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"See the Poet Man there!": Edward Baugh on Poetry

Edward Baugh

“The thing I’ve always wanted to be most was a poet,” said Edward Baugh. We are rounding towards the end of our interview regarding the launch of his latest collection Black Sands: New and Selected Poems. His statement appears a strange sentiment for the man who gifted the world with the poems ‘Nigger Sweat’ and ‘The Carpenter’s Complaint’. But what he remarks on is that, in the main, his has been a life of teaching.

This teaching life is intertwined with the launch of Black Sands, which is being co-hosted by the Department of Literatures in English, University of the West Indies, Mona, where Baugh spent several years as a lecturer. Baugh has also been a celebrated critic of Caribbean Literature, and though few are now aware of this, he has also taken his turn on the stage as both an actor and a director.

Black Sand New and Selected Poem by Edward BaughBlack Sands, Baugh’s third collection is published by Peepal Tree Press. It’s been over a decade since his last collection, It Was the Singing (2000), was published. His first anthology, A Tale From the Rainforest was published in 1988.

And though he confesses to this desire to have had poetry as the main thing that defines him, he explains that it he is not haunted by this sentiment. Making reference to an incidence with Martin Carter, Baugh remarks that it would have been a good thing to have produced with the kind of fecundity, that would allow small boys in the streets to see him and remark, “See the poet man there.”

“[M]aybe if I’d had more courage,” he says, noting that he took the safer route rather than leaving his fate to the uncertainties of making a living from poetry.

Baugh confesses, that he always feels as though he’s written his last piece of poetry, and so in the intervening years between It Was the Singing and Black Sands, he never considered himself as working on a collection.

“Anytime I write a poem, I feel and fear that that’s the last poem I’ll ever write,” he says. “So I’m always glad when another poem comes along.”

Interestingly, his poems are also always contending with the nature of and thoughts about poetry.

“Just like death, or love or time of social injustice or class, poetry or how people think about poetry is what prompts me to write,” he says.

Baugh’s poetry has captured critical moments of life and death, they have resonated on migration, death, and social injustice.  His work often uncovers how ordinary moments can resonate with meaning. So while pieces like ‘The Carpenter’s Complaint’ and ‘Words’ mark the death of his parents, the new piece ‘At Coventry’ highlights how an unremarkable moment can reveal the remarkable.
Baugh contextualizes the value of the JCDC Literary Competition at the 2012 Awards
Baugh’s iconic ‘Nigger Sweat’ has the same power. He reveals, that the piece came to him in an unusual way. He explains writing his poems can be an extended process, however he crafted while in the line at the United States Embassy. The usual modus is that the poem will come in pieces.

“I can take years to write a poem,” Baugh explains. “I can get the idea for a poem and the poem can never come, or a line that begins or ends the poem can come and years later something clicks and I get it.”
 
Like a good parent, he remarks that he has no favourite poems. Instead he confesses to having mixed feelings when a reader tells him how much they like a particular poem. While he is glad that they appreciate the poem,  he wonders if that means they don’t like the others. He is therefore often elated when someone tells him they like a poem that was never previously mentioned by others.

Even so, Baugh cautiously admits that even now, he remains surprised by eliciting great admiration.

“I still am a little taken aback when people talk about me as a poet with the degree of admiration that they do,” Baugh confesses. Even so, he says, “I’m always happy when a poem and I are well received, but I don’t worry.”
Edward Baugh and former student Scarlett Beharie
He does confess to some excitement at the impending launch.

“I’m honoured, flattered, pleased, thrilled,” Baugh says of the approaching launch. “It would be terrible if I weren’t.”

On Sunday, December 1, 2013, Baugh will get to gauge the public’s reception of Black Sands when he launch, co-hosted by the West Indian Association of Commonwealth Literature and Language Studies will be held at the Neville Hall Lecture Theatre, at 11 am.

Then maybe, with the birthing of this third volume, maybe it will be enough for young boys and the rest of us to see him in the streets and say “see the poet man there.”