Sit in one of the spaces between the busy obligations of your life,
Listen as heart beat and deep lung-filling breaths blend their rhythms to sustain a sweet lullaby for your soul
Feel your spirit buoyed by the hand of the Merciful One; sit, listen, feel, hush
If you look; if you look; if you dare, look! You will find yourself in the center of God’s shadow
God was there all the time.
From On Becoming Aware by Dr. Gretna Wilkinson
Little Silver, NJ - Red Bank Regional is delighted to announce that its Visual and Performing Arts Academy creative writing teacher, Dr. Gretna Wilkinson, of Somerset, recently published a full book of poetry entitled Opening the Drawer, publisher, Cool Women Press. While this is the fifth book of poetry that Dr. Wilkinson has published, it is very special for several reasons. It is her first full book of poetry; her previous four books were chapbooks, which are smaller and not hard bound. Most importantly to her, Opening the Drawer is dedicated to Dr. Wilkinson’s beloved son, Wayne Everett, who died in 2008 at the age of 31. As she has turned to poetry all her life to navigate its profound challenges, so did she once again use her intimate relationship with words to cope with her darkest of days.
RBR’s Visual and Performing Arts Academy’s Creative Writing teacher, Dr. Gretna Wilkinson, of Somerset, recently published a book of poetry entitled Opening the Drawer, publisher, Cool Women Press. Her book is available online at both amazon.com and barnesandnoble.com.
She begins the book with poems she wrote while grieving for Wayne and even unearthed one she composed upon the blessing of his birth. The book is fascinating to read as it traces her amazing life backwards at pivotal moments she immortalized in words--a divorce that liberated her, a forced marriage that stifled her, a childhood and adolescence in the South American Guyana rural village of Vreed-en-Hoop that defined her. Her poems are poignant, clever and often very funny as in her Raymond series where the narrator literally expresses her child’s understanding of the adult world by whatever pops into her innocent head
As soon as Gretna Wilkinson could speak, she recited poetry, which was an important component of the public education system in Guyana. She became an avid poetry writer and also wrote and performed plays.
She explains, “I fell in love with language and the power of words. I could pull words apart and create new words. And my words, when I performed in a play, made people silent and could bring them to tears. That was real power.”
She left her childhood home at the age of 17 to become a missionary teacher in the jungles of South America. In addition to the English and Creole spoken in her native village, she learned Patamona, Akawaio, and Macushi, the languages of the jungle people. She lived among the Akawaio and Macushi Indians. Although her family forced marriage upon her at the age of 21,--“We cannot be parents to an old maid, matriarch grandmother said as she signed the agreement to give my hand to a man I did not want to know.” from Ritual Phases—She never stopped furthering her education and was able to study via correspondence through the London School of Economics achieving many different educational certificates.
When political circumstances forced her to immigrate to the United States with her husband and sons in 1981, she enrolled in a bachelor’s program at Uppsala College in the town of East Orange, where she settled. Although it was her dream to become a surgeon, she was pulled in the direction of her obvious talent and obtained her masters and Ph.D. in literature from Drew University. She bid her children goodbye each day by reciting a poem for them. Two of her sons also continued to write into adulthood.
Dr Wilkinson spent 16 years as a professor at Morris County Community College. She was published in many publications including Poets of New Jersey: From Colonial to Contemporary, The Literary Review, Spindrift, Sensations Magazines, Carriage House Poetry Series among other journals. She has been featured in several news outlets including The New York Times, The Newark Star Ledger, Home News Tribune, Courier News and has been interviewed on several radio stations including WNYE in New York City. She has performed in venues throughout the country through her affiliation as a Geraldine R. Dodge Poet and with fellow poets comprising the Cool Women Press, which published her current book. As an NJPAC artist-in-residence, she has worked with many children in the inner cities, helping them give voice to their feelings in poetry and prose.
Six years ago, the retiring creative writing teacher at Red Bank Regional’s Visual and Performing Arts Academy sought to hand pick her successor for a program that was so important to her and valuable to the school district and community. She was alerted to Gretna Wilkinson through her affiliation with the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation poets.
Dr. Wilkinson recalls, “I was not looking to leave the college, but Karen Haeflein (the retiring creative writing teacher) raved about the RBR program and wasn’t taking no for an answer.”
She has found yet another home with her kids at RBR who adore her and continually make her proud with their talented work, powerful performances and competitive successes. Last year, RBR’s creative writers won more Gold Keys (15) from the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards than any other high school in New Jersey. She loves to perform with them at school programs. As soon as Dr. Wilkinson appears on the stage her students cheer knowing they are going to be treated to more wisdom from Raymond, whose voice she articulates masterfully.
“I want them to become all Hemingways, Orwells, Alice Walkers, Dunbars, and so on without the problems, of course,” she states of her students and adds, “My dreams now are for them.”
Dr. Wilkinson’s fabulous poetry book, Opening the Drawer, is available on Amazon.com or Barnesandnoble.com.