art in all its forms

art in all its forms

9/21/14

Only connect

Art Connect

SINCE, as one student featured in the documentary Art Connect states, art is a picture of life, this film stands on its own as a sublime work.

Ostensibly about a social intervention programme for a group of students in Laventille, the work turns out to be an acute observation of contemporary social conditions in Trinidad and Tobago. It's insights are sometimes subtle and understated: telling of absent parents, emotional violence, the impact of drugs and crime on communities, mental and emotional turmoil, communal prejudices. But also, refreshingly, it sings of the redemptive possibilities of love, trust and beauty. Though there is tension and danger, all hope is not lost.

We follow the group of students of the Success Laventille School as they participate in a series of projects and challenges marshaled by artists in different mediums. But we also hear them tell their own stories about their lives, through a series of unforgettable interviews conducted by the filmmakers (including Janine Fung). And, most memorably, we are gifted with footage filmed by the students themselves using point-of-view cameras. We learn of their conditions, hear of their family problems, see where they live and what they eat, what chores they do, whom they interact with and account to.

"What's one of the happiest days of your life?" a student is asked.

"I don't have one," the child answers.

"What about a happy moment?"

"One of the happy moments was when I found out I got into this programme but I don't really have happy moments," states the girl. At another stage the girl says, "I actually feel nervous when I hear... gunshots because I don't know if my brother picked up one or my dad."

Another student states, "I feel that I cannot talk and I don't know why."

Sadly, these students could be in any school anywhere in the country. They articulate universal anxieties, as well as peculiar problems which communities are today dealing with. The film, which premiered in the first week of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, gives voice to open secrets, and in this way, does a kind of justice, asserting dignity and grace. It has deservedly attracted sold-out screenings. Trinidadians have been yearning to see themselves.

This is an assured documentary whose craft is concealed but whose achievement cannot be overstated. Here are several different narratives which unfold through the use of the point of view footage; the interviews; pop music; supplemental footage and the mediums of song, dance and painting. That all these elements fuse effortlessly is to the credit of director and editor Miquel Galofré, who has steadily cemented his status as an exciting and talented chronicler of this region through a series of bravura films.

Galofré is a multiple-award-winning filmmaker born in Barcelona and based in Trinidad and Tobago. His “Jamaican trilogy” of documentaries - including Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast? and Hit Me With Music - won several prizes. His eye for pacing, his exquisite judgment on the use of music as well as the restraint of his cinematographer (Fung) means this does not feel like a gimmick, nor does it come across as a sterile social experiment. Instead, it feels real.

On the music, I found that the film provided an interesting glimpse of how popular music - foreign and local - functions in our lives. Through music, and art generally, we do ultimately come together no matter how unique our circumstances. As EM Forster once extolled, "only connect".


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Miquel Galofré's website.




Find or make your space

Alice Yard


TRY to summarise all of the different events that have taken place at Alice Yard over the last eight years and you are bound to run into trouble.

The space is small, you might not notice it from Roberts Street, Woodbrook. Just a stone’s throw away from the swings and see-saws of the Augustus Williams Park, it could be any other house on the street were it not for that small green sign on its black wall. But in a sense that’s fitting: this is a place where people come to play. It’s home.

But make no mistake about the scale of its importance. Alice Yard is an arts space - call it contemporary if you must - administered and curated by architect Sean Leonard, artist Christopher Cozier, and writer and editor Nicholas Laughlin.

I can recall many events there: start with dancer Dave Williams’ performance of Waiting, a show he put on over several nights in which he danced on moko stilts in a small white room with a glass door. Or maybe Adam Williams drawings hanging on a curtain rack, or Jaime Lee Loy and Nikolai Noel becoming living installations: sitting in the exhibition space drawing the audience. One night, Akuzuru ripped open a vein (not literally, thank goodness) and marched from the Yard to the park outside, wearing a white costume, reminiscent of a mutant Miss Havisham or maybe Bronte’s Madbertha, breaking things, haunting the streets of Port-of-Spain.

The Yard, which last week marked its eighth anniversary, has a regional outlook, emphasizing the need to reverse and question the colonial and historical boundaries that have kept small islands that dot the sea apart. Since 2008, there have been artists and writers in residence. Bahamian Heino Schmid has shown incredible collage/video work. There was an amazing exhibition of photography called Shot in Kingston. Jamaican poet Ishion Hutchinson read with Valzhyna Mort.

The space has also hosted bands. Start with 12 the Band and consider the list on Alice Yard’s website (aliceyard.blogspot.com): 3Canal; Cabezon; Gyazette; jointpop; Orange Sky and you scratch the surface.

Earlier this year, Alice Yard hosted an experimental reading or poetry and prose as part of an ongoing collaboration called Douen Islands, of which I am a part. After that event, Laughlin noted how the space has had a “can do” approach. “Find or make your space” he said.

“Alice Yard has hosted roughly three hundred public events,” Laughlin said. “We’ve hosted nearly three dozen artists, curators, and other creative practitioners. Our guests have included world-famous names who would make a splash in any metropolitan city, but often we’ve been most motivated and inspired by new, young artists, musicians, and writers near the start of their careers, who challenge us to respond to their energy and ideas.”

Laughlin continued, “This has all happened in a simple backyard in Woodbrook which we and our collaborators have re-imagined over and over again — the space continues to surprise us. And it has all happened with no paid staff and very minimal funding, raised from our modest resources and efforts.”

“Instead we’ve imagined the biggest things we can make happen with what we do have. It’s a modus operandi of improvisation, and an attitude of possibility,” Laughlin, who is also editor of the Caribbean Review of Books, said. This is a key thing to observe.

If art is an inevitable part of the human condition; if it functions to give pleasure, or to enact catharsis or is, as David Forster Wallace stated, “an exchange between consciousnesses, a way for human beings to talk to each other”, then its value is not mercenary or static. It is invaluable in a true sense. Any forum that allows that kind of dialogue to grow must, like Alice Yard, be free.

While we may desire more institutionalised forms of this dialogue: while we wish more of state or other organs, that is not the end of the matter. Alice Yard demonstrates the power of simply saying yes to art, and acting, with true volition and free will. It is as boundless as the imagination.

Imagine if we said yes like this more often, if we built spaces upon spaces for the mind, heart and society as a whole to exist, to flourish. Imagine, then act.

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From Sunday Newsday, September 21, 2014.
Alice Yard website

7/15/14

In search of Dylan Thomas


"It seems every single thing in Laugharne is connected to Dylan Thomas. Or if it is not, it fast becomes so. The entire town is a memorial to him; a living and breathing tomb. It is a monument comprising: pubs, book-shops, a clock-tower, ruins of a gothic castle, and St John’s Hill. And all of this can be found in Thomas’ poetry.  
"But how much of a poet’s life and circumstance do we need to know? Do we need the back-story in order to enjoy each poem? Is it not better the less we know? Must we see the writing-shed, learn of the love affairs in New York, visit the favourite drinking haunts, the neighbours, the aunties? Of poetry Thomas once said:
"All that matters about poetry is the enjoyment of it, however tragic it may be. All that matters is the eternal movement behind it, the vast undercurrent of human grief, folly, pretension, exaltation or ignorance, however unlofty the intention of the poem...."

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READ my Zocalo Poets website post on the Dylan Thomas centenary, and a trip to his home-town, Laugharne, here.   

7/13/14

Papa Bois, poet



Life is like the sea
—Sylvester Devenish

ACCORDING to one historian he was, “the most outstanding poet Trinidad has ever produced”.  The same writer—Anthony de Verteuil—tells us he was also, “a prominent figure in Trinidadian society as Surveyor General; in scientific circles; and also in encouraging a spirit of patriotism among all Trinidadians whatever their original nationality”. In a 392-page book about him, de Verteuil states, “he was one of the best known characters among French creoles in Trinidad.” Long before the controversy over judges and MPs pensions, he was at the centre of one of the island's first scandals over retirement pay. When he died in 1903, the Schoolmaster magazine, wrote, “As a Poet his name will be immortalised in literary circles”. A contemporary, Léon de Gannes, stated, “He sees all, knows all, is everywhere.” But today he is forgotten.

Peter James Sylvester Devenish, who came from an Irish family, was actually born at Nantes on March 9, 1819. He lived in Trinidad for five years before being sent back to France to study. He read a wide range of subjects at the College des Oratoriens of Vendôme where, according to lore, he was presented to Ferdinand, the old King of Naples, after a fencing match. While in Paris, Devenish apparently made the acquaintance of the authors Jules Janin and Honoré de Balzac.

Devenish reluctantly returned to Trinidad at the age of 22. He longed for Paris life. But things changed when he fell in love with and married Laura D’Abadie here on June 16, 1842. He was educated, cultured and became popular.

“The general impression in Trinidad was that Sylvester Devenish knew everything about anything,” de Verteuil states in his 2007 book, entitled, Sylvester Devenish: Trinidad’s Poet. We learn how Devenish once delivered a talk to the Scientific Society entitled, ‘A Few Notes on Alligator Shooting in Trinidad’. He recommended grilled babiche with lime and pepper sauce.

In 1850, though not an engineer, Devenish was appointed Inspector of Roads. In 1857, he was made director of the Irois Forest Convict Settlement; in 1860 Superintendent of the government saw-mill in Port-of-Spain; in 1861 engineer of the Port-of-Spain Wharf Improvement in which capacity he constructed the new sea-walls. In 1874, he was Justice of the Peace for the counties of St David, St Andrew, Nariva, Mayaro. From 1875 everybody gave up: he was made Justice of the Peace for the whole island. When the time came to open the Royal Victoria Institute at the top of Frederick Street on September 17, 1892, it was Devenish who would cut the ribbon, not the governor of the colony.


Rosary Church, Port of Spain, designed by Devenish

De Verteuil states Devenish played, “a significant if very small part in enlarging the boundaries of 19th century botany.” He collected 126 specimens of wood. In 1867, he was appointed director of the Botanical Gardens at St Anns. Over 43 years, Devenish surveyed properties all over the land. “I have all the maps of the island in my head,” he once reportedly said. De Verteuil tells us, “he was known to the Spanish-speaking inhabitants as El Duende de la Montana (the Spirit of the Mountains); and to the creoles as Papa Bois (Father of the Woods)”. In 1875, Devenish was appointed Surveyor-General of Trinidad, the highest surveying post in the island. He retained the post until 1878. In the 1870s the New Era carried an account of him: “passing over roaring torrents by swinging himself from bush rope like a monkey; making roads in the Savannah of Caroni; sleeping on a tree in the middle of a lagoon, astride of a branch, on top of a nest of stinging ants. Sun, rain, gales, thunder, lightning - the impossible does not deter him in the least.”

However, questions were raised about the fair allocation of state survey work. Devenish arguably became caught up in politics relating to feuding French and English factions in Trinidad society. This culminated with his suspension on Christmas Day 1878 from the post of Surveyor-General by the new British Governor General. There was outcry. A commission of enquiry was established. The governor who fired Devenish was later called, “one of the most unprincipled governors ever seen in the West Indies”. Devenish’s pension of £150 was deemed too low and raised to £200.

Despite all this, de Verteuil states, “Devenish was above all a poet. ” Many of his poems were sold in the streets on loose pages for a penny. The poems follow a rigid style, which Devenish regarded as classical. Putting aside literary merit, the poems are, as de Verteuil correctly observes, valuable because they are snapshots of society then. You also sense they are meant to be sung. They have a kind of stony grace, and do what Paul Valéry says poetry should do, dance. The poet wrote in a time when a ballad was recited at Belle Air dances as long as five years after.

Devenish died on January 31, 1903. The funeral took place at the Rosary Church, Port-of-Spain. Ironically, and perhaps fittingly, that stunning gothic church had been designed by him. The church stands today, even if we do not remember Papa Bois' name.

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From Sunday Newsday, July 13, 2014. 

READ a review of de Verteuil's book on Devenish by Sharon Millar at the Caribbean Review of Books.

4/22/14

Douen Islands experiment at Alice Yard



PHOTOS BY ALICE YARD'S NICHOLAS LAUGHLIN


A FEW DAYS before the Blood Moon, on Saturday April 12, the contemporary arts space Alice Yard was transformed for a night of experimental literature readings as part of what is called the Douen Islands project.

Douen Islands is an ongoing, open collaborative project — featuring writers, poets, musicians, artists, photographers, dancers and others — first launched on All Hallow’s Eve, 2013, by poet and Newsday reporter Andre Bagoo and designer Kriston Chen.

On April 12, Alice Yard hosted an event by the Douen Islands collaborators, as part of the 2014 NGC Bocas Lit Fest pre-festival programme. Douen Islands: In Forest & Wild Skies, saw the floor of the yard at Roberts Street, Woodbrook covered with dried leaves, set aglow with red lights. Poetry by Bagoo – from an e-book produced for Douen Islands – was projected onto the floor of the drive-way leading inside the space. Tyre swings were put up, re-creating a child’s play area.

Poetry and prose produced as part of the ongoing collaboration – which follows the Trinidad and Tobago folklore character of the douen or a haunted child spirit – were also presented in what was billed as “an experimental reading”. The event was true to that description. Instead of a typical reading with a poet/writer at a podium, there was a projection of a shadow/silhouette of Bagoo who at one stage was pictured literally reading, with a giant moon image being beamed behind him, part of a video produced. At another stage, Bagoo’s silhouette appeared to consume a lit candle as he read his patriotically-themed poem, “Twin Islands”.




Several video pieces produced by Chen were streamed in the space Bagoo read in, including video adaptations of some of Bagoo’s poem “In Forest & Wild Skies”.

The stunning footage enraptured the crowd gathered, featuring video images of the Port-of-Spain skyline and text from the poetry e-book. One video featured the voice of artist and teacher Luis Vasquez La Roche, who read a Spanish translation of the section of the poem, heightening the sense of being foreign in one’s own nation and harking back to the colonial past.

Writer Sharon Millar read her haunting story produced for the collaboration, entitled, “The Gayelle”, occupying spaces in the yard and in a small kitchen area on the compound, lit by hurricane lamps. At times she read, while Bagoo recited and while another collaborator, the poet Shivanee Ramlochan performed.

Ramlochan did not speak. She wrote two poems down on a large blackboard/wall created by the collaborators for the event. Her poems, “Duenne Lara” and “Duenne Lillith” were startling adventures. The audience got a chance to see the poet write, react and even re-edit her words live, emotions and feelings and images flowing out of her.

The entire production involved a sound-scape featuring sitar work by another collaborator, sitarist Sharda Patasar, whose instrumentals were stripped down to create ambient noises and effects, evoking a landscape and resonating with the work’s concern with the marginal.

The event was well-attended. Among those present were Wendell Manwarren and Roger Roberts of 3 Canal, writer Monique Roffey, painter Che Lovelace, dancer Dave Williams (who gave key support to the collaborators), diplomats and more.



Leading up to the event, the collaborators stated: “Douen Islands is a journey, unearthing what is lost — the furtive child foraging through darkened forest; tricked by moonlight into a vacant past; vanishing, like love and blood, into wild skies. A slippery stream flowing out of this post-Independence country, trek into heat, memory, nightmare, dream. Take back the steps we never took. Seek to find.”

After the event, Nicholas Laughlin, one of the co-instigators of Alice Yard – alongside architect Sean Leonard and artist Christopher Cozeir – blogged on the event.

“In the past seven and a half years, Alice Yard has hosted roughly 300 public events,” he noted. “Thinking about last night’s Douen Islands event – and all the people who made it possible by sharing time, expertise, equipment, and labour – I was struck again by the generosity of our network and its immeasurable value.”

“We’ve never been anxious about the resources we don’t have. Instead we’ve imagined the biggest things we can make happen with what we do have. It’s a modus operandi of improvisation, and an attitude of possibility,” Laughlin said.



For more information see: http://douenislands.tumblr.com and email douenislands@gmail.com

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From Newsday, April 21st, 2014

4/20/14

Poetry, poetry, poetry


A GREAT deal of poetry is being produced by this nation. The evidence: books, published locally and abroad; a constant stream of public poetry reading events, poetry slams and poetry salons. And, of course, the poetry that has been with us all this time: the Carnival poetry and its progeny: such as the still flourishing Robber Talk and a host of traditional characters that rely on language and live action.
In the last few months several new books of poems by Trinidadians have been published. Consider: Lauren K Alleyne’s luminescent Difficult Fruit; Vahni Capildeo’s magnificent and distinctive Utter; Roger Robinson’s wonderfully textured The Butterfly Hotel; and Mervyn Taylor’s haunting and beautiful The Waving Gallery, to name a few. Taylor’s book is published by Shearsman Books, a UK publisher based at Bristol, while the other titles listed have been published by the Leeds-based Peepal Tree Press. In the coming days, more poets will launch books. These includes Jennifer Rahim who will next Sunday launch Ground Level at the Bocas Lit Fest at the Old Fire Station, Abercromby Street, Port-of-Spain at 1pm.

These are just books produced by persons who may be identified as Trinidadian. But of course the nature of this region means each country is larger than an island and persons with ties to Trinidad are also launching books, such as St Lucian poet Vladimir Lucien who will launch Sounding Ground, also at Bocas on Sunday. The great St Lucian Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott - of Trinidad Theatre Workshop fame - recently published a magnificent volume, Collected Poems: 1948-1913.

However we cut up and view the region it is clear: a lot of poetry is here. Apart from books published by foreign publishers, poets living here have also, increasingly, turned to self-publishing to get work out. Two recent examples include: An Uproar of Angels, a self-published chapbook by Akil Thomas; and what has been described as a second edition of Poemas of the Caribbean Sun by Jude Patrong. All of this excludes dozens of other poets being published in journals, reviews and anthologies produced here and abroad, in hard-copy format as well as through the immeasurably diverse realm of journals on the internet.

Additionally, there is a flurry of readings. Every month there is a poetry slam event called “True Talk No Lie”, hosted by Yvan Mendoza at Martin’s Piano Bar, Woodford Street, Port-of-Spain. Events are also regularly put on by Rachael N Collymore’s Poetry Vibes. Bookshops like the Paper Based Bookshop at Hotel Normandie, St Ann’s, also host regular readings. There are smaller salons. Additionally, events are constantly being put on by the Writers Union of Trinidad and Tobago.

Then there is the poetry that stays private, in secret note-books all over the nation. Or the poetry so ephemeral it is never named: the true Carnival of words.

What does all of this activity mean? Is it really new? Is poetry finding a larger audience here? I think all of these, as well as events such as the Bocas Lit Fest which opens on Thursday, present a good opportunity for discussion of the role of poetry in society.

Even with all the activity, poetry, unlike other art-forms, remains very easy to avoid. In a world now dominated by moving images and more visceral forms of communication, poetry, which calls for a kind of serenity and silence in order to be appreciated, is now more likely to be drowned out. Poetry must be actively sought out by the reader. Increasing activity by poets is one thing, increased readership is another. They may not coincide. But the mere prospect of an increased appetite for poetry still tells us something about the changing appetites of a reading nation which is, today, freer than ever before to pick and choose what it places on its bookshelf or iPad. Yet, what is poetry and does it require an audience?

As a poet myself, at the moment I don’t subscribe to any rigid stance on the role of poetry. I have ideas of what poetry can do, not necessarily should. Those ideas involve an engagement with truth — even through misdirection — and an engagement with social reality, however we choose to define that reality. Poetry, I think, is the emancipation of language from politics, mercenary duties and sacred cows: from forces that seek the opposite of love and freedom. Therefore, poetry is at once nothing and everything. To quote critic Stephen Burt, “Perhaps poetry needs no use at all; or perhaps it should do many things, all of them mysterious and beautiful and inefficient.” That itself is a freedom to which all — not just poets — are entitled.

In the coming days, the Bocas Lit Fest will present a rich array of poetry events. There will be readings or discussions of work by John Agard, Capildeo, Kwame Dawes, Anthony Joseph, Mervyn Morris, Grace Nichols, Taylor, Walcott, among others. There will be a film screening of Ida Does’ fine study on Walcott, Poetry is an Island. New poets such as Anna Levi and Gilberte O’Sullivan will read, spoken-word poets will recite. Word around town is that words mean something, then. So who is listening? Are you? For more information visit www.bocaslitfest.com 

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Newsday, Sun, April 20.
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