Lasana Sekou’s poetry at literary event for London Olympics 2012

St. Martin poetry is now among what the London Evening Standard called, “The pick of the world’s poetry in London” for the Olympic Games, set to open in the UK capital on July 27, 2012.

Dawn Reid, Coral Reef Bookstore owner and “Under the Gazebo” book club member, Anguilla. (HNP photo)

The poem “We Continue” by Lasana M. Sekou, one of the island’s poets, has been printed on a large outdoor banner in London, published in the commemorative poetry book The World Record, and, in a “Rain of Poems,” dropped as one of 100,000 poems from a helicopter over the south bank of the Thames to open what The Guardian newspaper called, “the biggest gathering of poets in history.”

Sekou was invited to the gathering, called the Poetry Parnassus. The festival is the main literary event among the cultural activities taking place across Great Britain to celebrate the Olympic Games.

The Poetry Parnassus, hosted by London’s culture-savvy Southbank Centre from June 26 to July 1, brought together “poets and spoken-word artists from all over the world with all 204 competing Olympic nations represented,” said Natalie Wisdom of the Parnassus permissions department.

The Parnassus selected one poet from each Olympic nation. Among the participating poets were Nobel Laureates Derek Walcott (St. Lucia) and Wole Soyinka (Nigeria), Pulitzer Prize Winner and Poet Laureate Kay Ryan (USA), and the multitalented Tishani Doshi (India).

With neither part of St. Martin being an Olympic nation, the organizers placed Sekou to represent the island of his birth, Aruba, a Dutch territory with an Olympic status. “But Lasana said that as a St. Martin poet he would only be able to represent his St. Martin nation in this case,” said Jacqueline Sample, president of House of Nehesi Publishers (HNP).

The Poetry Parnassus organizers would not give up that easy. “As Mr. Sekou is not attending the festival,” stated Wisdom in a June 11 email to HNP, “we are asking whether you have any objections to us using the poem [‘We Continue’] in a display of a collection of poems from June to September 2012 in the outdoor spaces around the Royal Festival Hall and the Queen Elizabeth Hall. The area is one of London’s most high-profile and visited spaces.”

Lasana M. Sekou, author. (HNP/Treber photo)

And that is how “We Continue,” with its decidedly pan-Caribbean/pan-Latin American themes came to be part of a historic literary event in celebration of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games.

The Guardian has called the ongoing program of cultural activities in the UK the “Cultural Olympiad.” In a July 15 article, the Los Angeles Times has called this Olympiad a spectacle of 12,000 cultural events in celebration of the Games that “could also help attract future tourists.”

As for “We Continue,” the poem can be viewed at The Guardian website as part of a specially designed interactive map of global poetry. The poem was first published in Maroon Lives (1983), said Sample. It can be found at Van Dorp, and other bookstores in Pelican Heart (2010), an English-Spanish book of Sekou’s poems from 1978 to 2010, edited by the Cuban critic Emilio Jorge Rodríguez.

HNP was the Parnassus contact for two of its authors, Sekou and Chiqui Vicioso (Dominican Republic). Vicioso did attend the festival. Other participating poets from Olympic nations, most of whom were flown to London to recite at the Parnassus, were, Paulo Henriques Britto (Brazil), Mimi Khalvati (Iran), Selina Tusitala Marsh (Tuvalu), Yang Lian (China), Esther Philips (Barbados), Christian Campbell (The Bahamas), Valérie Rouzeau (France), and Arjen Duinker (Netherlands).

Closer to home, Sekou was in Anguilla on July 14 at the invitation of the “Under the Gazebo” book club. His short stories collection Brotherhood of the Spurs was bought by club members and read before the meeting. Sekou said that the questions and comments from book club members about the fictions were “intriguing.” He also said that he was “charmed by the hospitality of the members that attended the discussion.”

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