art in all its forms

art in all its forms


Poetry, poetry, poetry

A GREAT deal of poetry is being produced by this nation. The evidence: books, published locally and abroad; a constant stream of public poetry reading events, poetry slams and poetry salons. And, of course, the poetry that has been with us all this time: the Carnival poetry and its progeny: such as the still flourishing Robber Talk and a host of traditional characters that rely on language and live action.
In the last few months several new books of poems by Trinidadians have been published. Consider: Lauren K Alleyne’s luminescent Difficult Fruit; Vahni Capildeo’s magnificent and distinctive Utter; Roger Robinson’s wonderfully textured The Butterfly Hotel; and Mervyn Taylor’s haunting and beautiful The Waving Gallery, to name a few. Taylor’s book is published by Shearsman Books, a UK publisher based at Bristol, while the other titles listed have been published by the Leeds-based Peepal Tree Press. In the coming days, more poets will launch books. These includes Jennifer Rahim who will next Sunday launch Ground Level at the Bocas Lit Fest at the Old Fire Station, Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain at 1pm.

These are just books produced by persons who may be identified as Trinidadian. But of course the nature of this region means each country is larger than an island and persons with ties to Trinidad are also launching books, such as St Lucian poet Vladimir Lucien who will launch Sounding Ground, also at Bocas on Sunday. The great St Lucian Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott - of Trinidad Theatre Workshop fame - recently published a magnificent volume, Collected Poems: 1948-1913.

However we cut up and view the region it is clear: a lot of poetry is here. Apart from books published by foreign publishers, poets living here have also, increasingly, turned to self-publishing to get work out. Two recent examples include: An Uproar of Angels, a self-published chapbook by Akil Thomas; and what has been described as a second edition of Poemas of the Caribbean Sun by Jude Patrong. All of this excludes dozens of other poets being published in journals, reviews and anthologies produced here and abroad, in hard-copy format as well as through the immeasurably diverse realm of journals on the internet.

Additionally, there is a flurry of readings. Every month there is a poetry slam event called “True Talk No Lie”, hosted by Yvan Mendoza at Martin’s Piano Bar, Woodford Street, Port-of-Spain. Events are also regularly put on by Rachael N Collymore’s Poetry Vibes. Bookshops like the Paper Based Bookshop at Hotel Normandie, St Ann’s, also host regular readings. There are smaller salons. Additionally, events are constantly being put on by the Writers Union of Trinidad and Tobago.

Then there is the poetry that stays private, in secret note-books all over the nation. Or the poetry so ephemeral it is never named: the true Carnival of words.

What does all of this activity mean? Is it really new? Is poetry finding a larger audience here? I think all of these, as well as events such as the Bocas Lit Fest which opens on Thursday, present a good opportunity for discussion of the role of poetry in society.

Even with all the activity, poetry, unlike other art-forms, remains very easy to avoid. In a world now dominated by moving images and more visceral forms of communication, poetry, which calls for a kind of serenity and silence in order to be appreciated, is now more likely to be drowned out. Poetry must be actively sought out by the reader. Increasing activity by poets is one thing, increased readership is another. They may not coincide. But the mere prospect of an increased appetite for poetry still tells us something about the changing appetites of a reading nation which is, today, freer than ever before to pick and choose what it places on its bookshelf or iPad. Yet, what is poetry and does it require an audience?

As a poet myself, at the moment I don’t subscribe to any rigid stance on the role of poetry. I have ideas of what poetry can do, not necessarily should. Those ideas involve an engagement with truth — even through misdirection — and an engagement with social reality, however we choose to define that reality. Poetry, I think, is the emancipation of language from politics, mercenary duties and sacred cows: from forces that seek the opposite of love and freedom. Therefore, poetry is at once nothing and everything. To quote critic Stephen Burt, “Perhaps poetry needs no use at all; or perhaps it should do many things, all of them mysterious and beautiful and inefficient.” That itself is a freedom to which all — not just poets — are entitled.

In the coming days, the Bocas Lit Fest will present a rich array of poetry events. There will be readings or discussions of work by John Agard, Capildeo, Kwame Dawes, Anthony Joseph, Mervyn Morris, Grace Nichols, Taylor, Walcott, among others. There will be a film screening of Ida Does’ fine study on Walcott, Poetry is an Island. New poets such as Anna Levi and Gilberte O’Sullivan will read, spoken-word poets will recite. Word around town is that words mean something, then. So who is listening? Are you? For more information visit 

Newsday, Sun, April 20.

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