Akile Wallace, a founding member of the 2Cents Movement was crowned the new Monarch of Spoken Word Poetry on Sunday at the Verses Boca Poetry Slam competition at the Globe Theatre, Port-of-Spain.Wallace, who championed the rights of squatters, placed first among a fierce competition of 13 poets vying to be named the best spoken word artist in the country. Verses was the final event of the Bocas Lit Fest which took place last week at Nalis Port-of-Spain.
Each poet brought a distinct flair of their own as they talked about issues that deeply mattered to them. Some of the issues discussed ranged from current affairs, torrid love affairs, the question surrounding morality, family, street harassment and what it means to be a writer.Wallace said when he saw the other performances, he did not expect to win, so his win was a surprise.
"I feel amazing. Especially listening to all the other performers in the moment, I thought I wouldn't even place," he said.He said he was originally asked last year to write a poem against squatting, but he could not because he found it unfair and prejudiced. Instead, he decided to write poem discussing both sides of the argument.
"One day I was asked to write a piece on squatting for an event. They wanted a piece against squatting. When I thought about the issue I realised that I did not believe squatters were totally in the wrong, so I decided to write a balanced piece," Wallace said.While he did not perform that piece for that show, Wallace kept the poem and kept on rewriting the piece until he got the draft he delivered on Sunday night. Wallace has entered the Verses competition twice before, placing second and third.
Alluding to squatters from Sea Lots, Guave Road and others from around the country, Wallace asked: "So many problems going on in the world, and you left all that to tell me squatting is wrong?"One powerful issue he addressed was the difficulty for people in the lower socio-economic class to lawfully access land of their own because there is no sufficient legislature in place to regulate housing and land rates.
Second-place winner Derron Sandy was inspired by the popular children's movie Frozen to show how greater authorities try to freeze young people from being successful and making a difference in the world."I was an MC at a children's party in February. These children were telling me about what songs to play. I wrote a speech about them and it was for them," he said.
He used a winter motif to discuss how people are trying to silence the poets and the radicals of the Caribbean. One can even infer that his use of winter and reference to the movie Frozen is a critique on how neo-colonisation from the global north has influenced the country and silenced those who want to bring about change.
"The piece is about anybody who tried to obstruct the future by freezing them in some way. It could be anything. Rapists, molestation, anything that freezes youth and puts them in a stagnant state, it has to be burned down through my writing," Sandy said.Third-place winner, Kleon McPherson placed for his fast-paced poem on a torrid love affair that happened all in a dream.
One of the crowd's favourites was Jabari Lynch, who gave poignant blows to many issues going on in the country. Lynch invoked the essence of a Robber Talk in his poem by adopting the "voice of poetry" as his own."This is not Jabari, this is the voice of poetry. Who dares stop me?" he constantly reminded the audience.Starting off, he yelled: "If I can't say cyat then you can't say dog."
Lynch claimed that the Government has been "abusing parliamentary privilege" and being "hypocritical." He referenced issues from the controversy surrounding Tobago East MP Vernella Alleyne-Toppin who made rape allegations against Opposition Leader Dr Keith Rowley's father.Addressing issues of crime in the country, Lynch condemned the judgments many have for those in high-crime areas.
"There are no saints in this land. The state of Morvant/Laventille makes us all sinners," he said.Leandra Williamson's poem on writers, while verged on preaching, discussed the human condition, particularly writers who she claimed fed on the suffering of others in order for their craft to thrive."Writers all have one special thing in common. We feed on the suffering of others. Without suffering, what is there to write about?" she said.
The competition was judged by an impressive line-up of first-class poets from around the region and the diaspora. They were: Jamaica-born, prize-winning author and poet Olive Senior, prolific Guyanese poet and author Fred D'Aguiar, this year's OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature Vladimir Lucien, president of Trinidad's Circle of Poets Nicholas Sosa, and the head judge was Jamaica-born Linton Kwesi Johnson who is a UK-based dub poet who is the second living poet, and the only black poet, to be published in the Penguin Modern Classics series.
One key element of spoken word poetry is the performance aspect.However, sartorially, many of the performers fell short on that element. Lynch, for instance, claimed he was not "Jabari, but the voice of poetry." He could have worn something to show the dramatic element of poetry.His poem embodied the essence of a robber talk, and he could have put on an equally dramatic costume to show that.
This year's Verses was full of high-energy, high-quality performances that were equally thought-provoking and entertaining.I look forward to what the next batch of competitors brings in Verses 2016.