Persevering Like Palm Trees in the Wind of Adversity: The Boy from Willow Bend by Joanne C. Hillhouse

boy blog

Red Wines in Antiguan Nights

By Alexandra Caselle

I’m Tanty’s beloved—

tattooed with his mark, red

wine welts on my skin.

They hum and vibrate.

They channel the other spirits,

women I have lost.

My nerves convulse with

synapses of energy,

the call of nature.

Wind rustles through trees,

earthen vessel flooded by

eternal kisses.

Light particles, dust

specks swirl into a tribe,

chanting soucouyants*.

Words flow from their lips,

an all-healing salve, soothing

my prism of pain.

Daydream disperses

like dandelion flurries.

I rub red wine welts,

left by grandaddy’s belt.

His drunken rage, Tanty’s tales

One remains; one gone.

Whisper those four words:

I’m Tanty’s beloved.  Nothing.

Inside , I’m crying.

*soucouyant = [a] woman who is said to have the ability to remove her skin and transform herself into a ball of fire which glides through the night in search of a sleeping victim whose blood she sucks. (word taken from glossary found in the back of Hillhouse’s book)

JoanneHillhouse-Lrg

Image taken from Google Images–(original source) http://www.365antigua.com/arts/literature/BoyFromWillowBendRedux.php

 

 

 

Hillhouse, Joanne C. The Boy from Willow Bend. Turnaround: 2009. 978-1906190293. 95pgs.

Vere Joseph Carmino is a young Antiguan boy enamored by stories.  As The Boy from Willow Bend begins, he is enchanting Kim, one of his first crushes, and others with a tale.  He gets the love of stories from his grandmother, Tanty.  The musicality of the authentic, Antiguan language resonates like wind dipping in and out of multicolored bottle trees as Tanty scolds Vere for not being in the house before dark:

   “Vere Joseph Carmino, why you won’t take telling? I tell you make sure you find yourself home before night fall, an’ every night you come running down the road after dark like some devil chasin’ you.  Then you still expect to go back an’ watch TV.  You best haul your tail inside ‘fore I get vex.”

Tanty envelops Vere into a nurturing warmth and love that is missing from his life.  His mother is gone, and his grandfather only shows affection through physical abuse.  He spends his pension check on alcohol, and Vere’s grandmother has to find odd jobs to maintain a small cushion of money for Vere’s needs.  But soon Tanty is gone and she becomes one of the many women, Makeba the Rasta Queen, Kim, and Elisabeth who abandons him.

Imagine being a youth with no one for support, only a drunk grandfather who takes out his frustration on you.  Imagine handling all of this turmoil while trying to survive poverty.  But Vere survives and develops an inner strength that frees him from his situation.

Vere’s story may take place in Antigua, but the problems he experiences are universal. The book is a great resource to discuss those experiences in the classroom and learn about different cultures and language.  Language inquiry offers adolescents to study language through a network of social constructs such as gender, power structures, race/culture, and class.  It also provides them with an opportunity to study the structure of language linguistically.  Students can examine the lexicon/vocabulary, morphology, phonetics, syntax, rhetorical features, and pragmatic nature of the Antiguan language.

They realize that different languages and dialects are more than just “slang.”

Hillhouse includes an Antiguan glossary in the back of her book, which could be used to introduce the language study. Through language inquiry, teachers will instill an appreciation for language diversity.

The Boy From Willow Bend brings two classroom activities to mind.

When I first started teaching 7th grade Language Arts in Orlando, back in 1996, I taught a multicultural literature unit called Around the Literary World in 9 Weeks.  After reading and discussing several short stories from the literature anthology, I had students to research a country, create a brochure advertising the culture, share a poem or short story by a writer from that country, bring in food indicative of the culture, and choose another activity from a list to represent their research.

During the day of the presentations, I remember how I did not think about all of the specifics dealing with the food aspect of this group project.  For each of the six periods, I had to run downstairs to the faculty lounge, heat up food, and haul it back to the classroom.  It was worth it because some students who were from some of the countries felt pride sharing their culture with their classmates. All in all, everyone, including other teachers who popped in for a bite, enjoyed it.

The Boy From Willow Bend offers an opportunity for this type of project.  Students can research Antigua and other Caribbean countries in a thematic unit.

Another activity allows students to engage in creative writing by writing prepositional poems.  I learned about prepositional poems from a Florida professional development workshop.  Students used books they have read, pictures, or any kind of prompt to write a short poem in which each line begins with a preposition. Students wrote the final drafts on construction paper and decorated the border with scraps of fabric.

Students reading Hillhouse’s book can write prepositional poems about Antigua, a place in the book, or something else from a character’s point-of-view. They can use any type of material from a crafts store to create a mosaic as a background for their poetry. Teachers can also have the students each write a poem that can be combined into one class poem. To introduce the activity, teachers may want to construct examples, write each line on sentence strips, and allow students to put them together in poems.  Afterwards, they have students create their own prepositional poems.

Here is one that I wrote for The Boy From Willow Bend:

In front of the emerald green waters

On top of the pearl white sands

Inside the grove of palm trees

Behind the shanties

Down the dark road

At the dead end

Against the brick wall stands Vere, looking

for a way out.

Here is another one written by someone else:

Above us all a star

with shiny silver reflections.

Over all the mountains it glares.

Onto the water it shines.

Through the trees it glows.

Throughout the sky it’s seen.

From my window

During the night I see a star.

To learn more about additional themes in The Boy From Willow Bend, Althea Romeo-Mark has written an in-depth critical analysis of Hillhouse’s book here:http://aromaproductions.blogspot.com/2012/03/from-dead-end-alley-to-willow-bend.html

 

For more information about language study and inquiry, please see the article, “Feeling the Rhythm of the Critically Conscious Mind” in The English Journal Vol. 93, No. 3 (Jan., 2004), pp. 58-63.

Author Information

“Five Questions for Joanne C. Hillhouse”

http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/five-questions-for-joanne-c-hillhouse

Text-to-Text Connections

Here are more examples of Caribbean young adult and contemporary novels, short stories, and nonfiction that can be used with The Boy From Willow Bend in a thematic unit.  I have also included poems from American poets that would fit into some of the literary themes.  Even though City of Beasts is set in the Amazon rainforest, I still think it would fit into a thematic unit involving these works.

fresh girlFresh Girl  by Jaira Placide

behind the mountains Behind the Mountains  by Edwidge Danticat

before we were free Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

esmeralda santiagoWhen I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

city of the beasts City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende

annie johnAnnie John by Jamaica Kincaid

brother i'm dyingBrother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat

flight to freedomFlight to Freedom by Ana Veciana-Suarez

cuba 15  Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa

browngirl, BrownstonesBrown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall

krik krak Krik?Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

in darknessIn Darkness by Nick Lake

“Parsley” by Rita Dove http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172128

“Harlem Dancer” by Claude McKay  http://www.poetry-archive.com/m/the_harlem_dancer.html

“NaPoWriMo: Poems 4-6”  by Stacia L. Brown  http://stacialbrown.com/2011/04/08/napowrimo-poems-4-6/

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Persevering Like Palm Trees in the Wind of Adversity: The Boy from Willow Bend by Joanne C. Hillhouse

  1. Your poems are powerful. This one had a physical impact.

    • Thank you, Julie. The books themselves are the most powerful. I am just responding to and trying to shed light on the evocative narrative and characterization found in each one.

      Vere’s story really resonated with me. It is amazing how we can connect to different characters from different countries.

  2. Wow! You are most generous. Love the tips on how the book can be used in the classroom.

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