Well, what I didn’t say was that on the very last evening I had my first poetry experience.
For those people who are not familiar with Caribbean writers, Trinidad and Tobago is home to most of the finest. True, Walcott is St Lucian, but he lives part of the time in Trinidad and patronizes the famous Little Carib Theatre (which I had the opportunity to visit when I was there), which puts on many of his plays. So T&T is home to two of the region’s three Nobel Prize Winners (and St. Lucia is home to two too, being the birthplace of Walcott and of Sir Arthur Lewis, winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics). It’s also home to many of the region’s literary giants — C.L.R. James, Samuel Selvon, Michael Anthony, all the Naipaul clan (including Neil Bissoondath, Vidia and Shiva’s nephew) and Earl Lovelace.
Lovelace still lives there. He was T&T’s Artistic Director for CARIFESTA, and is the most approachable and down-to-earth world-class writer I’ve ever met (I’ve met three of the other Big Names — Barbadians George Lamming, Kamau Brathwaite, and Austin Clarke, and while they’re approachable, they’re not quite so welcome-to-my-backyard as Lovelace). When you meet Earl, you would never imagine that he is one of the greatest masters of the English language; he is quite self-deprecating and seems almost confused when he speaks to you. It’s a blind. What he actually says is devastating, but you have to listen carefully to get it.
Here’s some of his prose:
This is the hill tall above the city where Taffy, a man who say he is Christ, put himself up on a cross one burning midday and say to his followers: “Crucify me! Let me die for my people. Stone me with stones as you stone Jesus, I will love you still.” And when they start to stone him in truth he get vex and start to cuss: “Get me down! Get me down!” he say, “Let every sinnerman bear his own blasted burden; who is I to die for people who ain’t have sense enough to know that they can’t pelt a man with big stones when so much little pebbles lying on the ground.”
This is the hill, Calvary Hill, where the sun set on starvation and rise on potholed roads, thrones for stray dogs that you could play banjo on their rib bones, holding garbage piled high like a cathedral spire, sparkling with flies buzzing like torpedoes; and if you want to pass from your yard to the road you have to be a high-jumper to jump over the gutter full up with dirty water, and hold your nose. Is noise whole day. Laughter is not laughter; it is a groan coming from the bosom of these houses – no – not houses, shacks that leap out of the red dirt and stone, thin like smoke, fragile like kite paper, balancing on their rickety pillars as broomsticks on the edge of a juggler’s nose.
This is the hill, swelling and curling like a machauel snake from Conservatory Street to the mango fields in the back of Morvant, its gut stretched to bursting with a thousand narrow streets and alleys and lanes and traces and holes, holding the people who come on the edge of the city to make it home.
After the closing ceremony and the reception that followed it, Earl invited several of us to his home for a poetry reading. It wasn’t a formal thing, and it was late, and we had a bus driver who had to drive an hour to get home and had to be back to pick up someone at 5 a.m. for an airport run, and so we couldn’t stay, but we did have a brief discussion (and drank some wine) and touched base with some of the Caribbean’s greats; the Trinidadian master artist Leroy Clarke was also there.