Lasana Sekou and Kendel Hippolyte open Bocas Lit Fest poetry readings in Trinidad By Shivanee Ramlochan

Our spirited moderator Rose-Ann Walker reminded us as we settled in for this, the first poetry reading of Bocas 2012, that both Kendel Hippolyte and Lasana Sekou are studied at the secondary school level. The youth of our Caribbean islands are actively reading the work of both these men, and as I listened and observed, I couldn’t help but be reassured at the exceptional quality of regional poetry to which potential budding talent is exposed.

St. Maarten/St. Martin poet Lasana Sekou reciting from Nativity at the NGC Bocas Literary Festival in Trinidad (4/26/12). (Image Courtesy - N. Bethel)

Hippolyte, a St. Lucian poet and playwright (and one of this year’s poetry judges), read poems that sounded like entire, compact islands of sound and thought, lushly populated worlds unto themselves. A gleefully self-confessed ‘jiver’, his offering was panoramic – there were poems on the frustration of loss sitting side by side with cheekily derisive snubbing of overvaulting academia. There was work that interrogated the heart of a poem’s necessity.

There was work that reminded, that underscored the infinite possibilities of the Caribbean landscape, the Caribbean imagination. In fifteen minutes or less, I got the impression that I’d been reading Kendel Hippolyte my entire life (and I will be, most assuredly, from this point forward).

Breathing his first piece unapologetically and vividly into life, St. Martinian poet Lasana Sekou took to the AV Room’s aisles… to its platform, to the tops of its chairs! Nothing about his rendition seemed in the slightest bit affected. There was, as my friend Leshanta and I discussed afterwards, such honesty and commitment to storytelling, to craft, in Sekou’s display, that we wondered if anyone could mistake it for posturing. His words rang out with the rhythmic thrall one typically associates with spoken word, but each line painstakingly hewn, each word a contemplation. When describing the rendition, tour de force feels like the only acceptable term.

The post-reading discussion was predictably lively, seasoned with considerations of the symbiotic relationship between poetry and performance. Hippolyte pointed out that all readings of poetry are, in essence, performance-based, with some performances manifesting themselves as far more glittery and bombastic than others. It occurs to me that the more I hear poets talk, the more I come to the reinforced understanding that in poetry, perhaps above all other fictive genres, the rules are never hard and fast.

Listening to the audience interact with Hippolyte and Sekou reminded me that this talk was no exception. Poems can, both poets agreed, take on different reading shapes and forms, depending on the mood, the alignment of emotion, circumstance, venue and consideration that shape each particular reading… and there is not, I hasten to add, a blessed thing wrong with this.

Are you surprised that the first poetry session of Bocas 2012 was plenty vibes? Ah, you shouldn’t be. When you bring together two outstanding word-makers, and a roomful of people eager to interact with them, well, that creates a certain kind of poetic magic all its own.

(Shivanee Ramlochan is a literary critic and expert in English literature and Spanish from Trinidad & Tobago.)

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