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.
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.
Place-holder, holder of a place:
Who can hold to this? A causeway.
Essential ground for memory.
Twig-runes dust the shore with bird-tracks.
And the wind
Swans and rain and swans in rain
Swans and rain
. . .
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)]
. . .
ABOUT THE POET
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).