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Echoes of Dennis Scott

Trodding a Path He Paved

By Geoffrey Philp Published 11 months ago Updated 11 months ago 4 min read
Runner-Up in Father's Footprint Challenge
“Be the thing that you love the most about people who are gone.” ~Anon

Just when I was getting to know my father, he left us. I don't mean like he died. I mean, like he packed up his belongings in his trusty Vauxhall and went to live with his other family that he had started a few years after I was born. Those were hard times for me. The little that I knew about my father--he was an accountant who smoked Benson and Hedges and smiled whenever he saw Diana Rigg on The Avengers--wasn't helpful during those chaotic years after he had left.

I had passed the Common Entrance Exam and had been accepted into Jamaica College, JC, one of Jamaica's premier high schools, and I was terrified. For a small boy whose imagination was always bigger than his size, Jamaica College was enormous. On my first day at the school, I remember standing before the chapel and staring at a plaque dedicated to Old Boys, who had lost their lives in World War One, when a group of sixth formers with stubble on their chins, brushed past me. They were giants!

But if I thought they were giants, it didn't prepare me for my first class in Hardy House with Dennis Scott, our drama teacher.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, my friends and I had heard all their rumors. He had been a head boy at JC and had graduated with honors from the University of the West Indies. No, what scared us was the rumors about his temper. How he threw a chair across the room or shouted (with his booming voice) at a boy—our champion sprinter--who was trying to skip school, and the boy froze in his tracks. Other versions said the boy peed himself.

But nothing prepared us for the entrance of this bald man with a full-grown beard and hair everywhere--bristling out of his loose-fitting shirt and from under his gold wedding band. My eyes darted around the room while my classmates tapped their heels against the wooden floors.

Dennis seemed as if he was aware of every movement of his body. Did I mention Dennis was also a dancer with the National Dance Theatre Company of Jamaica? He moved with a kind of grace as if each gesture was choreographed. And then, he laughed.

No, it was a guffaw from deep down in his belly that filled the room with his presence. Everything that we'd heard about this formidable genius who was to be feared (even the teachers who hated him—God knows why—deferred respectfully) didn't match with this man who, in a world of bullies, made us feel safe in the drama room which he held as a sanctuary.

But by the time our first year had ended, he too was gone- presumably to Athens, GA, on a Schubert Playwriting Fellowship.

When Dennis returned a few years later, I thought I was ready for him. As the assistant librarian, I could borrow as many books as I wanted without anyone asking any questions. I quickly abused my power. I used all the cards in the books---back in the old Dewey Decimal days--and read all the books in the literature and philosophy sections that Dennis had read when he was a student at JC.

By then, Dennis had won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize for Uncle Time, and I was writing bad poetry. I was always overwriting, so he showed me how to make the nouns and verbs work in haiku. I was attracted to the precision, beauty, and power of haiku, and with Dennis's help, I published my first poem in the Sunday Gleaner, for which I was paid the princely sum of $8. But after I failed my “A” Level literature exams twice (I know Dennis was disappointed), I went to work at the Collector General in Kingston.

During that time, Dennis and I became friends, and I would often visit him at the Jamaica School of Drama, where he served as the director. Sometimes I would drop in at his home, where we’d talk about everything from the origins of the Gregorian calendar to the latest play by Trevor Rhone. Watching Dennis tease Joy, his wife, and how he played with his son, John David, and with Danielle, his daughter, gave me an idea about the kind of man, writer, and father I wanted to be.

For play was at the heart of everything Dennis did; he always seemed to be saying yes to life—the amor fati Nietzsche talks about. Whether it was in his plays or poems, Dennis was aware that he was transforming experiences into language and that he was being changed by an act in which economy and elegance were his trademarks. I also admired his uncompromising commitment to his craft. Even before his impending death, he recorded minute details with a haiku (Thanks Fragano) in the poem “Scenes” from the posthumous collection, After Image:

Rain slants to the street.

Nurses talk outside my room

voices like soft earth.

I channeled Dennis’s sense of play with several haiku in my latest collection of poems, Archipelagos, which explores the relationship between colonialism and climate change. Dennis's example of finding beauty in the ugly realities of our past and present, his economy, and his sense of community and continuity guided me in the writing and editing of the collection, for which, I suspect, I was awarded the Silver Medal from the Institute of Jamaica.

The day before I flew to Jamaica to accept the medal, I had a long talk in my living room with Dennis, who had won the medal in 1971. I told him how much I missed him and was sad he wasn't there to see that I'd kept my promise. And yes, I know, as one lady told me during an interview with the Caribbean Book Club, that he's probably watching me from somewhere and is proud.

But that's not what I wanted then or now. When I go on my morning walks, I want to see him with the sunlight glinting off his bald head, strolling through the parking lot, thrusting his feet forward—seemingly carefree, yet controlled—and grinning from ear to ear, “How you doing, man?” And then he would laugh.

I want to hear that laughter again.


About the Creator

Geoffrey Philp

I am a Jamaican writer. I write poems (haiku & haibun), stories & essays about climate change, Marcus Garvey, music icons such as Bob Marley, and the craft of writing through personal reflection & societal engagement.

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Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

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  1. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  2. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

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    The story invoked strong personal emotions

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Comments (2)

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  • Phil Flannery11 months ago

    Sounds like a great man

  • Thank you for sharing this with us, life can be hard, but there are those who are there for us

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