Watch. Read. Then occupy the internet.
Edited: I’ve blacked out all my other sites:
I’ve not blacked out this site because I wanted to share this video. But don’t be fooled. I’m entirely on board.
At least for plenty of the so-called “New” world it has. Enough of us still recognize in some fashion or another the landing of Europeans in our part of the world, that revolutionary mistake by good ol’ Christobal, to commemorate October 12 or the nearest Monday to it for me to title this post that way. In Canada it’s Thanksgiving; in The Bahamas it’s what we still officially call “Discovery Day” despite heroic efforts to change it, and in individual American states it’s Columbus Day.
The point? Well, if anybody’s at all bored this fall and has a lump of spare cash hanging around just asking to be spent, consider coming to Nassau in the first week of October to catch Shakespeare in Paradise and Carifringe (the artists’ answer to CARIFESTA, which I’ve posted about in many other places). The official schedule will be released this week, and all things are conspiring to make a holiday at that time reasonably affordable and a good bang for the buck: accommodation at an all-inclusive on Paradise Island for $150 a night, and a buy one, get one free offer through the Ministry of Tourism for airline tickets.
So. October has a holiday too. And whatever Columbus may or may not have “discovered”, come to Nassau make your own discoveries.
Hardsell done. Over and out.
The June 2010 issue of tongues of the ocean went live at midnight today.
This one’s a little different. We’ve taken a cross-disciplinary exhibition and put it into cyberspace. Instead the customary two pieces of writing a week, we’ve got a literary piece and a piece of visual art. This is how the exhibition—”A Sudden and Violent Change”, created for The Hub in Nassau for the Transforming Spaces Art Tour—was set up: writers creating pieces that artists used as inspiration for other pieces.
Again from Aditi Machado.
So, I’m trying out something new. This is perfectly silly and supposed to be fun. Serious and/or whiny people, please go away (for the time being). I owe Tom and Lorenzo from Project Rungay for the idea. They have this contest/game-type thing called Virgins versus Vixens, in which a classic Hollywood starlet is pitted against another classic Hollywood starlet, except one has a ‘virgin’ image and the other a ‘vixen.’
I want to do a literary version of that with dead white male canonical writers. (We can try dead white female writers, suicidal poets, dead Beats and Dan Browns later, I promise.)
Why dead white male? Because it’s a list long enough for this to go on for a while. And really, these guys get it so easy, faffing around in syllabi across the world. Let’s make them work a little for their fame.
OK, so if you’ve been following my other social networks, you’ll have heard somewhere, somehow, that Derek Walcott’s in town. (If you’re not sure where “town” is, it’s Nassau, Bahamas, where I am too). He’s got here through the actions of two groups, one of which happens to be the School of English Studies at the College of The Bahamas, where I also am. I used to be in the School of English, but now I’m where I figure I actually belong according to my terminal degrees, in the School of Social Sciences. But the School of English still treats me like I’m with them, and I don’t mind. I pinch-hit some of the courses on that side every now and then and still enjoy myself.
Here’s the thing. A year ago I was still beginning the vacation that marked the end of my indentureship for the Government of The Bahamas. It was all new for me. I’d forgotten what it was like to control one’s own daytimes — to not have to engage in the absurdity of rush hour traffic if one could choose, to be able to sit in a coffee shop (we shall not say the name b/c I’m mad at them) and write for as long as one liked, to be able to finish a thought without having to answer a telephone with someone panicking at the other end because they had no clue what working for government meant, and they’d encountered The Wall and wanted to know what to do about it.
Life was better, but I was afraid I was going to be bored.
This week, Rob‘s in The Bahamas with me, Scavella, aka Nicolette Bethel. He hasn’t picked the best day for it — the birds are singing, they always do, but it’s overcast and going to pour. Still, the nice thing about rain in the sub-tropics (which isn’t like rain in Scotland, which I experienced one chilly day in Edinburgh on my way back from a conference in St. Andrews round the turn of the century) is that it’s drama at its best. And it’s warm. So hold on for flood warnings and steam baths.
••• Continue reading
I will not be writing much about it on this blog.
If you want to know what I think about it, go here:
But if you want to know what it’s like, go buy it.
Very Like A Whale gets inside Susan Culver’s head.
What goes on inside poetry editors’ heads? is a burning question for publishing and wannabe-publishing poets everywhere. With this third Ten Questions series, we are showcasing weekly answers from a diverse group of poetry editors to Ten Questions for Poetry Editors. Each editor’s responses will appear as a separate blog post and all posts will be linked back to the series’ standing page.
Our responder this week is Susan Culver, editor of Lily and Poetry Friends.
Go on. Go check it out.
Over on Very Like A Whale
Very Like A Whale is tickled pink to serve as the launching pad for Rob Mackenzie’s De-Cabbage Yourself Experience, his virtual book tour for The Opposite of Cabbage, his debut collection from Salt Publishing. You, of course, have either already purchased his stirling collection or are about to do so.
We thoroughly enjoyed reading this beautifully-crafted collection of poems which is infused with a whole range of desirables – intelligence, humor, satire, the surreal, the poignant and Scotland, to name but a few. We asked Rob ten questions about The Opposite of Cabbage. He answers half here and will be back towards the end of his tour to answer the other half. Thanks for being here, Rob!
I thought about offering to be a stop on Rob’s virtutour, and thought for some time about it, and then completely forgot. As things turned out, though, it’s probably a good thing I forgot. May found me swamped with work as usual — I seem to enjoy overexerting myself; ever since I plunged into depressions during the long Canadian summer vacations from university (April to September, no kidding) I’ve tried to keep myself busy so that I don’t think myself into a spiral, and now it’s June I have the biggest project I’ve ever taken on in my private life (curious? Check here and here — and if you want to book tickets and accommodations, check either website at the end of the month!) and little things like blogging are slip-sliding away.
But that doesn’t mean I won’t be following Rob’s tour as closely as I possibly can. Go, Rob, go!
Edward Byrne, editor of Valpariso Poetry Review, notes that the most recent issue of Poets & Writers Magazine includes a discussion of online journals, which excites me.
The current issue May/June 2009 of Poets & Writers Magazine contains “a special section on the here and now of literary journals” devoted to information about the process of submission, editing, and publication of literary magazines. Sandra Beasley contributes a timely and insightful essay, “From Pages to Pixels: The Evolution of Online Journals,” among the articles included in the “Lit Mag Moment” feature.
The fact that online publications are growing in reputation, and are even being accepted as credentials for funding and for university tenure, is a happy one. The quality of online journals isn’t lost on me — the pool of submissions is larger, as is the pool of editors — which has a happy effect on the results that I’ve seen. My most recent experience with print journals has been stuffier and less moving than my experience with online ones. Of course, in my country, the availability of print journals is entirely dependent on the post and the depth of one’s subscription-fee-paying pocket (in my case not so deep, believe me), and so my access to such journals is limited at best. I’m there are those out there that are different. But I know that what I have seen tends towards the conservative (in the sense of conserving, not in the sense of being close-minded), the cliquish, and the controlled, not towards (as with the online variety) the exciting, the fresh, and the unusual.
Maybe it’s just me, but maybe it isn’t. Any comments?
two more poems went live on tongues of the ocean this morning.
They’re “Sunday” by Nicholas Laughlin (Trinidad and Tobago) —
Long Woodbrook afternoons when it never rained
—already this is another century—
the street agape, the households all asleep,
the smell of soap and orange peel under the stairs
—the smell of still having too long to wait—
and the aunts asleep, and the smothering patience of indoors.
and “Circles of Light” by Obediah Michael Smith (The Bahamas) —
landscape, moonscape, seascape
escape evening falling
sun into the sea
instead of upon your toe
or upon your head
and they’re both worth a look.
A Telegraph selection of the essential fiction library
So I’ve read 29 of these books. Specifically:
100, 99, 96, 82, 81, 79, 78, 77, 73, 62, 53, 52, 50, 48, 46, 42, 39, 38, 34, 30, 27, 22, 21, 20, 13, 11, 9, 7, 5, 4.
I have not included those that I started but didn’t finish, which would be a list of 10 more.
And then there were those I was supposed to read but didn’t, which would be about 10 more again.
The comments say it all. And more.
It’s 2009, which means that I’m no longer a civil servant.
And yes, that’s cause for celebration.
I thought I’d post a couple of images just to move the process along.The quality isn’t what I’d want it to be, but as I took them from my phone I’m not complaining.
The first one is a wannabe photo. I walked outside on Tuesday to collect the hammock in which I’d been lying, and stopped. On the telephone wires, silhouetted against the backdrop of the sky you see in the pic, was the waterbird that hangs out round our pool. It used to find a habitat in the empty lot that has since become a warehouse in the middle of our neighbourhood (don’t ask), along with taller, whiter birds (egrets, I’m guessing, but I’m not a bird person so I don’t know for sure). Behind the bird was the brand-new crescent moon, floating on its back in a limpid sky. And then there was the streetlight in the corner of the frame. Of course I was cameraless and phoneless and knew that if I dashed back into the house to get one the whole thing would change. And sure enough. When I came back out, a cloud had covered the moon, and by the time I was where I’d been before, the bird was gone.
But use your imagination anyway.
First thing. I’m switching jobs. I’ve been a bureaucrat for five years, which is the term of a parliamentary government administration. Bureaucrats by definition are enemies of change. I prefer agency, myself. So, after five years, I’m returning to academia.
Second thing. I was afraid I’d be bored. I know. All laugh together now: one, two, three …
Third thing. In order to stave off boredom, I’m taking on three major extra-curricular activities. The first one is up and running. It’s an online poetry journal I’m calling tongues of the ocean. The second two are in development and will be exposed as they come to light.
So there. Those are the three things. So if you’re wondering how come I’m not posting as much these days, that’s one reason why.
Having just discovered podcasts, I’ve been downloading it and listening to it in traffic.
And marvelling about the communications revolution we’re all probably taking for granted. But more on that later. Here’s a little quiet inspiration for all the writers out there, courtesy of AMS:
Edit: This post will become a page in a month or so, in preparation for the challenge, which kicks off in 2009. If you want to read more, check below the fold.
I’m reading (listening to) Ian McEwan’s Atonement, having watched the movie long after buying the book years ago, when I was recreating my home library after returning from eight years abroad. There are always differences between books and films, clearly, and what’s missing (what has to be telegraphed) is always the inner life, the thought, the meditation.
But more on that later.
Now that I’m halfway through the Africa Reading Challenge, including the works of young female writers alongside the spaces filled in my mind by Ngugi and Achebe and Soyinka, something else is growing clearer as well. It doesn’t seem to matter that the generations have changed and the gender is different. The stories we’re writing and publishing continue to be coming-of-age stories, by and large.
Right. Since I’m covering Africa on Blogworld, why don’t I follow this challenge over here? Blogworld’s more locally focussed anyway, and Blogsphere is more global. OK, so they’re silly distinctions, but it’s a nice way to see it.
I love these challenges!!! I’m going to start a Caribbean Reading Challenge in 2009 in answer to the African one. We don’t have the same kind of organization as Africa, being mostly submarine and afloat in the Caribbean Sea as well as in the world, but there’s no shortage of writing to be read — in English, French, Spanish and Dutch.
But in the meantime, time to read round the world.
I’m on Facebook, and here’s why.
Much as I shy away from virtual communities (I get quite enough real community in my life, thank you very much), I tend to join them when it seems as though there is a practical purpose to be served.
Here’s the practical purpose with Facebook (MySpace too, clearly, but I am not drawn to MySpace): it’s a cheap, fast-and-dirty way to announce stuff.
I live in a country where over the last 15 years we have gone from a single broadcast monopoly (one government-owned corporation that controlled all radio and television – Americans, sit in wonder, and then remember we were once owned by the Brits, who until relatively recently had something similar, at least with television) – to an open broadcast community and a proliferation of radio and, in the last five years, television stations.
Everybody wants to get in on the ground floor. Everybody wants to make money. But the corporate community is the same size as it was, and its advertising budget hasn’t increased one whit. What with fuel prices being high (though dropping), etc, the cost of advertising has skyrocketed but profits haven’t.
And in this market, what I (read we – we have a company) do and what I want to advertise is niche-specific and has a high capital cost.
I’m talking theatre here.
Fifteen years ago, a production would cost maybe $12k-$15k to mount. However, with judicious marketing (on the single television station) and good occupancy, the same production could bring in $20k-$25k. Doable, right? Leaves us enough to mount the next one, keep things going.
These days, though, you don’t know who your audience is, and you don’t know which radio station they listen to. Television is still predictable – the idea is to get a spot on the nightly news. But that isn’t either cheap or easy.
Enter Facebook and other networks. And the Bahamian public has adopted Facebook as its net community of choice. More and more people are getting the word about fun things to do out, and expanding their networks, and targeting people who are interested and ignoring those who aren’t. Pretty ingenious, no? And also pretty cost-effective.
For now. Until they figure out a way to charge for that too.
I was intrigued by this post on Edward Byrne’s blog, which provides (as the Valpariaso blog often does) video and text of poems. What intrigued me was not the delivery of the poem, which was pretty boring, IMHO, but the poem itself, which was one of those conversational Whitmanesque Ginsberg-related pieces, but which works as it is written, unlike the residue of that movement that obtains today. I was intrigued because I wanted to analyze why it worked for me when so many of the contemporary ones don’t. Perhaps it’s because this is the idiom of the mid-twentieth century, not of the early twenty-first, and we’re hanging on with slipping fingers to innovations of the past rather than looking to see what rough beast our age is about to bear.
Some gifts just keep on giving.
Some time ago, Rob McKenzie emailed a couple of his writing friends to suggest that we submit work for The London Magazine, which was going through a transition and needed to get material for their next issue pretty smartly. I sent in some stuff. Regular readers of this blog will know that it’s already paid off for me in ways that were unexpected, and that’s all good.
(It’s better than good, actually; getting a publication in a magazine you didn’t query is pretty doggone excellent in my book. Thanks Niki and Sara-Mae and Rob!)
So yesterday the gift kept giving. I got an email inviting me to read at Pencilfest, a literary festival scheduled for the University of Warwick in May. Big stuff, complete with live broadcast by Radio Four, the works.
Unfortunately, they can’t cover international travel, so I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to let the opportunity pass. Tickets to cross the Atlantic are exorbitant (you can get good deals if you book WELL in advance, but a month or two out, not a chance). But it’s the most exciting thing to happen to me and my writing for a while.
Thanks, London Magazine and Trespass!
A poem is an act of memory, first forged out of the need to remember what would otherwise be forgotten – in an oral tradition record-keeping is an art, not an act of administration. Early poems were to be recited, memorised, passed on, and a heightened language lifted by rhyme and beat makes the memorising easier.
It remains true, and always will, that a great poem resists being paraphrased, and resists being reduced to a simple narrative argument. It is another litmus test of quality, perhaps, that new meanings can continue to be found in the poem, and that one can go ever deeper without ever feeling one has plumbed the ultimate depths. This is not ambiguity or clarity at issue, therefore: it is richness, and resonance, and a lifetime of memory folded into a small, densely-worded space: in other words, a true poem.
(both links found thanks to Frank Wilson’s Books, Inq.)
I wrote this for another blog and another personality, but since I’ve begun talking about theatre (my other love) on this blog now, I thought I’d edit it a bit and post it here.
Theatre and democracy were invented in the same place and in the same decade. When two actors on stage talk to each other, at that moment a different emotion is demanded from the audience. It’s the emotion of empathy. The same emotion that is required for theatre to work is the emotion that is required for democracy to work — the idea we need to care about each other’s experience.
I took that quotation from Wrestling with Angels, a documentary on Tony Kushner, the author of the critically-acclaimed play Angels in America, which Oskar Eustis directed for the Eureka Theatre Company, San Francisco. Kushner’s work is brilliant, and it critiques in every line the ideas that societies take for granted.
Now the thing I like about the USA (there’s plenty I dislike too, so pay attention) is that democracy works, for the most part, there. Or perhaps it would be more accurate is that democracy is given room to work — many American citizens seem to miss the point of their freedom, and spend plenty of time and money trying either to curb other people’s (such as in the banning and burning of books from schools, the banning of public prayer and the like, or — most sinister — the making of legal exceptions against rights to privacy and speedy justice and the like for people who are not American citizens). Be that as it may, democracy can thrive in the US if people want it enough. And Tony Kushner wants it.
His epic play (it’s a single play, split into two movements) examines a whole sweep of things, and for me to try and say what it’s about would be futile. Suffice to say, though, that it examines the deaths from AIDS of two gay men. One of them’s Prior Walter, an everyday, ordinary gay guy, who begins the play happily when he gets his diagnosis, living pretty monogamously with his lover, who’s out and living with his homosexuality in New York, where there’s room for it. The other the closeted, hatemongering Republican lawyer Roy Cohn, who is also dying alone from AIDS. The two men move towards death through a series of visions/hallucinations/visits from otherwordly beings — Prior Walter by the Angel of the title, along with a series of his ancestors, all of them also bearing the name Prior Walter (it’s an ancient family name), and Roy Cohn by Ethel Rosenberg, whose death he was responsible for.
But enough about that; if you’re interested in the play, you can check out the HBO Miniseries version of it and see it for yourself. My point is what Eustis had to say about theatre and democracy.
Both, he says, are inventions of the ancient Greeks and both were invented in the same decade. Leaving aside the ethnocentrism of that idea for the moment, the fact that one group of people formalized both around the same time is remarkable; it’s possible to suggest that there’s a connection between the two. The Wikipedia article to which I linked (and I always tell my students not to rely on Wikipedia articles, because they aren’t guaranteed to be either accurate or unbiased, but never mind) points out a far deeper origin to theatre, one which I would be inclined to accept. The point is, though, that the kind of Western theatre tradition that we in the Caribbean have half-adopted as our own is one that’s all about characters — people — in crucial positions. To succeed, that kind of theatre does indeed depend on empathy. And Eustis is claiming that empathy is fundamental to the practice of democracy as well.
I think I agree. That should come as no surprise to anybody, considering that I’m a playwright and a theatre enthusiast, but I do believe that there is something both powerful and transformative about being in the same space with people who are telling big and epic stories. Theatre is similar to, but different from film, in that the very democratic nature of theatre requires the actors to tell their stories again and again, fresh every time, to different sets of people, without a mediator, whereas film is ultimately the creation of a director. The democratic difference should be evident there. When the director retires from the production the play is set in motion, and it is owned from there on by the performers and technicians, by the whole team that brings it all together, all the time, all at the same time as the audience. But the director (and, of course, the producers) never retires from the film. When the film is finished, it is the director’s — not the writer’s or the actors’, though the actors can make a big impression — it’s the director’s because the director picks what parts of the actor he wants to show.
Lorca, too, appeared to have a similar feeling about theatre. He wrote the following about the place of theatre in the creation of nations:
A nation that does not support and encourage its theatre is — if not dead — dying; just as a theatre that does not capture with laughter and tears the social and historical pulse, the drama of its people, the genuine color of the spiritual and natural landscape, has no right to call itself theatre; but only a place for amusement.
A taste of Junkanoo
This is something I don’t write about much on this blog, reserving the most patriotic of my stuff for my other blog, the one with my Real Name. Why, I don’t rightly know, but I do know that I have a kind of divide in my brain and in my blogging. Some of my stuff is political (in the global sense), local, and sometimes controversial; I’m rooted in my culture and my society and Blogworld is where that surfaces. Here, though, I get to express my creative, individual, personal, anonymous side.
Junkanoo belongs to my public side.
It’s also deeply embedded in the private me, as I first rushed (participated) when I was seven, going to Junkanoo with my brother and cousin-brothers. I blew a whistle and when I got tired (which was quick) I rode on the shoulders of my uncle, who is six-four and a big man.
And so here’s a little bit about Junkanoo — in video form, for your viewing pleasure. I could share some pretty dreadful poetry with you too, but I don’t think I will. Dreadful isn’t the word, I’m afraid.
Hooray for YouTube!
Sperit Scrap Group
Been reading a lot of atheist stuff lately. I think Harry inspired me initially, and then I found a number of sites which I follow, though my favourites are
On Sunday past, I found myself at a Christmas concert that ended with the Hallelujah Chorus (what else), which led me to think about the nature of art, of worship, and of transcendence. Great art engenders transcendence, or aims to. So what’s the purpose, I wondered, of music like The Messiah in a world without God? What motivates artists to create work of that magnitude? What might lie behind the creation of such work without a religious tradition to engender it?
I still believe in God, in some reluctant, furtive part of me. I’m not proud of it. I understand atheists, who are averse to religious people as they might be averse to fat people, as being actually quite dangerous in their weakness. So I am weak (and slightly fat, indeed) and a bit too ethnic, if it comes down to it. I just won’t shape up and become a proper person who believes in nothing at all.
Meanwhile, my daughter is in thrall to the sublime and my son ‘loves Jesus more than Santa Claus’. I have no interest in applying a bracing dose of reason to their credulity: I just don’t feel like pointing out the error of their ways. It is already clear that belief is something they claim as a personal possession, one that they will defend if I try to take it away. This is something akin to sexuality. It is, already, none of my business.
I spent two years in an English class with this woman. We always knew she’d be great.
Thanks, Harry, for pointing me to this.
Thanks, Anne. Salut.
So here’s the thing.
I’m halfway through his latest, Divisadero, which I’m listening to on the iPod, and I’m drowning in it. The language is, of course, full of interesting and arresting surprises — but it’s the plotting that’s attracting me. Not that the plot is revealed all at once, of course. What I’m enjoying is the way in which the book is structured, moving from story to story, from character to character, in such a full and complete way that every time I leave one story and character to pick up the threads of another I resent it. I resent it every time, which means that despite the resentment I feel at moving from one character’s tale to another’s, I am swallowed entirely by the new one and resent moving on, or even moving back.
I’ve read three other Ondaatje, and dipped into a fourth. Of course my first was The English Patient. I tried In the Skin of the Lion but didn’t finish. I started Anil’s Ghost but had to wait for the audio version to get through it — and I’m glad I did. Now Divisadero.
I’ve decided to buy the print version of this book when I’m done listening. It’s like there.
This post, by Perry on Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast, illustrates pretty well what I mean by knowledge that we don’t know in our heads. She describes how she does her daughters’ hair this way:
My husband does not understand it, but when I first begin braiding I actually have to concentrate. I cannot discuss what I want to have for dinner that evening, or laugh at a witty commercial on TV, or opine about the merits of one summer camp over another. The simple rote act of correctly crossing three strands of hair to make neat rows of crop-like patterns requires all of my PhD-bound brain power.
Often I must comb out unsuccessful rows and begin anew. Almost always, my first attempts at sectioning hair into parts with the tip of my pink rat-tailed comb are ragged and rough. Sometimes early on I try to rush the process, combing through a section of hair before all the tangles are out–resulting in predictable pain and cries.
I have been known to poke a patient little girl in the ear lobe or eye with a comb, brush, or thumb.
And it’s funny she and sefton should be engaged in this discussion. I started a post that was inspired by this one, by Geoffrey Philp, talking about engagement, and putting into words what has been true in my own reading and thinking about Caribbean literature and out great poets. I have always followed the school that believes Brathwaite is as great as Walcott (and, apparently far, far more engaged) but is greatly overlooked. In truth, there was a time when I thought Brathwaite was greater, and regarded Walcott’s global popularity with a selling out — in form, if not in substance, and in poetry, what difference is there? — of his identity, his politics, and his place in the world, akin, if not equivalent, to Naipaul’s repudiation of everything that made him.
Philp’s observation has changed my mind.
… even as I read more and more books by Caribbean writers and got rid of the ideas that Africa represented “impurity and immorality” and Europe represented “purity and morality,” I fretted over my immortal soul. This is not to say that some of the binary oppositions did not materialize in my readings. I suspect now that the placement of Walcott and Brathwaite in opposite camps may have to do with this tendency. Read Walcott and go to heaven; read Brathwaite and go to hell.
Imagine, then, my surprise a few years ago as I was reading Omeros in which Walcott meditates on the themes of character, observation, and language, and I came upon this passage:
Then everything fit. The pirogues crouched on the sand
Like hounds with sprigs in their teeth. The priest
sprinkled them with a bell, then he made the swift’s sign.
When he smiled at Achille’s canoe, In God We Troust,
Achille said: “Leave it! Is God’ spelling and mine.”
In this very telling scene, the position of the priest as a representative of the patrician order and European tradition, and Achille as the natural Caribbean man who inhabits a universe where “Ogun can fire one with his partner Zeus” intrigued me. The priest’s bemusement with Achille’s character is reflected in his condescending smile. Achille responds to this seeming moral indictment because he cannot spell the word, “trust” with the retort, “Leave it! Is God’ spelling and mine.” A battle over individuality, morality, divinity, and spelling was being fought on a Caribbean beach. I loved it.
That passage was also a point of confluence for me. For despite what some of their followers claim, Brathwaite and Walcott have many traits in common. For example, both Walcott and Brathwaite are fascinated with the slippages and neologisms that have become part of the Caribbean vocabulary and how they convey identity.
I started to read Walcott late in life. His style was too classical for my taste, too formal, too European, not challenging or oral or revolutionary enough for my mind. He wasn’t doing what a Caribbean man, a man of colour and with social obligations, a man with a responsibility to advocate for his community, should do. And I had been weaned on Brathwaite, who is an in-your-face iconoclast, to the point of having broken faith with all his communities. Walcott lives much of the time in the Caribbean now, despite the superficial Eurocentrism of his style. Brathwaite visits, but lives in the US. He claims Barbados breaks his heart.
Now, having spent most of my career judging our two greatest poets, I’d rather not do it any more. Their first responsibility is to themselves, not to me or their countrymen or anybody else. Their cultures will define them whatever they consciously choose; Naipaul’s has defined him, and continues to do so, despite his desperation to cleanse himself of his Caribbeanness.
So I’ll end, as sefton did, by invoking Blake, and saying that all good art is revolutionary. Something to keep in mind.
…over on PFFA, that is.
AS EVERYONE who is not locked in a dungeon knows, the story of Anna Nicole Smith has received overwhelming attention in recent weeks. The mainstream American press, in fact, has taken a good deal of stick from its more highbrow readers for devoting so many inches to the unfolding narrative of this woman, her lovers and her child.
But how could it be otherwise? This story was destined from the outset to take over Page 1 — precisely because it is a classic, a melodrama with exactly the kind of plot that has fascinated people as long as there’s been literature and stories to tell. Following its twists and turns, it’s impossible not to get the blurry feeling that one is reading a good old-fashioned novel.
Does this, for instance, sound familiar? In 1878, Anthony Trollope (that greatest of Victorian storytellers) offered his loyal readers “Is He Popenjoy?” It’s my favorite of the 47 novels he published, and it has an irresistible, hook-in-the-jaw story. A British aristocrat, fabulously wealthy, goes off to Italy and is trapped into marriage by a scheming foreign Delilah. He has a son and heir — thus disowning the thoroughly decent, and somewhat distant, English relative who had expected to inherit. But did the Marquis of Brotherton actually marry his foreign floozy? Is this young son indeed the heir, or is he a bastard? Can the lawyers save the day? A title, a vast fortune, a great country house hang in the balance.
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.
How many other festivals do you people know like this?
i.e. regional (as in international, not sub-national) arts festivals that are multidisciplinary and polyglot?
How much interest would you have in attending something like this?