Queen Elizabeth has awarded Sunshine Coast writer Lorna Goodison the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, an honour reserved for the best living poets in the British Commonwealth.
Goodison, also the current poet laureate of Jamaica, lives with her husband, retired English literature professor J. Edward (Ted) Chamberlin, in Halfmoon Bay. Goodison told Coast Reporter she would travel to London this spring to receive the medal officially in an audience with the Queen at Buckingham Palace.
She said she was notified of the award late last fall by the poet laureate of the United Kingdom, Simon Armitage. “I spoke to him on the telephone, nice chap. They were offering me this medal, and would I accept it? I said, ‘Yes,’” Goodison said with a smile. “It was really a surprise, a wonderful surprise.”
The recipient of the medal, which has been awarded since 1934 – and not always annually – is recommended by a committee chaired by the poet laureate. Final approval must then come from the monarch herself. Previous recipients have included legendary poets W.H. Auden, Robert Graves, Philip Larkin, and John Betjeman.
Said Armitage in the Dec. 18, 2019 official announcement: “Lorna Goodison has come to be recognised as a hugely significant and influential contemporary author both at home and internationally.”
Goodison, 72, has published 13 collections of poetry as well as a selection of short stories. A collection of her work was published by Carcanet Press in 2017, and contains more than 400 poems, including a delightful piece about a real-life encounter with a bear outside Gibsons.
The past few years have seen Goodison recognized repeatedly for her work. In 2017, she was named poet laureate of her native Jamaica; in 2018, she received the prestigious U.S. Windham-Campbell Prize; in 2019, she was awarded an honorary doctorate (as was her husband) at the University of Toronto; and now, the Queen’s medal. “I am profoundly grateful, that’s all I can say. Really, really, deeply grateful,” Goodison said.
The eighth of nine children, Goodison did some writing in her youth but had not planned to be a poet. She instead pursued a career as a visual artist, studying painting in Jamaica and later in New York City with renowned African-American painter Jacob Lawrence. (Her impressionist paintings are on the covers of some of her books.) In her first exhibition, she also displayed some of her early poetry along with the canvasses. As a young working mother, she soon had to choose how she would spend her limited creative time. “Painting just fell away,” she said.
Goodison credits her husband with much of her success. “I kind of feel that ‘we’ got [the medal],” she said. “A lot of what I do I could not do without Ted’s support.”
For his part, Chamberlin credits Goodison’s “ferocious” work ethic. “I’ve seen her working on a poem, not steadily, but it will still be two years before she’s finished it. She’ll say, ‘the last two lines are not right.’ And she won’t let it go. She wakes in the middle of the night and jumps up and says, ‘I think I got it!’ For her, it’s a real craft.”