art in all its forms

art in all its forms


ARC 2 launch tonight!

Place: Alice Yard, Woodbrook at 80 Roberts Street. Time: Wed, 7pm. What: Spoken word event and exhibition (in partnership with the Bocas Lit Fest). For: the launch of the second issue of the amazing magazine ARC. Featuring: artist Brianna McCarthy; poet Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné and some surprises!


Trinidad's artist of slavery: Richard Bridgens

Richard Bridgens, 'West India Scenery'


The English artist Richard Bridgens lived and worked in Trinidad in the 1830s, a generation before Cazabon, and drew and commented on what he found here. He took not only an artistic but also an anthropological interest in the sugar estates and the people who worked on them. Nevertheless, his work has either been completely overlooked or else dismissed as pro-slavery polemic that offers little more than caricature. But it is nowincreasingly being recognised by historians and art historians as an important visual record of the last years of slavery. Judy Raymond is researching Bridgens’s life and work in an attempt to discover more about the meaning of his drawings and resolve these contradictions.

Judy Raymond has a BA in Literae Humaniores (Classics) from Hertford College, Oxford, and an MA in Afro-American and Afro-Caribbean Studies from the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University. She has worked as a journalist for over 20 years and currently edits Caribbean Beat magazine and writes a parliamentary column for the Sunday Express. She has written biographical studies of the Trinidadian jeweler Barbara Jardine and fashion designer Meiling. She has recently published an essay on the nineteenth-century painter Michel Jean Cazabon in the December 2010 issue of the Caribbean Review of Books


Bridgens is a very shadowy figure, and there isn’t a lot of information on him anywhere. He knew and worked with a really stellar group of people, but I suspect his problem was that he lacked any talent for self-promotion. For instance, he did important work on the interior of Sir Walter Scott’s house, Abbotsford, but the first couple of times he crops up in Scott’s letters, it’s as “Mr Buggins” (a rather hobbit-like variant of his name). He didn’t always show up on the radar. 

READ a feature on Raymond's research at the Caribbean Review of Books here

Event is on Thursday at 7pm at UTT's NAPA campus.

(868) 642-8888 EXT 27108/27126


Rage against the dying light

White Egrets by Derek Walcott, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, pp. 86

Terracotta Army at Xi'an, Shaanxi Province, China. Photo by Aiden MacRae Thompson.

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The poem at the start of Derek Walcott’s White Egrets tells us much of what we need to know about the rest of the collection. 

The scene could be anywhere in the world, possibly on the coast of a Caribbean island. A game of chess appears to be ongoing. Who is playing? How long have they been playing? This is not clear. But the chessmen, in the view of the poet, resemble another place and another time as equally unfixable and mutable: the “astonishing excavation” discovered at Xi’an, Shaanxi Province, China, in 1974.

The now famous Terracotta Army, reportedly dating back to 210BC, perform a kind of imaginative time-travelling that is a metaphor for the art of the poet as well as representative of the fact that, in the end, we must all leave things behind: 

The chessmen are as rigid on their chessboard 
as those life-sized terra-cotta warriors whose vows 
to their emperor with bridle, shield and sword 
were sworn by a chorus that has lost its voice; 
no echo in that astonishing excavation.

Like in Shelly’s ‘Ozymandias’, death—and how it reduces all grandeur, all folly, pride and hubris to something of a cruel joke—is Walcott’s theme, so vividly rendered by a technique of metaphor and a fluid transformation of images: 

Each soldier gave an oath, each gave his word 
to die for his emperor, his clan, his nation, 
to become a chess piece, breathlessly erect 
in shade or crossing sunlight, within hours— 
from clay to clay and odourlessly strict.

The poem is concerned with the creative process and, perhaps, the ambitions of the poet (who literally gives his “word” like the chessmen).  Each poet—no matter how ambitious—shall leave behind a body of work that must find its own fate: 

If vows were visible they might see ours 
as changeless chessmen in the changing light 
on the lawn outside where bannered breakers toss 
and the palms gust with music that is time’s.

In addition to the vocation of the poet, the “vows” here may also equally refer to love, making the chess game a relationship and the terra-cotta men reflections of an unending devotion.

But within the narrative of the poem, Walcott registers an interruption in the scene of the chess-players: “A sable blackbird twitters in the limes”. This interruption, abrupt and piercing, is death itself. Birds—like the titular white egrets—will later be seen to function as possible symbols of death in the entire book. Further, the sense of the poet being brought out of some meditative reverie by sound and movement is clear: “motion brings loss”. This process of the end of day-dreaming is, in fact, a mirror for the end of life. Thus, by the poem’s end, Walcott has established the themes of his great book: death, love, the nature of art, and politics.

The skill and craft embodied by the first poem is a good illustration of why the Nobel Laureate’s book was awarded the 2010 TS Eliot Prize and is up for the region’s first major literature award which is to be announced this month (April 30) during the Bocas Literature Festival, the first festival of its kind in this country.

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An aspect of White Egrets that has not been adequately commented on, in my view, is its structure and how it adds strength to the work.

In a sense, the book is really one long poem, divided into 54 numbered parts. Each part may stand alone. Some of these numbered parts are then divided into roman numeral sub-parts and given a title. In one instance, a sub-part is given a title. Between the parts, motifs overlap uniting the whole: the terra-cotta men reappear in different guises, the white egrets dot, punctuate, guard and haunt the text (“white egrets” also appear elsewhere in Walcott’s work such as in The Prodigal and in The Star Apple Kingdom where they are called white cattle birds); acacia trees sprout repeatedly.

The implication of this structure is clear: it mirrors the book’s great theme of the individual’s (poet’s; artist’s) life. Though lives may not follow grand, epic narratives, this structure suggests that real life is  something of a “greatest hits” CD or a collection of essays which, when edited and brought together, may illuminate a system or vantage point on the part of the author. The 54 sections, thus, are like episodes which, when placed together, form one coherent life; not in a logical sense, but in a thematic and pragmatic sense.

Perhaps some of the most vivid poems in the work, ironically, deal with political themes which we don’t expect in the sequence but which make absolute sense in the context of the forces shaping a life.

‘A Sea Change’ deals with the circularity of the political process and how change can be an exchange with something immutable.

‘The Lost Empire’ is a spectacular examination of the aftermath of colonialism and, perhaps most plausibly, a personal meditation of the challenge to global notions of development which this part of the world often faces: “And then there was no more Empire all of a sudden. / It’s victories were air, its dominion dirt:…I’m content as Kavanagh with his few acres; for my heart to be torn to shreds like the sea’s lace.”

This is followed up by ‘The Spectre of Empire’ which laments the individual’s relegation to stereotypes, among other things: “the costumes that he wore, and the roles that wore him.”

There are at least two poems that deal with the rise of Barack Obama (including ‘Forty Acres’). There is also another poem which has been interpreted as a response to fellow Nobel Laureate VS Naipaul’s politics. The first line of which begins: “Here’s what that bastard calls ‘the emptiness’—”. The poem is a counter-argument to the idea of negation within the developing world. Its very words are meant to counter the idea of a barren place haunted by Conrad: “…This verse/ is part of the emptiness”, Walcott observes of his own verse, cheekily.

There is also commentary on the media, the reader’s role in the artistic process, and the process of aging. Love, loss, regrets and memories are all touched on delicately, but not as end-points but rather starting-points. 

This is not the fiery work of Walcott of the 1960s, 70s. This is not even the iridescent Walcott of The Prodigal. But it is something almost entirely different: a calm mature voice, with a propensity to quietly rage against the dying of the light. 

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CHECK out the Bocas Literature Festival hereTHIS post is also published to commemorate poetry month. SEE another poetry month feature here


Out this month: ARC 2!


To our friends and supporters, ARC is coming to Trinidad.

ARC Magazine in conjunction with Bocas Lit Fest and Alice Yard is pleased to announce the launch of ARC Magazine Issue II on April 27th 2011. Join us for an artist signing, special exhibition and spoken word evening celebrating the works of our artists and contributors. 

ARC Magazine will be on sale, so come collect our various scrawls. This event is free and is open to the public, extend the invitation to your various networks. Looking forward to seeing you there and celebrating this milestone with you. 


Nadia and Holly

VISIT ARC here. CHECK Alice Yard here; Bocas Lit Fest here.


Nicholas Laughlin's 'Small Husband'

Photo by Andre Bagoo

Nicholas Laughlin is known as the editor of several important publications, including the Caribbean Review of Books. But quietly, he has been amassing a strong body of poetry, published in journals throughout the world. "I also write poems," Laughlin notes on his website. "I’m slightly shy about this, and if asked am likely to change the subject, but some of my poems have been published in magazines in the Caribbean and elsewhere."

PLEASURE takes a brief look at one of his recently published works, an extract from a sequence called Small Husband (the title of which is a reference to a kind of recurring avatar figure; a mythical creature that appears in different guises in Laughlin's worksometimes a little king, sometimes the poet John Keats). The sequence amounts to something of a deeply personal meditation of a persona who may or may not be the poet or may, in fact, be all of us. Tellingly, the "small husband" is mercurial and cannot be pinned down. Here is one part of the sequence, called 'Roitelet' (little king), published at Almost Island:

Small husband, I have been longing for you,
parched and hugging my tinder heart.
This afternoon too tranced and hot,
dusk too cautious and hot and silent,
night reluctant, each hot hour
holding its breath, what is it waiting to hear?

Small husband, you hide among the ants,
you wait among the thorns, your eyes green as the setting sun,
a heartbeat hunting a red stone under the leaves,
electroplectic fidget.
Small husband, is this where you will drink?

Small husband, I too sleep alone,
tied to myself, limb to limb to limb,
a hitch of grass and hair and string,
weighed in the earth of my bed, cold and red.

(>>>READ the rest of the poem at Almost Island)

Immediately, several aspects of this must be noted. The small husband at first serves as a kind of monument to time, with the diurnal workings of the world revolving around it: the "afternoon too tranced"; "dusk too cautious"; "night reluctant". The longing of the poet or the persona of the poem ("holding its breath") meets the personification of hot and bothered time in a kind of weird pathetic fallacy. 

This complex relation established, the small husband shifts (or rather is revealed further). It takes on insect qualities ("you hide among the ants"). It joins the chorus of the living world, kept breathless in anticipation of the object of desire. What are they waiting on?

Then: the personification/metaphor between persona and creature becomes complete: the idea of the poet merges perfectly with that of animal, even as the narrative voice maintains a dichotomy: "Small husband, I too sleep alone / tied to myself, limb to limb to limb." The poem has more to say:

Small husband, I too never sleep
in the loud night, the night like a bed of stone,
each star like a pebble flung to glass.

Small husband, you watch at dawn,
you call like a necklace of cold water in the rocks,
raincloud in your throat, a song like drowning,
breath battling the dark drag of desire,
a song of names that cannot be pronounced or repeated.

Small husband, I want to follow you
up the scarlet ladder of your throat,
the thread you snag from leaf to leaf
with knots to show I cannot follow on,
a shivering string that snags too in my wrist.

The sense of the erotic is, paradoxically, inflamed by the poem's stance against the erotic: it is deeply un-erotic and, in this manner, heightens its sensual machinations ("I want to follow you up your throat"; "breath battling the dark drag of desire"). The sense of time, animal and metaphor/multiple persona established, the further dimension of sound is added, deepening the sense of an unfolding argument ("in the loud night"; "a song like drowning"). The small husband is then given the same sensory perception as the narrator of the poem ("Small husband, you watch dawn"); and this is immediately, and playfully, subverted ("I want to follow you"). 

What is unfolding, therefore, is something of a dialogue with a Freudian id, but not just. The complex effects created by the opening stanzas culminate in the last lines.

My little king,
I dream you crouch in my thighs and watch through my eyes
the failed flight of my hands,
you creep in my shirt and your claws clutch tight in my lungs
so I breathe in winces, like a bird.

Small as you are,
small husband,
is there room in your breast for me,
a sprout of green,
for a long mystery, a great fire,
an arrow, an echo,
a story,
a solstice,

The regular opener for each stanza ("Small husband...") is replaced with "My little king", making the synonymic relationship clear. But as soon as this king is crowned, another aspect of the "small husband" reaches a climax: its relationship with self-defeat and pain. The "failed flight" of hands triggers an attack on the lungs, and a phantasmagoric escape where wincing in pain is a form of flight ("like a bird"), where flight was once failed. This is almost a sadomasochistic mechanism that marks a complex relationship between elements within and without the narrator.

Until finally, the poem presents the ultimate impregnation: the narrator seeking space within that describedsomewhat modestlyas small ("is there room in your breast for me?") The invasion of this, or rather the marriage of the seemingly disparate elements in the false dichotomy echos a human relationship, as well as a personal discovery. The curtness of the lines thereafter signals a consolidation, a quiet success or defeat which no longer requires the same mode of expression that came before. And finally, the ideas of fiction ("a story") and the re-assertion of the diurnal motif of time from the first stanza ("tomorrow") end the poem, suggesting a cycle either coming to an end or about to begin again. Like life. 

These processes are all, in various ways, reflected in much of Laughlin's poems. The idea of time as witness; the un-erotic as erotic; the personification of self/persona; the symbol of the bird (Laughlin has published several poems with birds as key symbols); the idea of deception and the covert; the struggle of self to find something: freedom, love or companionship. Common markers in his work include: the use of primary colours (red, blue); the repeated image of the bed as a forum for all of these thematic concerns; paper and the tools of writing as implements of a complex music; the alienated self. Consider an earlier poem from Blackbox Manifold

Mercy on My Small Husband

Mercy on my small husband.
When he sleeps bare five hours a night
wrapped in paper like an accident,
like an insect itching serifs inside an envelope.
He sleeps knowing I am nowhere near.
He sleeps near I know not where.
My small husband is an impossible sleeper.

Sleep is not impossible.
I cough and scrabble my blanket of fur,
my bed of cold white zinc.
And above me is all the clean glass air, safe from echoes.
Unmercied, I am bound in my own veins.
I keep my watch like a leftover promise,
staring at Orion’s crotch,
at the stumbling of the blind bull.
No one will surprise my small husband,
not me.

And this one, published at tongues of the ocean:

Here is the Poem

Before this was a phrase it was a pebble,
something slippery, something with little teeth,
the bitter of green, the smell of something red,
it makes you sneeze, it hums like falling asleep.
Before this was a poem it was a question,
or maybe the desire of a question,
or maybe the desire for something to happen,
the string that tautens when love is about to happen,
the question that taunts when the tongue encounters a pebble,
the name of the taste of something that smells like red.
A poem, like love, is always about to happen,
unless it’s already happened. The thing about poems:
poems are impossible, like the colour blue...

(>>>READ the rest of the poem at tongues of the ocean)

These pieces suggest a mass of work building into a discourse on universal themes surrounding the human body and various doppelgängers: on ideas of self-alienation and self-discovery; relationships, love and death; the struggle to reclaim lost facets of the self; failure and the fear of finding terrifying new things. 

Laughlin's poetry is also a deeply Caribbean meditation, in its concern with the geography of self-actualisation and in its subtle echos of processes known so well by those who are scattered throughout the Caribbean diaspora.

Nicholas Laughlin at Hosay celebrations, St James, Trinidad, 2009. Photo By Andre Bagoo.

>>>READ MORE of Laughlin's work from Boston Review, Poetry Wales, tongues of the ocean and many more here.

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This exclusive post is published to mark poetry month. 

No image satisfies her

Imperial (2010), by Holly Bynoe; digital collage, 40 x 60 inches

Holly Bynoe is a visual artist and editor-in-chief of ARC Magazine. A portfolio of her amazing work is published this month at the Caribbean Review of Books. As noted by Melanie Archer, Bynoe, in writing about her work, refers to Walter Benjamin's idea of the "fan of memory":

He who has once begun to open the fan of memory never comes to the end of its segments; no image satisfies him, for he has seen that it can be unfolded, and only in its folds does the truth reside; that image, that taste, that touch for whose sake all has been unfurled and dissected; and now remembrance advances from small to smallest details, from the smallest to the infinitesimal, while that which it encounters in these microcosms grows ever mightier.
>>>SEE & READ MORE here.