A Voice from Cuffy’s Grave:Ivan Forrester Preserving our Literary Heritage
by Petamber Persaud
Guyana Chronicle
February 4, 2007

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“A Voice from Cuffy’s Grave” is crying out for considerate and due respect for the writer – ‘nursery left untended’; as it was then in twentieth century, so is it now in the twenty-first century.

The voice of the artist crying out, no, not for pity and charity but for appreciation, the appreciation of the fine, lonely and oftentimes unrewarding art of writing.

That voice is the voice of Ivan Forrester, crying out for more support of local writers, more support especially from the powers that be “who bequeath to us/This legacy of art”.

The publication of ‘A Voice from Cuffy’s Grave’, written by Ivan Forrester was due in no small way to support from many quarters especially from the government of the day. A government should always be the prime mover and enabler of a nation’s literature.

Way back in the 1970s, the then Deputy Prime Minister of Guyana, Dr. Ptolemy Reid, witnessed Forrester performing his poetry on the Essequibo Coast. Impressed, the Minister who was “an ardent lover of poetry and a watchful guardian of Guyanese culture” asked to see more of Forrester’s poetry.

Duly satisfied, Dr. Reid arranged for the “bush man” to go to the city of Georgetown in order to publish his writing. So the book was eventually published by the People’s National Congress and the Ministry of National Development.

How appropriate the name of that ministry – Ministry of National Development: too many people fail to see the importance of and the valuable role of the writer in society, too many people fail to connect the literature and the scholarship produced by the writer to national development. Because of this failing there is gross disrespect for the writer and literature.

Further assistance rendered to facilitate the publication of that book came from Denis Williams who wrote the introduction and from A. J. Seymour who wrote the end note. The cover was designed by Stanley Greaves while the title page of the book carried an endorsement by Martin Carter, “To be a poet is to be able to make a judgement. Faro is a poet.”

Seeing his name in print was an honour. But Ivan Forrester was also honoured in 1985 with a Medal of Service by the government of Guyana for his contribution to the literary development of the country.

He was also honoured by the Guyana Writers and Artists Guild of which he was a member. Then a group of friends paid tribute to him by staging a concert of his poetry at the Sidewalk Café.

1976 was not the first time the poetry of Forrester was published. In 1972, his poetry appeared in “New Writing in the Caribbean” which was specially prepared for CARIFESTA ’72, staged in Guyana.

That collection of writing from the English-speaking, Dutch-speaking, French-speaking, Spanish-speaking Caribbean and Latin America was edited by A. J. Seymour.

Ivan Forrester was born on February 5, 1929 at Manchester Village on the Corentyne Coast of British Guiana and grew up during the WWI period of scarcity of essentials. He was the sixth child of his father, Joseph, who was a balata bleeder and mother, Pricilla Manchester.

Manchester Village also produced the legendary Philip Moore who was born in 1920.

Forrester discovered art at ten. By age fifteen, he became serious about his calling which was later manifested when he was surrounded by the gracious glories of nature.

Forrester was educated at Manchester Scott School and by a private tutor, Mr. Smart. He sat the Junior Cambridge Examination under the patronage of Berbice High School.

His success at this examination led to a job as meteorological field assistant (he was never a pork-knocker). His sojourn in the interior of Guyana fed his artistic thirst as he produced excellent paintings including ‘Light on Terrain’ (1966) and ‘Mazaruni’ (1973).

The ‘bush’ blessed him with other rewards; he was able to meet Denis Williams, Wilson Harris and Martin Carter, entering into a long friendship with Carter. One of his few existing paintings is still hanging in the house once inhabited by Carter. The painting shows Carter fishing, a hobby Carter loved.

“A Voice from Cuffy’s Grave” is listed in many documents as a collection of poems but there is also one story, “do fuh do na obeah”, and short essays/ tips on how to survive in the jungle of Guyana.

Forrester has written many short stories which will soon surface to the delight of many who know there is more to the man than his painting and poetry.

One of the greatest spectacles in sport is coming to the Caribbean and Guyana – World Cup Cricket. ‘Farro’ loved cricket but would be unable to see any of this event because he is almost blind.

What irony: a man who has witnessed and tasted of nature’s glory, who has made excellent representation of those things in his painting and poetry, a man who loved the outdoors should come to this – cramped within four walls depending on others.

Happy birthday ‘Farro’ and Happy Valentines – you are still in love with Guyana, “perchance thy light in time will shine/To make such darkness bright’.

Guyana Chronicle, April 2005
The Guyana Annual 2001

Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email: oraltradition2002@yahoo.com

You can now get THE GUYANA ANNUAL 2006/2007 at Universal Bookstore, Austin Book Service, Michael Ford Bookstore, Nigel’s Supermarket, the National Art Gallery, Castellani House, Sandra Goodchild of Guyenterprise Ltd., and from the editor at telephone (592) 226-0065 or email: oraltradition2002@yahoo.com