Kenny Phillips began learning to play the guitar at the age of 17 when his elder sister, Dr Diane Williams, brought home a guitar from her music class at Naparima Girls’ College.
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Forces of nature bound in words
Hurricanes and Wakes, the inaugural NGC Bocas Lit Fest event for 2016, featured readings of previously published work from Andre Bagoo, Shivanee Ramlochan and winner of the 2012 OCM Bocas Prize for Poetry, Puerto Rican poet Loretta Collins Klobah. The reading took place January 11, at Alice Yard, an arts space on Roberts Street, Woodbrook.
First was Ramlochan, who read Shepherd Boxcutter 1, Shepherd Boxcutter 2 and Caracara, which were published in a recent special edition of Buccoo Magazine featuring emerging writers who had not yet published a full anthology. The Sunday Arts Section books writer then continued with Materna from the recently published anthology Coming Up Hot. Her final piece was Douen Lara, part of the Douen Islands Project started by Bagoo, who was the next to read.
His first poem, also from the Douen Islands Project, was titled In Forests, Wild Skies. Next was Jubilee, which was inspired by catastrophic flooding in Diego Martin shortly after T&T celebrated its jubilee anniversary of independence in 2012.
“I was struck by the fact that 50 years after Independence, we still hadn’t really figured out how to do some basic things like deal with the rain.” The piece was published in Burn, his 2015 collection.
Bagoo’s next poem, also from Burn, was Auden in Iceland, imagining Anglo-American poet WH Auden in weird locations. His last poem, following on the nature theme of the evening, was Undersea Volcano.
Klobah’s first piece, Going Up, Going Down, was inspired by her experience with the young gay men she mentored at the literary magazine at the University of Puerto Rico where she is professor of Caribbean literature and creative writing.
Her second piece, Tissue Gallery, described her recollection of being shown a collection of preserved foetuses, donated to science by women from the Virgin Islands who came to Puerto Rico to have abortions or who suffered stillbirths while giving birth there.
“At home, I whisper to the midnight page, women of the Virgin Islands, Sistren, I saw them and they are okay,” Klobah read. “Your small ones are still on the Earth!” It delivered a body blow to the audience. The poem was published in the New Yorker in November 2015 and was highlighted as one of the magazine’s best poems of the year.
During the panel discussion that followed, Bagoo asked Klobah and Ramlochan what their process was for writing poems. Klobah said she preferred to go out into her community to look for inspiration, while Ramlochan said her poetry comes from her experiences and she cannot help but write it, as it is visceral and needs to be expressed.
Ramlochan asked Bagoo, as a newspaper reporter and a poet, which world influences his poetry more. He said they both have an equal sort of impact, and a lot of his experiences as a journalist have snuck into his poems in unexpected ways.
Ramlochan also spoke about workshopping one of her poems on rape, and that the terrifying and liberating thing about writing on these topics meant you could never predict how people were going to feel about it, but it was not the poet’s responsibility to make everyone feel comfortable.
“You simply have to do work that you think is clean and clear and honest about important things. You can hope they will read it right, while knowing there isn’t any one way to read anything right.”
All three poets agreed that, in addition to having to do readings, one terrifying thing about being published poets was maintaining the balance between being their authentic selves and being a public persona. They also agreed that while writing poetry wouldn’t make them any money, it was tremendously fulfilling and regenerative.
In response to the question of what they plan to write in 2016, Bagoo said he would be exploring non-fiction, while Ramlochan said she would also be trying other kinds of writing and Klobah said she would be focusing on her experiences living in the Caribbean as a big woman.
As a finale, each poet read a recently written unpublished work. Ramlochan’s poem No Curandera but Yo Misma spoke of the relationship between mother and daughter. Bagoo’s Changing Lanes: In Memory of Sandra Bland welcomed the late US woman who died in police custody in Texas and her experience to T&T. Klobah’s poem Night Watch spoke of how flying gargoyles sighted in Puerto Rico became a symbol of young masculinity.
At the end of the night, Alice Yard director Nicholas Laughlin announced that this year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest, of which he is programme director, would be held from April 27 to May 1.