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 (rodellwarner.com) who manages to capture a mood and tone that say things about the work, but also about Trinidad and Tobago and its vitality.
ABOUT TODAY’S GUEST EDITOR
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.
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.
. . .
ABOUT THE POET
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.