The Frock by Yaya Richards

The Frock by Yaya Richards


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



“We need to recognize our artists like Yaya who are working so hard for our people and our identity,”

said Dormoy. “It’s an honor to be involved with this book as part of Yaya’s legacy that can live on,

and to launch The Frock in connection with the International Mother Language Day,” said Dormoy.



Books by Lasana M. Sekou

37 Poems / Brotherhood of the Spurs / Big Up St. Martin  / Born Here Love Songs Make You Cry

Mothernation: Poems from 1984 to 1987  /  National Symbols of St. Martin / Quimbé: Poetics of Sound

The Salt Reaper: Poems from the Flats

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The Frock by Yaya Richards

for UNESCO Mother Language Day in St. Martin


Marigot, St. Martin (February 13, 2011)—A book party for The Frock & Other Poems by Laurelle “Yaya” Richards will be held at the Marigot Waterfront on Sunday, February 20, at 7 PM, said Minerva Dormoy, head of the Collectivity’s Department of Culture.

The new book launch is one of two activities, on February 20 and 21, organized by the Collectivity for the annual UNESCO International Mother Language Day.

The new book party will feature guest speaker and USM lecturer Alex Richards, along with readings by artists honoring the late folklorist Yaya Richards, and celebrating the St. Martin way of speaking as cultural heritage, said Dormoy.

“The young generation poet Melissa Fleming will perform Yaya’s poetry from the book. And we’re inviting the general public to the book party,” said Dormoy.

Other guest artists will include Fabien Richards and Leon Noel. There will be a skit of oldtime sayings and proverbs by Alphonso Conner and Lucita Richards, both natives of Free Town, Yaya’s village, said Dormoy.

The use of the nation’s mother language, “the way we speak naturally on both parts of our island, is the sweetness to the ear and the heart of Miss Yaya’s spoken word, storytelling, and talks about St. Martin’s folkways,” said Jacqueline Sample, president of House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP).

Richards had completed working on The Frock with HNP at the time of her death at age 55, on May 26, 2010 – about four months before the book was published.

The plan to launch the book on the UNESCO-declared day in 2011 came out of meetings between the culture department, the publisher, and Yaya’s family representatives Priscille Figaro, Adrienne Richards, and Laurellye Benjamin.

“We need to recognize our artists like Yaya who are working so hard for our people and our identity,” said Dormoy. “It’s an honor to be involved with this book as part of Yaya’s legacy that can live on, and to launch The Frock in connection with the International Mother Language Day,” said Dormoy.

“When Yaya came to the Department of Culture she explained that her book was a way to pass on her style of storytelling and cultural information to the young people. The book party on Sunday evening is a way to show our commitment and to take home a copy of Yaya’s first and only book,” said Dormoy. Refreshments will be served at the affair.

The Collectivity’s President Frantz Gumbs, the human development sector directors, and the Executive Council supported the government’s partial sponsorship of the book’s publication, said Sample.

The Frock & Other Poems is available at Roland Richardson Gallery in Marigot, Van Dorp in Simpson Bay and A.T. Illidge Road, Arnia’s bookstore at Bush Road/Zagersgut Road, Philipsburg Jubilee Library, and

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The Frock

The garment, pieces of love in harmony

represents individual memories and family

histories, people and places, births and voyages,

bondage and emancipation, jollification

and nation building.

From the neckline to the sleeves,

from the waistline and over the knees

to the hemline, here is a picture of the people,

of history and culture,

of green pastures and hills

given to us by Our Father,

of the nourishing fruits

sweet as the St. Martin we know,

of the surrounding blue seas and the bounty of fish,

of the heavenly skies above us.

This frock is fashioned

from the consciousness of the village.

See in this humble fabric

eight Richards sisters

the many salt ponds from Grand Case to Great Bay

blue madras memory of cotton and sugarcane

and all them other plantations

walking on foot from Rambaud to Longwall

for exchange.

37 beaches to match 37 square miles of God’s garden

church and Sunday cricket

coco plums and cherries on Long Bay

mountain cabbage trees in Paradise

and ground provisions in Sandy Ground

from our foreparents putting foot on this island

three-to-four hundred years ago

to African Liberation Day

and the Creole Day in my headtie

to the band around my waist in memory to all those

who passed over /

The band around my hat is the ark

of what the Emilio Wilson Park could be

Storytelling in bright moonlight like St. Louis Fête

Christmas baking, guavaberry making

and Ponum dancing

cornbelly grits and the amount of arrowroot

we pound in Colombier

and so many cattle we ship to feed people around us.

St. Martin culture opens us to the world and opens

the world in us.

See these stories,

a movement  of Quimbé in grace

and music in memory.

See in this fashion our living culture unbound.

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Yaya’s Frock book party draws large audience


MARIGOT, St. Martin (February 22, 2011)—Last Sunday, an audience of about 200 people “from all walks of life” came to the amphitheater at the Waterfront for the launch of The Frock & Other Poems by the late Laurelle “Yaya” Richards, said Minerva Dormoy, head of the Arts & Culture Department of the Collectivity.

The book party was the high point of the opening program for the UNESCO International Mother Language Day. The two-day program ended on February 21 with an “exciting discussion” on SOS 95.9 FM about St. Martin’s language and culture, said Dormoy. The discussants were political scientist Joe Lake, Jr. and USM lecturer Alex Richards.

The Collectivity president Frantz Gumbs opened the book party program. One of the two short videos shown about Yaya and her work featured Daily Herald “Artist of the year” Ruby Bute rendering and discussing a painting of the late folklorist.

The “St. Martin English” was celebrated in the blessing by Pastor Eugene Hodge, poems by Leon Noel and Fabien Richards, the skit by Lucita Richards and Thierry Gombs, and the literary and language analysis by Alex Richards, said Dormoy,

Melissa Fleming read the book’s title poem while Priscille, the author’s sister, modeled the popular frock that Yaya wore during her public appearances before she passed away on May 26, 2010.

Family members of Yaya during closing remarks at the book launch. The author’s sister Priscille, at the podium reading part of the family’s thanks to the organizer, publisher, and the island’s people – wears Yaya’s frock and hat. (CLF/CT photo)

Councilor Louis Jeffry, Jr. gave the vote of thanks on behalf of the territory’s government. The Arts & Culture Department coordinated the book party and the annual International Mother Language Day activities.

Traditional snacks and drinks such as tamon juice (tamarind) were prepared and served by the Richards family. Even before the program got under way people were “picking up copies of the book like hot bread,” said Dormoy. Yaya’s sisters Priscille and Adrienne autographed The Frock on behalf of their beloved sister.

Published by House of Nehesi late last year with a partial cultural arts grant to Yaya Richards from the Collectivity, The Frock & Other Poems is available at Van Dorp and Arnia’s bookstores, Roland Richardson Gallery, and from family members of Yaya Richards. 

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Spirit of We Fish Pon

Fish pon, fish pon, where you gon?

Yo mean yo gon gon gon fo true?

Ah wha we goin do now?

Gon fo true: no mo fish in the pon.

Shrimp pon, crab pon,

Yo mean to tell me every ting gon from us?

We lost the love in a sauce ah shrimps

A lil bowl ah crab to eat.

No mo crab in rice;

Ah where the culture gon?

No mo shrimp n rice n bread

The pon belly dry up.

No mo 10-pounder ‘n’ cremole

No mo hedo ‘n’ mullet

No mo bass ‘n’ fini, no mo, no mo

No mo corn mullets ‘n’ corn fish to send away

Or even to carry Marigot or Great Bay.

We culture dry up; corn mullet ‘n’ cassava gon

You can’t even fry on wood their own fat

Because they gon, gon, gon!!!

© 2010 Laurelle Richards.

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Nature Is not Innocent in the St. Martin Yard of Yaya Richards

By Alex Richards  

The Frock & Other Poems by Laurelle “Yaya” Richards celebrates her memory, her words, her thoughts, the sentiments and feelings that drove her actions in favor of a more vibrant cultural expression, and a recognition of what it means to be from and for St. Martin.  When the book was launched in Marigot in February 2011, as the highlight of the UNESCO International Mother Language Day, it served as the best way to honor the late Yaya, a contemporary St. Martin woman of significance and an activist in her own right. Over the last few days, re-reading The Frock & Other Poems and attempting to refresh a brief critique of the book, stirred aspects of my whole being, my past, my present, my future, my foundation as well as the identity I am still busy building, my internal construction, my nature.

I refer to Laurelle Richards as an activist because I believe that activism is needed in fields other than politics. Culture, the promotion of culture, the rightful definition of culture and its proper positioning and/or repositioning within our reality calls for activism. I called Yaya an activist because I remember her as the kind of person to: 1. SPEAK UP and address the issues regarding our culture; 2. EDUCATE herself before she took on the world; 3. STAND UP for what she believed in; 4. BUILD a solid network, a coalition, a movement; 5. PUBLICIZE her message to reach a broader audience  (And her book is a concrete example of her message that lives on even after she passed away on May 27, 2010).

Consider her words in the opening poem of the collection:

Wake up this morning

Praising God and stretching to the new day

Under the green shadow of Paradise hill

The cool breeze of Kawtah…

In her words, there’s a close connection between geography and cultural production. Immediately, right from the start of the book, voice is given to the volatile geography of St. Martin. Whatever the writer is involved in does not prevent her mind from wandering across her land. As she does this, she uses models of her own to express the realities of St. Martin as if to say that European literary models could not have allowed her to express herself.

Poetry and nature, expressed in most of her poems in the mother tongue, are implicitly linked in the idea of a kind of garden of Eden, a safe place, a place of hope. For her, this fusion, this blend with the land is also inseparable from a natural association with the “home” and the sense that the domestic space provides an obvious and uncomplicated site of belonging—a place which should, and can, be protected from outsiders, from colonial intrusion. Yaya’s unobtrusive subtlety in this regard may appear surprising or even subversive to some. It can be said that Laurelle Richards writes exclusively in “S’Maatin English,” the everyday or domestic language of most St. Martiners, what Brathwaite has termed “nation language” (others have termed it mother tongue, mother language, or nation tongue, all implying that language and identity are linked).

The folkloric work of Yaya, for at least 10 years, has been highly influential in establishing S’Maatin English language and culture as an alternative, as an alter/native, indigenous, cultural resource instead of the appealing exclusively for acceptance and sole legitimization from European or “Yanking” cultural forms. Yaya, folklorist, spoken word artist (to use a current term), presents in The Frock & Other Poems the choice of employing S’Maatin English as a deliberate and self-conscious rejection of inherited poetic models. She creates her own, she draws from her own!

Though it is just one slim volume, I feel strongly that Richards’s work signals a shift away from purely innocent or passive landscape and nature, a shift from a constant focus on outside and the outsider to a consistent focus on St. Martin people and the privileging of St. Martin language as a powerful source of agency and national identity. What I am foregrounding here is the importance of literary history manifesting itself before our eyes; what it excludes and includes at specific cultural moments and how this might be gendered; and what kind of writing it might, in turn, engender. Yaya’s archive also encapsulates the strong, black Caribbean woman. In “Precious Black Woman in Patchwork,” which is actually a modern set of fragments for the poet from Freetown, this monumental woman is perceived as rooted in the soil and having a robust physicality. Her vibrant speech provides amplitude with which to challenge European cultural norms that are elemental to the crude language that denies this Caribbean woman her womanhood; such definitive norms that even causes her own men and women folk to “dis” her very own femininity (hair, skin, facial features).  

When reading this posthumous work, it is essential to “listen” to the author’s tone of voice at times. The diverse range of representations suggests that Richards’ is able to negotiate a variety of poetic paths through the somewhat contested terrain of Sweet St. Martin Land. In doing so, she perhaps negotiates different poetic models but for sure, she challenges and transgresses them deliberately. For example, I love how Yaya presents tilling soil, picking salt, or ponging pan as a way of reading or interpreting history. As she puts herself in the place of the one she describes and carries on her activity she shares with the reader what she finds buried in the village soil, in the salt pond, in the steel pan. Here nature is not presented as innocent or outside of history, nature becomes always already imbricated in history; earth, our land, becomes an archive, which, with patience and humility, can be read.

To endorse Richards’ work and the St. Martin language, is to recognize her description of the home or the yard, our home, our yard, as separate and distinct from public spaces and institutions in which politics, mediated through “standard” languages, take place. She dares to present these private spaces as representative of areas uncontaminated by an unmediated outside influence, by colonial culture. In this way, Yaya’s work is essentially representative of mother tongue and mother culture at work, and not in any simple way, it is representative of St. Martin, the whole island, as an industrious and creative motherland or “mothernation” (as Sekou termed it in the early 1990s).

In closing, the poems of Laurelle “Yaya” Richards serve us now, to assess: Our language is an archives collection, a library and a wealth of knowledge; Anyone who denies us access to information in our mother tongue actually denies us a fundamental right. It is a serious error to think that a nation, a territory or a country, can reach its full productive potential if the people of that nation are forced to work, in their own land, in a language that is foreign to them. Multilingualism is a political obligation essential when attempting to democratize the society; it gives each one an opportunity to lend his/her contribution. Language is a source of creativity, spontaneity and self-esteem; it is an element of our identity.

Someone said: “To have English as mother tongue, is to dominate the world.” In the title poem “The Frock,” Laurelle Richards puts it this way: “St. Martin culture opens us to the world and opens the world in us.”  We language, therefore, provides us with a fair chance of playing a more significant role. Let’s embrace our reality and prove to Yaya and to all those who went before that we will preserve and generate dynamically what’s ours and thereby make our contribution to the redefinition of our villages, our nation, our island, and our region, the Caribbean!

posted 28 May 2011

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Laurelle Yaya Richards Passes

*   *   *   *   *’s 25 Best Selling Books



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#10 – Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 – Don’t Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 – Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 – Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King

#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


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#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Pelican Heart—An Anthology of Poems by Lasana M. Sekou

Edited by Emio Jorge Rodriguez

Passion for the Nation is what comes out of Sekou’s poems at a first glance and at a deeper reading. The book is a selection gathered from eleven of Sekou’s poetry collections between 1978 and 2010. Rodríguez is an independent Cuban academic, writer, and essayist. He has been a researcher at Casa de las Américas’s Literary Research Center and founded the literary journal Anales del Caribe (1981-2000). María Teresa Ortega translated the poems from the original English to Spanish. A critical introduction, detailed footnotes, and a useful glossary by Rodríguez are also found in the book of 428 pages. The collection has been launched at conferences in Barbados, Cuba, and Mexico.

Rodriguez’s introduction to Pelican Heart refers to Dr. Howard Fergus’s Love Labor Liberation in Lasana Sekou, which is the critical commentary to Sekou’s work that identifies three cardinal points in his poetics.

I would add as cardinal points: Belief or Driving Force of people in political processes, like his political commitment to make St. Martin independent, as the southern part of the Caribbean island is a territory of the Netherlands, while the northern part is a French Collectivité d’outre-mer; Excitement over his literary passions, which led him to found House of Nehesi Publishers at age 23; co-found the book festival of St. Martin, organized with Conscious Lyrics Foundation and to expand his culture considerably; Enthusiasm, which springs out of his eyes and words when you listen to his poetry being performed or when you speak to Sekou in person.—Sara Florian

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The Frock & Other Poems  

By Laurelle “Yaya” Richards

The use of the nation’s mother language, “the way we speak naturally on both parts of our island, is the sweetness to the ear and the heart of Miss Yaya’s spoken word, storytelling, and talks about St. Martin’s folkways,” said Jacqueline Sample, president of House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP).  Richards had completed working on The Frock with HNP at the time of her death at age 55, on May 26, 2010 – about four months before the book was published. The plan to launch the book on the UNESCO-declared day in 2011 came out of meetings between the culture department, the publisher, and Yaya’s family representatives Priscille Figaro, Adrienne Richards, and Laurellye Benjamin.

“We need to recognize our artists like Yaya who are working so hard for our people and our identity,” said Dormoy. “It’s an honor to be involved with this book as part of Yaya’s legacy that can live on, and to launch The Frock in connection with the International Mother Language Day,” said Dormoy.

*   *   *   *   *

National Symbols of St. Martin—A Primer

By Lasana M. Sekou

The hard cover book, a primer about St. Martin’s culture, historical personalities and natural environment, is listed on the US government department’s Bureau of Administration website. “We think this is a good thing to share with the St. Martin people,” said Sekou. “In fact, House of Nehesi is firstly thankful to the St. Martin people for continuing to read, enjoy and study this book. “Having National Symbols listed as recommended reading in the IPS section of the US State Department adds to the venues where folks abroad can be put in touch with original material about St. Martin and the St. Martin people.” The material from the book continues to be used for popular events such as carnival, for research by scholars, as teaching material in schools, and for presentations by government and tourism departments, churches and civic groups.

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The Salt Reaper: Poems from the Flats

By Lasana M. Sekou

The Salt Reaper, Sekou’s most recent offering, is made up of 18 poems from the decade of the nineties and about 40 new poems from the current decade. An informative introduction by Hollis ‘Chalkdust’ Liverpool and some intriguing photographic illustration are included in this text. They serve to cushion the provocative and intense voice that issues from these pages and lend perspective to the call for nationhood.

Sekou’s multi-creole vocals are subtle, but ever-present (‘becausein’) and his words insist on orality—they sing the nation off the page and into being. He has followed the example set by Brathwaite and writes with visual text that leaps off the page

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 — The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 5 March 2011



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