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Fresh Words From the Caribbean - Bocas at 2015 Brooklyn Book Fest
“What really thrills us is finding the new voices, the new writers,” declared Nicholas Laughlin, Programming Director of the Bocas Literary Fest. The occasion was The Word is Fresh, the festival’s third incursion into the Brooklyn Book Festival. And yes, the word was fresh as Bocas presented four emerging writers from the region.
The four writers are at different stages of emergence in their poetry. Two, Sassy Ross and Danielle Boodoo-Fortune, are working on their first collections. Tiphanie Yanique, a published novelist, is also working on her first collection while Vladimir Lucien, has already published his first poetry collection.
The event pulled double duty, also acting as the launch of the Peekash collection of Caribbean poetry, Coming Up Hot. Both Boodoo-Fortune and Ross are included in the collection.
Danielle Boodoo-Fortune, winner of the Hollick-Arvon Prize for Poetry, was the first of the poets to take over the microphone. She began with pieces from Coming up Hot. Boodoo-Fortune delivered a quiet reading, almost seemingly buried in the pages with her poems. But her words, though soft, were strong. Her reading included, ‘Chameleon Thoughts’, a series in five parts, and ‘A Poem on the World's Last Night’.
St. Lucian born Sassy Ross, who immediately seemed to be living up to her name brought more heat in her reading. She too began her reading from Coming Up Hot, delivering the poem ‘And Still Her Sacrum’ followed by ‘Spirit and Form’.
Ross then diverged from those pages to deliver ‘All O We’, the first of her pieces to more fully embrace her St. Lucian tongue. Yet the poem, more chant than art, was her weakest for the night. She closed with ‘Fig’ a far stronger, and linguistically engaging work.
“I hate to follow Sassy, cause she fucked us all up,” Tiphanie Yanique declared when she got to the microphone.
The author of Land of Love and Drowning, read from her upcoming collection, Wife which she explained explores marriage, the "crazy ass thing we sometimes do".
Yanique engaged as much with her witty commentary between the poems as the poems themselves as she read, ‘African Animal’, ‘My Brother Comes to Me’, ‘Dangerous Things’ and ‘Body Logic’.
It was then time to return to St. Lucia via the words of Vladimir Lucien, the night's sole male poet. He began with ‘Rain Fights’ a reading he dedicated to Alwyn Bully and Dominica. Lucien laughingly said it was the best he could do for a love poem at the time. And it certainly isn't a love poem but rather about the tumultuousness of love.
With his collection, Sounding Ground, now around a year old, it was possible to argue that Lucien’s words were the least fresh of the lot, but only by way of time, as they were certainly the most potent. With a laid-back reading, Lucien held the audience riveted with pieces including ‘Horn’ and Protean Ebb II’.
The Word is Fresh also featured a discussion about poetry what brought them to it. Each revealed that they had come to poetry from different paths.
Lucien noted that he had grown up surrounded by the romantic poets, and then later discovered the political poetry of the Caribbean through the words of poets such as Mervyn Morris, Kamaun Brathwaite, and Marvin Carter.
Yanique, noted that the boundary between novelists and poets is not as rigid as the literary industry would like us to believe. She explained that she came to words, and had indeed first started writing poetry.
“I'm interested in finding the bones. The fragments of memory" Boodoo-Fortune, who is also painter, said. “What we keep small things. Poetry is a way I found of fleshing out the pieces.”
For Ross, poetry was a reconnection to home. “When you leave the islands as I did at a young age, language is what you keep,” she said. “Language became poetry. It was just a way of keeping my island close.”
The evening closed with a mini-launch of Laughlin’s collection The Strange Years of My Life. Under great duress from the audience, Laughlin switched his cape from host to poet, and read one of the pieces from the collection.