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Caribbean Poets Celebrate Mikey Smith

Kei Miller reads from his latest collection of poems

In an almost nondescript backyard dubbed Bohemia, on a street called Murray in Port of Spain, Caribbean poets came bearing words on fire. Under the title ‘The Living Word’ the poets came to pay tribute to Mikey Smith, a poet whose firebrand had been snuffed too soon as well as celebrate the Caribbean poetry and performance tradition.

It was the third night of the fourth Trinidad and Tobago Literary Festival, the Bocas Lit Fest. The festival, draws its name from the Bocas del Dragon, the narrow straits off Trinidad’s northwest peninsula, and it seemed as though the line-up of poets had dipped their pens into the fiery belly of the dragon before hitting the stage.

‘The Living Word’ offered up a breadth of poets of different styles, at different stages of their career and from the different lands that bejewel the archipelago of the Caribbean.

Lorna GoodisonThe night’s line-up included Lorna Goodison, Kei Miller, Kwame Dawes, Mervyn Morris, Malika Booker, Anthony Joseph, Vladimir Lucien, Vahni Capildeo and Linton Kwesi Johnson and wound up with a musical performance which showed the marriage of rhythm and thoughtful lyricism through the works of Freetown Collective.

“This one is for Mikey,” Lorna Goodison said as she took over the microphone and delivered the hauntingly beautiful ‘Road of the Dread’. Goodison, who explained that Mickey Smith had been a friend also delivered ‘Upsetter’ in tribute to Smith as well as pieces from her most recent collection of poems Oracabesa.

Before leaving the stage, Goodison delivered a bonus by calling Dr. Brian Meeks to the stage, another of those in the audience, who had been friends with Smith, to deliver an impromptu performance.Prof Mervyn Morris, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Marina Salandy-Brown

Of course, not all those on the roster of performers had been acquainted with Smith, but all highlighted the diverse tongues that of Caribbean poetry.

Kei Miller gave an awesome delivery that had the audience erupting in approval as his he read from his latest collection The Cartographer Tries to Map A Way to Zion. Vladimir Lucien’s performance marked him as one of the emerging Caribbean voices to watch, as he stirred the audience with ‘Ital’ and ‘Declaration.

Strong performances also came from Vahni Capildeo and Anthony Joseph as well as Malika Booker. Booker delivered a riveting re-interpretation of Mary Magdalene’s love for Jesus before ending on the ironically upbeat ‘My Mother Knows Pain’.Vladimir Lucien

Kwame DawesThe evening returned its focus to Mikey Smith with Kwame Dawes’ arrival to the microphones. Dawes opened his reading with Kamau Brathwaite’s ‘Stone’ the poem that marks the travesty of Smith’s being stoned to death on Stony Hill.

Linton Kwesi Johnson, also paid specific homage to Smith.

“I think al the readers, all the poets, have done Mikey proud, and I thank you very much,” Johnson said, going on to describe Smith as a complex man.

The Freetown Collective“He could definitely negotiate the contours of Jamaican speech like nobody else of his generation,” Johnson said of Smith, and with his short performance, he highlighted Smith deft linguistic skill as he culminated with Smith’s seminal work ‘Me Cyaa Believe It’.

The Living Word was staged on Friday, April 25, 2014. The Bocas Lit Fest took place in Port of Spain, April 23 - 27, 2014 at the National Library of Trinidad and Tobago.