers were from and of course Jamaica was on the map! Thanks again!

If you have not yet donated, there is still time. To donate visit Joni’s Donation Page  and to read the poems go to Tupelo Press 30/30 Project.








Thanks for supporting me and the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project

This is day 10 of my challenge to write a poem a day for 30 days as part of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project for July. I had wanted to write a blog post 7 days in but my stomach had other plans. If you have been diligently checking the 30/30 Project page you may have realized that I have been MIA for a few days. So to my fans 🙂 I just want you to know that I am now up to date up to yesterday but I am still working on my poem for today. I had to take a short leave of absence due to illness and you will see a snapshot of my travails in my poem titled Private Health Care which is my poem on Day 8. Also just to note that while I am tasked with writing a poem a day there is no stipulated time to send the poems in for posting so if I send it in a bit late then it may not get posted until the next day. Thanks to not being a morning person, work and other activities, that may just happen more often than not during the work week.

I think a big part of the process for me has been just letting go of a draft and sending it in even though I am not happy with it. I am being more open to the revision process and not just the revision that happens as you write but the revision that happens after you have let it simmer for a while and you may have a go at it again from another perspective. I have known for a long time that I do not like writing long poems and that I value economy over length and want to leave my readers breathless with just a few lines but I have committed to trying to write longer poems. If some of my poems may have seemed like they ended abruptly or that they did not end at the end, it was because they did not end and when next you see them they quite possibly will not look like the same poem.

I am grateful for being able to be a part of this project as it is instilling some of the discipline that I desperately needed where my writing is concerned. I am even more grateful to you my supporters for taking this journey with me, for reading the poems as I write, for making donations. Thank you, thank you, thank you. And if you have not donated yet, and you can, please visit this link to do so.



It is Day 3 of my participation in the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project and at 11 p.m. Jamaica time, I have just emailed my poem for today. Today was a busy day, lots to do, not enough time, even without the “work work” I was meant to be doing but could not, because I apparently left my flash drive at work. Yesterday, I wrote my poem at the salon while waiting for my sister to get her hair and nails done.

It is almost 12.01 a.m. Monday which will mean I have another poem due. A few weeks ago when I told Kwame Dawes he was going to be my editor I said I did not have time to write, he rubbished the notion. He was right. All I needed was a little structure and some discipline and the 30/30 Project is providing that.

Writing is hard work and it is all the time work. I write in the moments just before I fall asleep, on the drive to work , while eating lunch. I try and have many muses because sometimes a muse does not translate to words on the page.

Life is full of challenges, some you choose, some get bestowed upon you. I have known that the 30/30 Project existed for a while but I was always afraid that I would not be able to live up to the challenge of writing a poem a day for a month. Fast forward to the end of June and the start of a new year of my life. A year meant for doing the impossible, for getting the things done that I have been putting off, to live a happy life (as my Alex and Ani bangle says), to be where exactly I want to be. I responded to the email about the 30/30 Project and although I had known about the project, I had not investigated it (very atypical for me, but it was probably a good thing). I thought all I had to do was write a poem a day for 30 days. Alas, when I got the response to my email indicating my interest in being a part of the project for July, I realized that I was also supposed to be raising funds.

I do not have a fundraising bone in my body. I donate money not raise it.Nevertheless, I decided to go ahead. I am not yet on as intense a fundraising campaign as I plan to be but I have gotten two donations already! Thanks Steven and Richard 🙂 and responses to say “i will support you” so there will be a little more money coming even as I crank up the fundraising machinery.

If you would like to read the poems, click here (Joni Jackson) and to donate click here.  My poem for today may not get posted until tomorrow; however, but it will be there. Keep checking back for more poems as the month progresses.





Tupelo Press 30/30 Project

I will be a part of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project for the month of July!

Starting July 1, I will be writing one poem a day as part of the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project. I am inviting you to support me on my creative journey by helping me to raise funds during this period for Tupelo Press.

Tupelo Press is an independent, literary press which focuses on the discovery and publication of poetry, literary fiction, and creative nonfiction by emerging and established writers. Tupelo Press is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit company and among the writers they have published are Gary Soto and Ilya Kaminsky. Ilya Kaminsky was one of the poets who was invited to the last Calabash International Literary Festival held this past June.

Not the best picture but that’s me on the right and Ilya Kaminsky on the left after his reading at Calabash this past June

Show your support by heading over to my Fundraising Page and make a donation. Remember “Every mickle, mek a muckle”.  You can read the poems I will be writing at the Tupelo Press 30/30 Project website.

I am looking forward to sharing this journey with you.






My best year ever

As a product of the Jamaican school system, which is modeled off the British school system, for most of my life the start of a new year was not January but September. Every September was a new beginning. Back then I did not make new year’s resolutions or set goals, I just went to school on that first day in my new everything with my new books (new books are the best) and just listened to what the teacher said.

As I got older, school got harder, not academically but just the other things that go along with it. First going to a new school and being in a class where everyone had been in class together before and being the newbie, then having that happen again in the subsequent year when my 1st grade primary school teacher forced me to skip a grade which resulted in most of the friends I eventually made in the 2nd grade leaving for high school while I was stuck in the 6th grade because I was too young to do the Common Entrance in Grade 5. Then there was high school and puberty and boys and wanting to be different but at the same time, the same.

When I think about school, the best times were at Randalls Prep (kindergarten), where I read from the Happy Venture Series about Fluff and Nip and Dick and Jane. (Fluff and Nip is being sold on Amazon for USD 53.34 used so if anybody reading this still has a copy you can probably put it up for auction on Ebay. I would personally be interested but I am definitely not going to pay USD 50 for it.) I remember my red plaid uniform, my red lunch pan and my red cup. Christmas and the end of the year before the summer holidays were times to look forward to as we had “breaking up”. “Breaking up” is equivalent to what a class party is today. Lots of junk food before they send you home to “terrorize” your parents for the holidays (well not me of course, I was an angel). It was there that I learned to be curious and to be a vociferous consumer of the written word and most importantly I was not forced to come out of my shell. My three years there set the stage for the rest of my life.

As school morphed into work, the year started to begin in January and I have made to do lists, not so many resolutions, but in the last few years my years have begun to start for me on my birthday. Today I am 4 days into my new year. This year is a  weird sort of place to be.  A weird place, because in some respects, things are not yet what I want them to be but at the same time, I see many things falling into place and in some cases realizing that the things that are falling into place are not the things I imagined they would be! And still there are things that I still cannot see through, struggles that I must face.

Today, I have a better understanding of who I am and if I am honest I can say that I am happy. Not happy because everything is great and not falling apart, but happy in spite of my fears, insecurities and the things that are in fact falling apart. Happy because even though I am not sure how long it will take me to get to the end of the tunnel, I can see the light. Happy because I feel like I can actually let some more people into my “exclusive” circle. My circle is not “exclusive” because I am a snob. My circle is “exclusive” because I am an introvert and people often exhaust me and my circle gets that. They get that even though we do not see each other or talk every day, I am constantly thinking of them and sending good vibes their way and the times that we do spend together are meaningful and are best when it is just a few of us. And yes some of the times I spend alone are some of the best times ever! Once while I was walking in Emancipation Park, a man told me I did not have to have my face made up so all the time and that I can smile (I am paraphrasing) but I make my face up so people will not feel like I am approachable so I can do my 5 km walk with only my own thoughts for company and sometimes I do smile but I am careful about when and where I do it since I do not want to be sending the wrong message :).

For the past three years I have been having a blood drive birthday party – food, cake, drinks, lyme, give blood. People think I am doing this great thing and I suppose it is, but I do not really dwell on it. What really blew me away this year were the people who came for the first time, the person who tried even though just a few days before she was gung-ho about not donating because she was scared, and especially the persons who came just to see if I needed help cleaning up. It was a fantastic day and whenever I start feeling low, it will be definitely be at the top of my go to memory list to help cheer me up for this next year of my life. Thanks again to everyone who helped and/or showed up.

I am filled with hopeful optimism, buoyed by the knowledge that I am not alone both physically and spiritually and that this year will be my best year ever! So I am keeping my head down and  not counting the laps – swimming the laps at my own pace.






On getting older

I have been getting more emotional lately. Every other encounter almost brings me to tears. News of a new job or promotion, even comedies and just small everyday things elicit tears. I assumed it was old age. Something to do with being in my thirties. I “googled” and found an article that lay the blame at a number of factors including stress and not getting enough sleep. Although I suffered from those maladies, I was still not convinced. I still thought it was old age. Last week I was talking a friend about this “problem” and she told me she was going through the very same thing. Now I have empirical proof, it is old age. My inquisitive mind led me to another article that basically espouses the notion that we get more complex as we age. I am assuming that at least for my friend and I, this translates into us becoming crybabies.

Getting older is a very weird thing. I was not one of those children who could not wait to be a grown up. I had enough sense of foreboding to be ambivalent. Now I am all “grown up” and it is not at all like it seemed then that it was meant to be. I do not have all the answers, I am still not completely clear on what it is that I want be when I grow up, I am still childless, I am still finding my way.

Over the years I have changed not just on the exterior (I put on some pounds) but on the inside as well. There are all these campaigns that want you to love “your” body just the way it is and while they may have a place in someone else’s life, they don’t in mine. “My” body is not the body I have now. “My” body is the body I had at 21. I love that body and I want it back! I have been through these internal transformations, many without realizing it until I took stock and realized that I was not the same person I was last week. God and I have been through a lot. It has been a roller coaster ride. Everything is still not perfect and I have not had all the prayers answered but it is a process and I think I have pretty much accepted that now.

I have always been a loner. Yes I had friends in school but not many of those friendships were deep and meaningful enough to translate into adult friendships that have stood the test of time and distance. I am; however, eternally grateful for my small circle who have been there through a lot even if we do not see each other as often we would like. Adulthood has given me the opportunity to make some new friends, some after careful scrutiny to see if they measured up and others with whom friendship has been serendipitous affairs.

Every year I get pretty emotional close to my birthday (which is coming up). I obsess over goals not reached, targets not met, failures and mistakes and many times have a pity party. This year I think I am too exhausted to do any of those. For the last two years, celebrating my birthday has been atypical. I have been having a birthday blood drive and I will being doing it again this year. Each year I aim to get the equivalent of my age in pints of blood. If you are reading this and would like to be involved, see invitation below and you can also check out my event website here.


Just in case you cannot make it to my blood drive on the Saturday, the National Blood Transfusion Service will be having “donor fest” at Emancipation Park on June 14 to celebrate World Blood Donor Day.

Igol Allen 20160608_114742

Calabash Musings

I spent this past weekend at the best Literary Festival in the world – the Calabash International Literary Festival which is held in Treasure Beach, Jamaica. This was not my first time.  I have been making this annual then bi-annual pilgrimage since 2007 and every year it still manages to be magical.

Before Calabash I had never been to Treasure Beach. That first year I stayed at accommodation found by my adventure loving friend from Germany who had been to Treasure Beach some weeks prior. Back then I did not have a car or a boyfriend with a car so a friend from work drove us from our office in Cross Roads to New Kingston on that Friday afternoon to board the bus waiting outside the Jamaica Tourist Board building that would take us to Treasure Beach that evening and return on Sunday for the trip back to Kingston.

I cannot remember anyone who read that first year. I only remember taking it all in. There was a sort of reverence; except for bathroom breaks and food, I spent all of my time under the tent and in the bookshop. After the initial awe, in subsequent years I have spent quite a fair number of hours under the tent, but there have been some persons whose readings I have missed due to a nap that turned into the night’s sleep, lunch that turned into a lyme, a late arrival on Friday evening or just not being particularly interested in a particular author or segment. I am never missing at the poetry readings though.

There was one year when I waited too long to acquire accommodation and so did not get any. That was the year my friend Millicent Graham was reading from her first collection of poems The Damp in Things. She was reading on Friday night and I could not miss it so I, along with my boyfriend (I had acquired both a boyfriend with a car as well as my own car by then) and my adventurous German friend (who had actually been back to Germany and had returned to Jamaica for a second stint) drove down to Treasure Beach for Friday night’s activities and then drove back to Kingston after.

I have been privileged to have been at Calabash when the likes of Salman Rushdie and Derek Walcott were a part of the program. Over the years the Calabash stage has been graced by so many great writers, many of them being Jamaican. They serve as an inspiration to others like myself who have dreams of gracing the stage as well and not just for open mic.

If you have been to Calabash a few times, it starts to feel like a family reunion. You see people you know who you may not see at any other time of the year. You also start to notice the same faces and if you do not see someone you saw the last few times you begin to wonder whatever happened to so and so. Over the years some of these faces become acquaintances. People you can wave hello to and say how do you do? And as your circle widens, you find some of your new acquaintances are “Calabashers” as well.

This year’s Calabash came at a particularly exhausting time for me. I arrived late on Friday and missed a good chunk of Friday evening (but not the poetry of course), I was late both mornings and did spend my fair share of time outside of the tent. For me the festival was not the most earthshattering one I have ever been to. I enjoyed some readings but not others. I did a groupie thing and asked (well asked my friend to ask) Ilya Kaminsky if I could take a photo with him and he graciously agreed. I took photos at the photo booth. I bought only one book. If any of my friends are reading this they are probably dialing my number right now to ascertain if I am all right. The truth is, books are expensive in Jamaica and I was broke. While it is nice to have an autographed copy of a book, in many instances the Kindle version is cheaper or it is cheaper to buy it online. So I choose to be loyal to the writer at the expense of the book distributor and purchase the book by some other means.

The most poignant part of the weekend for me was during the interview with Chris Abani when he said that “Talent does not mean anything, it’s how much rejection you can handle.” (I tweeted that and got a few retweets). This is true for writers and the arts but also life in general. As I have gotten older (and I am particularly conscious of my age at this time as I have a birthday coming up), I think my tolerance for rejection has increased because I realize that rejection is just a part of the game and invariably sometimes it will not be about the work but you will just not be someone’s cup of tea.

The Calabash International Literary Festival has never had a fee for admission. I know this is by design but I also know that there can never be a fee because there is no way to put a dollar value on the experience. It is immeasurable. It is life changing. From a personal perspective, before I even went to my first Calabash, I had Colin Channer read one of my poems and he said it was nice  but I should do so and so and though I agreed with his suggestions in principle, I tried it and did not like what “my” poem became.  That encounter was; however, part of what led me to apply for these writing workshops that were being put on by the Calabash International Literary Festival Trust. I was accepted and attended my first ever writing workshop. There I realized that maybe just maybe I could write and that I could do more than I ever imagined with my writing. I also made friends that are now like family. The writing has been off and on over the years, and I have been engaged in different pursuits (like blogging, which I am not doing a particularly good job at at the moment) but fast forward to the launch of Calabash 2016 and Colin Channer’s Providential, where I told Kwame Dawes that he was going to be my editor (speaking it into being) and an impromptu stop at Megamart when I returned home from the festival this weekend where I bought notepads (because writing on the computer is just not the same) to begin my writing anew.

Many times we write with an idea in mind not knowing where the thought will take us. I started writing this blog post with Chris Abani’s quote in mind, and it has evolved into an act of gratitude – thanks Kwame, Justine and Colin.

National Poetry Month

It is April already! This means that we are now in National Poetry Month.


National Poetry Month is the largest literary celebration in the world and marks poetry’s important place in our culture and our lives ( This month let’s celebrate our poets, read some more poetry, write some more poetry and share some more poetry. Never read a poem before? You can check out this article on How to Read  Poem by Edward Hirsch.

In local poetry news, Ann-Margaret Lim’s new collection, Kingston Buttercup, will be out this summer. You can read an interview with her about the collection in today’s (3 April 2016) Bookends in the Sunday Observer.

2016 poster_0_001

Calabash is right around the corner! I have made zero preparation to go but I need to attend and hear and see the awesome writers who will be sharing their art and get inspired! I have been focusing on every aspect of who I am except for the writer. It is hard to carve out that time in between everything else that I have going on. I can barely make time for this blog. Right now my idea of reading Mary Jo Bang’s The Last Two Seconds is having it sitting on my night stand.  So many goals, so little time and what little time I have gets eaten away by fear and anxiety. I am trying to stop feeding the monsters and feed hope and optimism instead, though it is easier said than done.

I wish I could just take a month off to just read and so some writing. I do not even necessary want to be fed, except for maybe wine, chocolate and ice cream and a tequila sunrise now and then. It would be great to do this in a Swiss château but at this point anywhere will do. I have come to the realization, that I need my art so now I am just going to have to figure out how to get myself into a position to give it the attention it needs. I think this must be the cry of other artists and artistes out there but we have to be courageous and for us poets out there, there is no better time than National Poetry Month to get started on our quest!





The power of the story

Jamaica concluded its most recent general election last Thursday. The recounts are on going and at present the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) has won more seats than the People’s National Party (PNP). While many have started to dissect the loss for the PNP, attributing it to many different factors including better use of social media by one party and voters staying home, my take on it is that the party that told the better story won.

Before anyone accuses me of wanting to comment on a process that I was not a part of, note that for the first time in my life I voted in an election. I must say also that while I have faith in particular representatives on either side, I have no faith in either party as a whole or its leadership at present.  And while I had sat on the sidelines before, thinking that things will not get better irrespective of the party in power (and having not been dissuaded from that view by either party while they were in power between 2007 and now), this time I felt I had to make a choice of the lesser of the two evils in my mind.

But back to the story. The JLP told the story of prosperity. The story that even though you come from humble beginnings, you can aspire to and achieve the house on the hill that everyone is talking about while living right here at home. No need to go to Canada etc. The story, that if we get elected to power we are going to help you to the prosperity you seek by raising the minimum wage and the income tax threshold. It told its stories on the highways and byways, on talk shows and on social media.

The PNP on the other hand, told the story that the international community thinks we are great and doing a good job with the IMF deal. We are awesome and you know it so we don’t need to convince you by doing the debates, notwithstanding that during her term the country’s Prime Minister rarely faced the press. If the people overseas are singing our praises then automatically you must sing it too. It also cast doubt on the story of prosperity that the JLP had painted. It inadvertently said that you can’t come from humble beginnings, aspire to and achieve the house on the hill that everyone is talking about. If you did, then it was because of something untoward.

And while neither of these stories is potentially a best selling novel, there is one that is much more appealing to the average man who is not going to dissect and analyse the plot; whether the sequence of events make sense and the characters engage the imagination.

One must not discount the power of a story. Stories are the best way to teach, persuade, and even understand ourselves (Psychology Today). Many people were brought to tears by Kelly Clarkson’s story in her recent performance on American Idol of her song “Piece by Piece”.

Lessons get taught to us through the stories told to us by our elders. Sometimes we learn the lesson from just the story but the more adventurous ones among us, must live the story. Stories are also dangerous. The wrong story told too many times, believed by too many people can lead to disaster, think about “Chicken Little”. A negative story only does harm.

As we move forward as a country with the leaders we currently have, what will your story be? Will it be a story of apathy? Will it be apolitical? Or will you play an active role in the story? Will you be the change you wish to see by either getting involved yourself or committing to keeping the leaders we have accountable? Let’s make out stories count.