How Oprah surprised me (Woman-I-zen #1)

How Oprah surprised me (Woman-I-zen #1)

Norwich : United Kingdom | Aug 13, 2012 at 11:28 PM PDT
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Recently, thanks to a posting in the Barbados Free Press blog, I got to see a promotional clip for Oprah Winfrey's eagerly anticipated interview with international pop music icon Rihanna.

The interview, to be broadcast on Aug. 19, is being billed "How Rihanna surprised Oprah" and “a no-holds-barred conversation with Rihanna about her family and the price of fame. Plus, how she really feels about Chris Brown.”

Well, I was rather surprised myself, but not by Rihanna: by Oprah.

That's because in the still-shot at the beginning of the video clip, it seems to me that Oprah bears a peculiar resemblance to a former girlfriend: Barbadian poet Margaret Gill.

Readers may recall Ms. Gill from the "Owed to Margaret Gill and Edward Kamau Brathwaite” series of articles I began publishing on this site earlier this year.

That series is a complex “tribute” to two very complicated people, who like Rihanna (and Oprah), are products of our very complex Creole Caribbean society.

As Oprah seems to be finding out, via Rihanna, Caribbean people are not always what they seem. But then, you might say, is anybody?

That is a fair enough criticism of my proposition so far. But before making light of the point, bear with me. This article may not be headed where you think it is.

It is in fact the first in a series of articles in which I will be promoting my next book, Woman-I-Zen: a study in soft power.

Yeah, yeah, yeah (yeah3): this is not about Rihanna; it’s not about Oprah. It’s about me.

Woman-I-Zen is a collection of writings, photographs and illustrations that I have been planning for some years now and expect to release in at least two volumes.

Woman-I-Zen embodies an exploration of the feminine principle, the nexus (or nucleus) of strength and weakness as exhibited by Oprah, Rihanna, Margaret and other contemporary and ancient models of womanliness.

Some men will be featured too – and not only the kind of men known to cross-dress.

Not only men like Barbadian entertainer Eric Lewis, formerly of the group Madd.

Woman-I-Zen will interrogate the opinions and behavior of more conventional, straight-dressing males - like myself – and our interactions with women.

As the “I” in the title suggests, it is in fact fundamentally autobiographic: in poems like “I’m gay”, I am in fact giving expression to an understanding of myself as being psychologically “effeminate," if you will: I am exploring the softer side of myself that another, earlier poem “The Iron Man” only hints at.

Actually, for some years now, I have felt a closer affinity with the fairer of the sexes than I have with men. I think I connect with women – some women – more easily than with men, generally.

For example, during my days at the People’s Cathedral in Barbados, I usually preferred the preaching of Pastor Rosie Williams to that of her husband, Reverend Holmes Williams.

Her soft-spoken, yet firm style of presentation resonated with me in ways that Reverend Williams more voluble and demonstrable preaching didn’t.

And while the sermons of both preachers could be quite incisive and insightful – prompting quiet reflection rather than excited shouts of “Amen!” or similar Pentecostal excitement - I found Pastor Rosie’s sermons to be of that reflective quality more consistently.

The fact that Pastor Holmes preached far more frequently than Pastor Rosie did probably accounts for the variability in the style and depth of his sermons: he no doubt would have been inclined to “mix things up", to maintain the interest of churchgoers from week-to-week.

But in the final analysis, my preference for Pastor Rosie’s preaching over her husband’s has less to do with factors about them: again, it’s about me.

Just as the non-demonstrative, yet firm, measured and meditative style in which I read poems from my collection “Standing," when I launched it at the Queens Park stables in Barbados in 1990, was about me.

(Incidentally, one woman that will feature prominently in Woman-I-zing is Her Majesty the Queen. Her Majesty’s love of horses and literature is legend: I hope she will find my stallion and mare like musings an engaging read.)

Margaret took exception to that style of presentation. She went further than that: she took to the stage, deciding she should re-perform at least one poem (probably the title poem “Standing”) for me!

It was done in good taste, as I recall. I and the handful of friends who attended laughed or smiled at her audacity.

Yet then, as now, I was aware of a need to demarcate the line of difference between Margaret’s creative style or impulses and my own.

But this is not to say that I cannot be forceful when I need to be.

Readers of my articles, poems and other missives (or missiles) published here, on my website ( and elsewhere will know that I can be no less assertive than Margaret, Rihanna or Oprah when I think I need to be.

The article announcing my Domino’s Pizza Reformation campaign is one of the more recent examples of this.

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Oprah Winfrey
Photo: Reuters
Junior Campbell is based in London, England, United Kingdom, and is an Anchor on Allvoices.
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