It has been a tough year for Mr. Juleus Ghunta. In fact, so tough that he thought he was going to die. He was diagnosed with epilepsy this year and at one point, he couldn’t even walk. Despite this experience, Juleus, 27, has just published a poetry chapbook called The Way I Learned to Ignore. The book contains 21 poems, and was printed by a Trinidad-based Bamboo Press.
Here’s Juleus in his own words on this accomplishment: “I’ve been quite ill all year. A few months ago I was diagnosed with epilepsy. There were times when I couldn’t walk. At one point I thought I was going to die. I had set a deadline which I was determined to meet. After long hours at work, I crawled, day after day, to my desk to finish my project. The fact that I had something that was so important to me to look forward to kept me going. Now that it’s over, I’m eager to move forward. There is much room for improvement. I’ve a long list of things that I hope to learn and do. In some ways, this feels like a new beginning.”
I met Juleus a few years back at an event for youth. He is a motivational speaker, calling his message “Dreamright”. I was struck immediately by Juleus’ determination and enthusiasm. He grew up in poverty in rural Jamaica, but was determined to succeed. He completed a bachelor’s degree in Media and History at the University of West Indies and continues to spread his message, based on Drearmright, which he created at the age of 12 and stands for:
Right To Dream
Master Your Craft
Goodwill To Others
Tenacity (Try And Try).
Juleus says writing does not come naturally to him, but that it acts as a catharsis. It is also a way for him to translate and make sense of some of the difficult things he endured as a child. Here is one of the striking lines from a poem describing something he witnessed: “He would throw her / across the room / Some men make sport of such things”.
He hopes this book will launch him on to a larger platform (he has already earned the Prime Minister’s National Youth Award for Excellence), from which he can speak about the horrors that children endure, not just in Jamaica and the Third World, but all over the world.
“I was walking around with a lot of rage and pain,” he says of writing these poems. “I needed an outlet. I wrote my first poem around ’08 while I was a student at U.W.I, Mona. My dear friend, writer and U.W.I lecturer Janneth Mornan-Green, and Poet Laureate Professor Mervyn Morris encouraged me to continue and to aim for something higher than my poems’ cathartic value to me. After that I thought about publishing. Janneth has been with me all the way. Knowing that others are sometimes inspired by some of the things I’ve written, or by the mere fact that I’m brave enough to set lofty goals and pursue them, is a major motivation for me as well. That’s a big part of what I’m trying to achieve. It’s my way of saying to others that your righteous dreams may not be prefect but they are valid; be bold, chase them.”
Juleus currently lives in Japan, and cites Edward Baugh as an influence. He reads Baugh’s poem, “I Wish You a Leaf Falling” every day, and also enjoys the poetry of contemporary writers like Kei Miller, Tanya Shirley, Lorna Goodison and Vladimir Lucien as influences. In addition to this wonderful book, Juleus has been published many times in journals. Check out one of his poems below and Congratulations Juleus!
The Way I Learned to Ignore
This was a time when
I dared not kill insects in graveyards,
nor wander around dark corners at night,
when shadows roamed
the space between my loneliness
to be loved.
My grandmother feared ghosts. I mocked her.
Alone, I learned that despair is a graveyard.
Like her, I sprinkled salt after dark
each verse a charm
the kind of ghosts
who, like rain, seep into crack-riddled homes.
On many restless nights I stared at the ceiling
watching my rage hammer dents into zinc
catching the rust of weathered nails
on my tongue.
At fourteen I craved simple things:
my parents talking tenderly to me,
syllables soft as Q-tips,
and always with their hands around my neck
like an amulet.
There was a stream in the valley behind my house.
There, I baptised my needs in the shallows
and hummed a sadness stretched and deep.
It was the way I learned
with a calm so still,
it could have been the eye of a hurricane.