Five Poets from Trinidad and Tobago – with an introduction by Andre Bagoo

Five poets from Trinidad and Tobago

THE WORLD meets in Trinidad and Tobago.  Here is a Caribbean country open to the possibilities of permeable boundaries, enriched by cultural diversity and charged with the energy needed to drive a special art.

Today, as the former British colony marks its 50th anniversary as an independent nation, we take a look at the work of five contemporary Trinidad-born poets in a series of posts which you will see below.

Most of these poets live in Trinidad, others divide their time between Trinidad and homes in the United Kingdom or the United States.  All share a remarkable vantage point;  all have been influenced by a rich Caribbean literary tradition which predates independence.  Here are travellers: between time, space, dimensions, selves, journeying to and from Shakespeare’s undiscovered country.  They create richly-coloured gems, sparkling like the light bouncing off the floor of a cold, golden sea, and sharp as a diamond blade.

The first post features Mervyn Taylor, the Trinidad-born poet who also lives in New York.  His poem ‘The Mentor’ – which features the persona of a poet “dancing his / mischievous meaning, / tieless, sparkling with / metaphor” – seeks reason but finds the crackling of bones. The poem is an audacious distillation of the challenges facing Trinidad, which may also reflect the challenges of the poet and the individual seeking freedom.

Then, as Queen Elizabeth celebrates her Jubilee year, the Oxford-based poet Vahni Capildeo takes us to London’s Hyde Park only to make us discover that we have never left the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, “Opalescent, Crystalline, Amethyst. And Dark”.  By the time she is done with us we are unsure what ground we walk on and feel walking on water to be a natural state.

In another post we feature the quietly disquieting work of Danielle Boodoo-Fortune, a poet and artist who lives in Sangre Grande, a town in the north-east of Trinidad.

There are also posts by Colin Robinson, whose poetry shows us the sublime in unexpected places, and Nicholas Laughlin, the editor behind the Caribbean Review of Books, whose own work is a tour de force of mood, sound and language – dissecting ideas of alienation like an anthropologist might but with unexpected lyricism.  Both are poets living in Diego Martin, the suburb nestled in the cool mountains of northwest Trinidad which was only this month ravaged by flood.

These poems are not intended as any sort of programmatic depiction of anything.  They are grouped here to speak, whether in harmony or dissonance, of feelings, ideas and impressions.  They are an unauthorised biography which the subject might secretly relish.

Each post is accompanied by an image from the Trinidadian graphic artist Rodell Warner ( who manages to capture a mood and tone that say things about the work, but also about Trinidad and Tobago and its vitality.

Andre Bagoo




Andre Bagoo is a poet and journalist from Trinidad. His first book of poems, Trick Vessels, was published by Shearsman Books (UK) in March 2012. His poetry has appeared in Boston Review, Caribbean Review of Books, The Caribbean Writer, tongues of the ocean and elsewhere. One of his poems, ‘Carnival Monday in Trinidad’, was featured at Zócalo Poets earlier this year.  He is Zócalo Poets’ guest editor today, the 50th anniversary of Trinidad and Tobago Independence.

Mervyn Taylor: The Mentor

Mervyn Taylor

The Mentor



In this dream there were

cows in every field,

breaths rising to create

clouds floating above

an island so green,

it seemed made of gases.

And out of this arose the

poet, in a grey suit,

as spry as I’ve ever

seen him, dancing his

mischievous meaning,

tieless, sparkling with

metaphor, asking his trick

question- are you going

with me, are we going

to look for reasons?

In this place I answered,

no one should ever starve,

or complain about things

other than an open gate

through which a stray might

wander lost and unmarked,

ending in dispute settled now

in such devious ways.




You might remember Lena.

In the dream she too

was present, wearing

a hat like a teakettle cover,

remarking those boys who

now live where she grew up,

tattoos marking their bodies,

and a young girl hosting

a perfume sale every Friday,

advertised under

a Digicel sign and one

for computer repairs.

It is rumored this is the

house a mental outpatient

was looking for, when he

smashed the gate

at a wrong address,

took a wheelbarrow handle

and beat a bedridden

90 yr. old to death, those

who harbored the fugitive

he was seeking crouching

next door, saying

not a word, their weapons

like marshmallows in their

pockets, hands over their

ears, blocking the sound of

breaking bones, and screams.




Cows crop the grass,

brown and white backs

seen from above, the land

in undulating waves below.

Out of the few houses,

people in black follow

funerals, fathers refusing

to accept each other’s

apologies, watching their sons

lowered, earth tamped,

they remain, conversing

with the dead. Ah, the poet

smiles his ineffable smile,

those adverbs he warned

against, they shuffle up.

What will we do with them,

now that he is going, trailing

long verses, joining the islands

like cans behind a wedding,

bells pealing in chapels

whose stone walls he worked

hard to capture, inside the

host on Sunday morning,

blood in silver chalices,

the priest’s voice intoning

from memory- sunlight,

stained glass, sin, all in

four-by-four refrain.




This is where they’ve

chosen to reenact the story

of sacrifice, with animals,

gold and greed,

where the washing of hands

goes on every day, governors

and guards swearing

each other away, poets

in corners swearing out

long poems like warrants,

lists of charges read aloud

in a difficult language,

the one in grey asking,

are you going with me, are

we going to understand

what it is we do, and why?


.     .     .


Mervyn Taylor is a Trinidad-born poet who divides his time between Brooklyn and his native island.  He has taught in the New York City public school system, at Bronx Community College and The New School, and is the author of four books of poetry, namely, An Island of His Own (1992), The Goat (1999), Gone Away (2006), and No Back Door (2010, Shearsman Books).  He can be heard on an audio collection, Road Clear, accompanied by bassist David Williams.

Vahni Capildeo: Water / Ice Cream in Hyde Park with Nikki

Vahni Capildeo



I. Cold Hands

There is a moment when

the water seems as if it might be warm.


wash your face

in the illusion


II. The Atlantic.  Like

Putting a handspan square of glass

flat on the sea, thinking I see

something. That’s the sky.

Calling the colour roaring grey

heard in December, when the tide

discourages. That’s a lie


III. Opalescent, Crystalline, Amethyst. And Dark

The sea is.

In my mind I never left you.

The sea


Place-holder, holder of a place:

The sea

Who can hold to this? A causeway.


Essential ground for memory.

Twig-runes dust the shore with bird-tracks.

And the wind


IV. Changes

Swans and rain and swans in rain

Swans and rain

Swans again


.     .     .


Ice Cream In Hyde Park With Nikki

Time flies / she’s a dancer / seagulls & eagles
we’re watching walkers’ & cyclists’ ankles
straight up & down as posts! / larks & starlings
they ain’t / that’s Time / stopping & starting
singlescoop chocolatemint slipup
delicious / xylophonic strip / perfume-smelling forearms
vintage gardenia topnote soprano orangeblossom
she swoops / she sings / Time high-steppng
to her Lambretta scooter!

New York, hold your sidewalk breath


[From Utter (completed 2011; revised 2012. Forthcoming.

‘Water’ is taken from ‘December’, in the 14-month ‘Winter to Winter’ calendar,

Undraining Sea (Norwich: Egg Box, 2009)]

.     .     .


Vahni Capildeo (b. Trinidad, 1973) went to the UK as a student in 1991, completing her BA (Hons) (First Class) in English Language and Literature in 1995 at Christ Church, University of Oxford.  A Rhodes Scholarship (1996-99) enabled her to pursue a doctorate in Old Norse at the same institution.  After a Research Fellowship at Girton College, Cambridge, Capildeo worked for the Oxford English Dictionary on Etymology and quotational research.

Capildeo’s three poetry collections are: Dark & Unaccustomed Words (2012); Undraining Sea(Egg Box, 2009); and No Traveller Returns (Salt, 2003).  Her poetry and prose have been widely anthologized, most recently in The Best British Poetry 2012 (Salt, forthcoming).  She has been Highly Commended for the Forward Prize (individual poem category, 2009); shortlisted for the Guyana International Prize for Literature (2011).

Colin Robinson: Indivisible

Colin Robinson



He’s very well rounded

Like his lover like(s) me

An engineer, I have to pry it out

He jokes, I’m 569 years old

Dog years, I ask, what to divide by

Google it’s a prime number

We are linked online

By another man

He too does not remember

We chat routinely about random things


I cam a quickie with a mewling chubby boy

Fantasy is cute in ways reality doesn’t match up to LOL

I type, I never had a good imagination, he IMs back

How Mills & Boons are a good lesson in writing

To make a kiss last four pages

I ask what tongue you grew up speaking

I had to allow my language to fall on all ears

Today we move to a higher order

Talk fetishes, we like the same things

But my numeracy gets the better of me once again

As I calculate the probability

That in any triangulation

Two times out of three

There will be a remainder

Either two or one.



*for Shadath

.     .     .


Colin Robinson is executive director of CAISO, the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation.  His poetry has appeared in many places, including Caribbean Erotic, an anthology published by Peepal Tree Press in 2010. He moves  between the West Indies and the USA.  He was NY field producer for Tongues Untied, led Studio Museum in Harlem’s first three creative responses to World AIDS Day and co-edited Other Countries: Black Gay Voices and Think Again.

Danielle Boodoo-Fortune: Morning Song for a Second Son

Danielle Boodoo-Fortune

Morning Song for a Second Son


Second son, how I fear my own singing.

Each word sounds like regret,

like the rasp of torn laughter

sputtering from the kettle

of your prodigal’s tongue.

Lord knows, I cannot bear the sound.

The house sits deep in darkness,

tarsals click against tile as

you measure the breadth

of another’s shadow.

Son, of all the things I’ve made,

you are the truest, and the one

most unknown to me.

Each tic in your jaw is an ocean

of hurt I cannot cross

How I wish I could sing for you.


.     .     .


Danielle Boodoo-Fortune is a Trinidadian poet and artist.  Her work has been featured in The Caribbean Writer, Bim: Arts for the 21st Century, Tongues of the Ocean, Anthurium: A Caribbean Studies Journal, Small Axe Literary Salon, and Poui: Cave Hill Journal of Creative Writing.  Her art has been featured at Trinidad’s Erotic Art Week 2011, and the WoMA (Women Make Art) exhibition, in Grenada, 2012.  Her art has also been featured in St. Somewhere Journal, Firestorm Literary Journal, Splash of Red Literary Arts Magazine, and on the cover of Blackberry: A Magazine.  She was awarded the Charlotte and Isidor Paiewonsky Prize for first time publication in 2009, nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2010, and shortlisted for the Small Axe Poetry Prize in 2009 and 2011.

Nicholas Laughlin: Self-Portrait in the Neotropics

Nicholas Laughlin

Self-Portrait in the Neotropics


Eleven of the strange years of my life.
Months on end I lived on tapioca,
I lived on mud and permanganate broth,
and river water red as rum,
bivouacked with rainflies
and fire ants and sundry native guides.
The parrots already knew some French.
Nous sommes les seuls français ici.
Call it sunstroke, le coup de bambou.
I came all this way with half a plan,
an extra handkerchief, and Humboldt (abridged).
Here I lack only the things I do not have.


Eleven years of untimely weather,
earthquakes and fireflies and mud.
The colonel writes his complaints to the general.
The general writes his complaints to the emperor.
The emperor writes to Jesus Christ,
who damns us all.
Nous sommes les seuls français left in the world.
I came all this bloody way
to sit in a cheap café with bandaged hands.
I translate detective novels, Dr. Janvier.
It keeps me in dinero, out of trouble.
I miss only the friends I do not have.




[From The Strange Years of My Life,

a sequence first published at Almost Island,

which you can read at: (see winter 2011/poetry)]

.     .     .


Nicholas Laughlin is the editor of The Caribbean Review of Books and the arts and travel magazine Caribbean Beat; programme director of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, an annual literary festival based in Trinidad and Tobago; and co-director of the contemporary art centre Alice Yard.

Macuilxochitzin / Macuilxóchitl: poetisa mexica del siglo XV


Canto de Macuilxochitzin


Elevo mis cantos,

Yo, Macuilxóchitl,

con ellos alegro al “Dador de la Vida”,

¡comience la danza!


¿Adonde de algún modo se existe,

a la casa de Él

se llevan los cantos?

¿O sólo aquí

están vuestras flores?,

¡comience la danza!


El matlatzinca

es tu merecimiento de gentes, señor Itzcóatl:

¡Axayacatzin, tú conquistaste

la ciudad de Tlacotépec!

Allá fueron a hacer giros tus flores,

tus mariposas.

Con ésto has causado alegría.

El matlatzinca

está en Toluca, en Tlacotépec.


Lentamente hace ofrenda

de flores y plumas

al “Dador de la Vida”.

Pone los escudos de las águilas

en los brazos de los hombres,

allá donde arde la guerra,

en el interior de la llanura.

Como nuestros cantos,

como nuestras flores,

así, tú, el guerrero de cabeza rapada,

das alegría al “Dador de la Vida”.

Las flores del águila

quedan en tus manos,

señor Axayácatl.

Con flores divinas,

con flores de guerra

queda cubierto,

con ellas se embriaga

el que está a nuestro lado.


Sobre nosotros se abren

las flores de guerra,

en Ehcatépec, en México,

con ellas se embriaga el que está a nuestro lado.

Se han mostrado atrevidos

los príncipes,

los de Acolhuacan,

vosotros los tecpanecas.

Por todas partes Axayácatl

hizo conquistas,

en Matlatzinco, en Malinalco,

en Ocuillan, en Tequaloya, en Xocotitlan.

Por aquí vino a salir.

Allá en Xiquipilco a Axayácatl

lo hirió en la pierna un otomí,

su nombre era Tlílatl.


Se fue éste a buscar a sus mujeres,

Les dijo:

“Preparadle un braguero, una capa,

se los daréis, vosotras que sois valientes.”

Axayácatl exclamó:

“¡Que venga el otomí

que me ha herido en la pierna!”

El otomí tuvo miedo,


“¡En verdad me matarán!”

Trajo entonces un grueso madero

y la piel de un venado,

con ésto hizo reverencia a Axayácatl.

Estaba lleno de miedo el otomí.

Pero entonces sus mujeres

por él hicieron súplica a Axayácatl.


.     .     .

Traducción del náhuatl al español:

Miguel León-Portilla, 2003

.     .     .


En náhuatl:

Macuilxochitzin Icuic


A nonpehua noncuica,

ni Macuilxochitl,

zan noconahuiltia o a in ipalnemoa,

yn maconnetotilo – ohuaya, ohuaya!



can o ye ichan

im a itquihua in cuicatl?

Ic zanio nican

y izca anmoxochiuh?

In ma onnetotilo – ohuaya, ohuaya!


Temomacehual matlatzincatl,


In Axayacatzin ticmomoyahuaco

in altepetl in Tlacotepec – a ohuaya!

O ylacatziuh ya ommoxochiuyh,


Ic toconahuiltia.

In matlatzincatl, in Toloca, in Tlacotepec – a ohuaya.


Ayaxca ocontemaca

in xochitlaihuitla

ypalnemoa – ohuaya.

In quauhichimalli in temac,

ye quimana – ohuican ouihua,

yan tlachinolli itic,

yxtlahuatl itic – ohuaya, ohuaya.

In neneuhqui in tocuic,

neneuhqui in toxochiuh,

can tiquaochpan,

in toconahuiltia ypalnemoa – ohuaya, ohuaya.

In quauhxochitl

in momac ommani,


In teoaxochitl,

in tlachinolxochitl ic,


yca yhuintihua

in tonahuac onoca – ohuaya, ohuaya.


Topan cueponi – a

yaoxochitl – a,

in Ehecatepec, in Mexico – ye ohoye

ye huiloya yca yhuintihua

in tonahuac onoc.


Za ye netlapalolo

in tepilhuan,

in acolihuaque,

an antepaneca – ohuaya, ohuaya.


In otepeuh Axayaca


Matlatzinco, Malinalco,

Ocuillan, Tequaloya, Xohcotitlan.

Nican ohualquizaco.

Xiquipilco oncan

oquimetzhuitec ce otomitl,

ytoca Tlilatl.


Auh yn oahcico,

quimilhui ycihuahuan:

– Xitlacencahuacan in maxtlatl, in tilmatli,

anquimacazque amoquichui.


– Ma huallauh yn otomitl,

yn onechmetzhuitec!

Momauhtihtica yn otomitl,


– Anca ye nechmictizque!

Quihualhuica in huepantli,

in tlaxipehualli in mazatl,

ic quitlapaloco in Axaya.


Auh zan oquitlauhtique yn icihuahuan Axayaca.




La princesa Macuilxochitzin/Macuilxóchitl nació en México-Tenochtitlan hacia 1435 y vivió la buena parte del siglo XV.  Fue hija de Tlacaélel, un consejero de los reyes aztecas.  Desde pequeña recibió la mejor educación;  también escuchó de la boca de su madre los antiguos consejos de los mexicas.  Y, por supuesto, ella conocía los artes del bordado y del telar.

Este poema – El Canto de Macuilxochitzin – trata de una conquista mexica del año 1476.  Era la intención de la poetisa dar gracias al “Dador de la Vida” y preservar el cuento de la victoria de su pueblo.

El original se incluye en la colección de la BNM (Biblioteca Nacional de México).