Poems About Dominica Inspired by the 2015 Nature Island Literary Festival’s Writing Competition

For the first time in several years, I was in Canada when the 8th annual Nature Island Literary Festival  (NILF)took place in early August. I have always enjoyed the fascinating sessions and stimulating interactions with literary artists from Dominica and abroad. This year, a Nature Island Writing Competition formed part of the festivities. I was inspired to ‘try my hand’ in a genre in which I had little  practical experience, with the exception of enjoying the study of a variety of poems on the syllabus that I taught in senior English  literature classes at Orion Academy  a few years ago. My humble submission was a way of staying connected to this wonderful and popular annual event!

As the theme of nature and the environment particularly intrigued me, I felt compelled to draft the required entry of three poems as I waited for my flight to Canada at the Barbados International Airport in mid-June.  I applied some of the literary devices and techniques that I had explained to my eager students  when we analyzed poems once upon a time. (They should smile when they read that!). I even revised the pieces on the plane, which I discovered was a very pleasant way of passing the time on a long journey.

Before I show them to you, I would like to congratulate Ms. Jamie Alleyne, who placed first in the poetry section of the 2015 NILF Writing Competition.  I haven’t seen her poems yet, but certainly look forward to reading them in the near future.  You can keep abreast of their release on the NILF website by clicking Nature Island Literary Festival and also checking their Facebook page.

Meanwhile, my heartfelt creations are recorded below, for posterity’s sake, if nothing else.  I certainly delighted in this literary exercise and intend to pursue it again sometime.

  1. Springfield’s Splendour

Dominica is a beautiful green gem.

A mix of rich history and vibrant culture2004_1103Dominica0015

Complement its stunning emerald blend.

Nestled in the mountains near the rainforest

There sits a stately, comely, old estate

That epitomizes the essence of this place.

Springfield Plantation is her original name

And she is of an impressive old age

Her 18th century charm endures and fascinates.

I love to wander along her forest trails

While students of science search all over the grounds

Looking for large insects and rare plants.

In the nearby river, I feel completely at ease

This river pool at Springfield is a place where I spent many moments in meditation whenever I visit Springfield.

A bath in its refreshing waters does please

And washes away my cares until tomorrow.

The old estate whispers in the night

Her ghost stories could cause a terrible fright

But I have never ever been afraid.

Myriad sounds: squeaks, creaks and groans

Fill my imagination and capture my soul

As night falls all over her.

Mornings, I gaze down the verdant valley

And focus on the tallest Royal Palm.

It seems it’s been there for almost forever and a day.

The distant Caribbean Sea calls to me

Sending assurances that all is calm and bright

When I spend time in Springfield’s paradise.

As dawn is breaking on the old estate, I am always reminded of the magic and mystery of this beautiful place.

From Springfield, the view of the Antrim Valley down to the Caribbean sea always evokes a feeling of tranquility.

The old wooden beams hold secrets

But rustling trees in gentle breezes reveal

That Springfield is filled with enchanting magic and mystery

Which will never cease to charm and captivate me.

2.  Cry for the Nature Isle

A hike through the rainforest:

Whistling birds, stunning orchids, tall, tall trees

The trail is challenging, steep and somewhat remote.

Down a deep ravine, partially concealed by shades of green:

A rusting fridge and a pair of bald tires,

And a little further along, a recently cleared garden patch in chemical yellow.

I sigh for the Nature Isle.

An afternoon by the river:

Cool, refreshing, reviving,

Revelling in its fast, frigid, flow.

Swimming further upstream to a more accessible spot

Provokes a shock-

Picnickers have left plenty on its banks:

Styrofoam plates, plastic cups, chicken bones and rum bottles too.

Midstream, a hummingbird flits around a blue banana bag caught on a rock.

I weep for the Nature Isle.

A brisk stroll along the windswept Atlantic coast:

Wild waves crash onshore

Pulling in ubiquitous overgrown Sargassum seaweed

Carrying with it a flotsam and jetsam of plastics

Of all descriptions:

Abundant bottle caps, motor oil containers, a bait bucket from Virginia,

To name a few.

I sob for the Nature Isle.

A critically endangered turtle, needing to lay her eggs:

Searching for a once-familiar spot on the beach.

In the distance, a lone man wanders along the shoreline

Late at night, and when asked about his presence there,

Vaguely admits to “doing something wrong.”

The 1,000 pound Leatherback never had a chance;

Soon the species will be no more.

I howl for the Nature Isle.DSCF4390

A Boa Constrictor freely inhabits the suburban grassy terrain

And in the dry season, burns to death in an intentionally-set fire.

Iguana lizards cooked for lunch are enjoyed by all generations

Who savor their exquisite taste, despite laws and declining numbers.

I wail for the Nature Isle.

Climate change, global warming, pollution, DSCF4546

Thoughtlessness and selfishness most of all

Have taken precedence in this country of rare beauty, splendour

And sometime national pride.

If we don’t come together to preserve this precious place

Then I will have no choice but to constantly

Cry for the Nature Isle.

3. Dreams of Waitukubuli*

Hot, warm, cool waters

This forceful natural hot water shower at Tia's provides a strong massage for sore muscles

Strong smelling, soothing relief

A healthful respite.

Spouts seen on the sea

Secretive, gentle and  strong

Dive into the deeps.

Cascading torrentsDSCF1160

Flow in synchronicity-

Electricity.

Three emerald peaks

Silver clouds and sapphire sky

Tall is her body.

“Whoop-whoop” breaks silence

A common sound in the nightDSCF5438

Once upon a time.

*Waitukubuli (pronounced Why-too-KOO-boo-lee) is the Kalinago name for Dominica, which means “tall is her body.”

**The above three poems were submitted to the NILF Writing Competition in July 2015, several weeks before Tropical Storm Erika devastated the Nature Island – but the sentiments remain the same! Gwendominica

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Hamlet ‘Visits’ Dominica: a Sensational Grand Finale for the Nature Island Literary Festival 2014

DSCF3183In early September, I prepared myself for the grand finale of this year’s Literary Festival program of plays: London’s Globe Theatre Troupe was bringing  Hamlet, Prince of Denmark to Dominica on their world tour to celebrate 450 years since Shakespeare’s birth!  The Nature Island was actually the 44th country on their route, which would take the cast, crew and producers to more than 200

"The Play's the Thing" is a common expression in the English language that originated from Shakespeare's pen in lines spoken by the play's protagonist in Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2, lines 603-605. Its original meaning is very intriguing - read it  (or see it) and find out why!

“The Play’s the Thing,” this year’s Lit Fest theme is a common expression in the English language. It originated from Shakespeare’s pen in lines spoken by the play’s protagonist in Hamlet, Act II, Scene 2, lines 603-605. Its original meaning is very intriguing – read it (or see it) and find out why!

countries over a two-year period.  They had been to Canada in early August, and had performed two shows in one day at Prescott, Ontario, a small town about one and a half hours east of Kingston, my home town.  I read that tickets sold out in less than an hour!  For a country the size of Canada, very few people had the unique privilege of attending this special production.  And to think  that this proud Canadian was able to secure  one ticket to a sold-out show for 600 people in Dominica!  Therefore, I was very motivated to do my homework by reviewing the entire play, researching its background, and studying important themes, monologues and other literary devices so that I could better appreciate this incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The venue, the Arawak House of Culture is the only big indoor theatre in Roseau . Unfortunately, it is a difficult space for me (to sing on-stage or to sit in the house) because of my

The Arawak House of Culture had very few empty seats at 7 p.m., when the play commenced.  Hamlet was sold out in Roseau Dominica!

The Arawak House of Culture had very few empty seats at 7 p.m., when the play commenced. Hamlet was sold out in Roseau Dominica!

environmental health challenges and allergies.  Therefore, I had to take good care of myself before attending the play, knowing that I would not feel well for a few days afterwards.  I have no regrets. I consider that auspicious evening to be one of the highlights of my life in Dominica.  There were some other pleasant surprises that night, as well as  the superb performance of Hamlet that I can never forget.

 I am so proud of my former Orion Academy Eng Lit students Edward and Amanda.  They both placed in the top 10 in Dominica in theri regional exams and have gone on to university. It was delight to see them at Hamlet!

I am so proud of my former Orion Academy Eng Lit students, Edward and Amanda. They both placed in the top 10 in Dominica in their regional exams in 2008. They have since gone on to university. It was a delight to see them at Hamlet!

I did arrive early to claim a ‘rush’ seat, and I am glad I did so, because about 600 other patrons soon filled the first floor and upper level balcony of the theatre. I was thrilled to see two of my former senior students in English Literature in attendance.  In their class at Orion Academy, we had studied Macbeth and I believe we all had a lot of fun going through it.  I certainly enjoyed it, and I would like to think that based on the high

Liz and Arun (pictured here) surely influenced their son Dylan about the wonders of Shakespeare. He was another of my brilliant Eng Lit students who seemed to enjoy Merchant of Venice in our senior Eng Lit class.  He graduated from Orion in 2011 and is now at university in the U.S.

Liz and Arun (pictured here) surely influenced their son Dylan about the wonders of Shakespeare. He was another of my brilliant students who seemed to enjoy Merchant of Venice in his senior Eng Lit class. He graduated with high honours from Orion in 2011 and is now at university in the U.S.

scores in their regional exams, they must have gotten a thing or two out of it!

Before the play began, I tried to determine if picture-taking was permitted.  It seemed as if it was not allowed,  so I have no shots of the actors in action.  However, it was mentioned by a member of the troupe at the start of the show that they requested “no flash.” Nevertheless, I did not take chances, and as such, have few photos  for this momentous occasion.  But you can see some good ones on the Nature Island Literary Festival Face Book Page, by clicking here.

Just minutes before the show began, I examined the set with interest.  It was very simple in design, which is understandable, as the troupe would be “on the road” for the better part of two years!  I was curious to see what they would do with scant props on the modest stage, and it didn’t take long to find out! A cast of 12 covered about 20 roles in total.  The four crew members easily moved around the set to rearrange, take away or add props that were relevant to each scene in the five-act play.  They even dressed the part and fit right in for crowd scenes and lovely lighthearted Elizabethan period  songs and dances.  Some of the actors played instruments as well that added  a gaiety to the atmosphere of what is generally considered an extremely sombre “tragedy.”.As well, some of the house lights stayed on, providing a more realistic feel for the audience about the era in which the play was originally performed (daylight, usually – no electricity in the early 1600’s!).

The simple set of The Globe's  touring production of Hamlet did not detract from the words and action on stage.

The simple set of The Globe’s touring production of Hamlet did not detract from the words and action on stage.

It took  me the first scene to get into the rhythm of the speech patterns of the play: plentiful ‘blank verse‘, smatterings of rhyming couplets, and occasional prose in cultivated, well-articulated British accents required a few moments  of adjustment for my  ears.

Hamlet is indeed a very dark play in the most macabre ways, replete with a ghost, murders, incest, betrayal, desertion, deception, trickery, suicide,  indecision, revenge, depression,  madness (real and feigned) and anger figuring prominently throughout (until the end of the very final scene in Act 5) . However, the directors, with their brilliant cast truly succeeded in making the  very tragic themes and actions far from morose. The quick pace of the play, the lighter interludes during the scene changes with music and song and the deft movements of the actors back and forth  across the downstage areas  (including a mesmerizing sword duel to the death!) aided in holding the audience’s rapt attention for about 2 hours and 40 minutes, with one 15 minute intermission.  While all the actors were absolutely sensational, the character of Hamlet, performed by Naeem Hayat was extraordinarily outstanding in his flawless delivery of lines and ceaseless energetic movements that at times made me think I was an onlooker in the court of King Claudius ( his uncle) and Queen Gertrude (his mother)!  This Globe to Globe production was entirely believable, entertaining and skilfully executed in the manner in which Shakespeare’s  thoughtfully crafted creation was delivered to the “observers.”

But there were some other memorable moments offstage, that also added to my unforgettable experience of that glorious night at the theatre.  Apart from seeing former students in the house, I was astonished when the lady seated beside me mentioned that the works of Shakespeare rest beside the Bible on her nightstand, for frequent reference.  After a moment, I realized that it made sense to ponder “the Bard’s” writings often.   I had continually reminded students during my days of teaching about Shakespeare at Orion Academy   that his themes are universal and timeless. They apply to any era, any place, any person, anywhere!

Hamlet is filled with famous phrases and idioms that have slipped into the everyday English language.  Often, when we say them, we don’t even think of their origin.  However, I was quite surprised when, in West Indian style, members of the audience either chuckled or recited aloud whatever well-known saying was being expressed on stage. Examples include:

To be, or not to be: that is the question”. – (Act III, Scene I); “Neither a borrower nor a lender be”. – (Act I, Scene III); “This above all: to thine own self be true”. – (Act I, Scene III); “Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t.”. – (Act II, Scene II); “The lady doth protest too much, methinks”. – (Act III, Scene II ); “In my mind’s eye”. – (Act I, Scene II); and several others.  In fact, the theme of this year’s Literary Festival: “The play ‘s the thing…”. – (Act II, Scene II),  has  a more dire meaning, if you read the line in context  of what proceeds and follows it. You can find more well-known expressions from Hamlet right here. I was also amazed at the number of theatre-goers who recited parts of Hamlet’s famous soliloquy,”‘To be or not to be” along with the actor.  While I was duly impressed with this group recitation, I don’t believe it affected the words and actions of Hamlet on-stage! I am convinced that Mr. Hayat “became” Hamlet,  because of his dlp (dead-letter-perfect) line delivery and precisely timed actions!

The of Hamlet acknowledges thanks from Dr. Bully post-performance. Hamlet, the character played by Naeem Hayat is second from the right.

The cast  of Hamlet acknowledges an expression of thanks from Dr. Bully  (off-stage) post-performance.  Naeem Hayat, the actor who played Hamlet is second from the right.

I did wonder if there were audience members who  were possibly confused when one actor assumed another role, with only slight changes to the costume. For example, Rawiri Paratene, who played King Claudius, as well as the ghost of King Hamlet might have befuddled a few – for a short while only, I hope.  For me, the flexibility of the cast in switching parts is worthy of the highest admiration for their theatrical skills. However, I was concerned about a young  man seated in front of me who was a recent high school graduate.  He was unfamiliar with the play and  I did sense his confusion. I asked him at the interval how it was going for him.  He admitted that it was a bit challenging, after which I urged him to read the play as soon as possible! I think he was in awe of the spectacle of such a superb production though, as was everyone else. A prolonged standing ovation at the end of it confirmed the audience’s collective appreciation of this unforgettable presentation!

It was wonderful to observe the multiracial cast of The Globe Theatre’s Touring Company of London putting on this phenomenal performance of  Hamlet in Dominica.  And to think they would do it many times over in other parts of the planet as they proceed with their world tour!  Dramatic works such as those of Shakespeare do contain timeless universal themes and messages for all to enjoy, read, perform,  ponder and/or discuss, regardless of background, culture, age or experience.  This is also evident in the Caribbean films and plays that I attended during the Literary Festival’s August offerings.  You can read that report here.

This year, the Nature Island Literary Festival definitely affirmed that “the play’s the thing.” Thanks again to Dr. Alwin Bully and the entire Committee for making an extraordinary late-summer night’s dream come true!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Feast for my Soul: Indulging in the Nature Island Literary Festival and Book Fair 2013

This year's Literary Festival celebrated renowned Martiniquan  artist, intellectual and politician Aime Cesaire one hundred years after his birth.

This year’s Literary Festival celebrated renowned Martinican writer, intellectual and politician Aime Cesaire one hundred years after his birth. He died in 2008.

Over  the  weekend of August 9 -11, 2013, the 6th edition of Dominica’s Nature Island  Literary Festival and Book Fair took place at the Open Campus  of  the

Literary Festival Chairman Dr. Alwin Bully and his Committee worked hard to ensure that the complete event ran as smoothly as possible for the enjoyment of everyone.

Literary Festival Chairman Dr. Alwin Bully and his Committee worked hard to ensure that the complete event ran as smoothly as possible for the enjoyment of everyone.

University of West Indies (UWI) near Roseau.  It wrapped up on Sunday evening at lovely Mero Beach, about a half hour drive up the west coast from the capital.

I am still mentally processing the words, ideas, expressions, performances and professions that moved my soul over the course of the three-day event.  While I did attend almost all  of it (with the exception of the well-received final evening on Mero Beach), I will show you how it positively affected me through my words and  photos.

I was particularly intrigued that this year’s Festival showcased the life and work of Monsieur Aimé Césaire, a famous Martiniquais who was not well-known in Dominica, despite the close proximity of the two islands.  By coincidence, I had only become somewhat familiar with him earlier in the year, thanks to the Alliance Française de la Dominique.  There, my instructors Director Carole Bogdanovscky and her husband Gildas Lefèvre exposed me to some of his work and ideas.  As well, there were recent performances of  two of his dramatic pieces: Cahier d’un retour au pays natal (Notebook of a Return to the Native Land), which was presented by famous French actor Jacques Martial as part of Francophone Month in March; and then his Shakespearian-based play Une tempête (A Tempest,)     which was performed in English and directed by none other than Literary Festival Chairman Dr.  Alwin Bully!

We were to gain more insight into the motivations, creations and character of this”Revolutionary French West Indian Writer” right from the Opening Ceremony.    Between  remarks from various local dignitaries and Dr. Bully’s  overview of the  Festival, we were entertained and instructed about Aimé Césaire and his work.  Of particular significance is that he developed a concept called la Négritude in the 1930’s.  Simply said, it was his firm belief that people of African origin  should reject colonialism and racism and take pride in their Black identity, culture and history.  Parts of some of his better-known creations were acknowledged, addressed, discussed and even performed throughout this event.

The audience was enthralled to have a little taste of 'A Tempest'.  In this scene (Act 1, Scene 2), Caliban, played by Haxey Salamant  confronts Prospero, played by Dr. Lennox Honychurch over numerous injustices.

The audience was enthralled to have a little taste of ‘A Tempest’. In this scene (Act 1, Scene 2), protagonist Caliban, played by Haxey Salamat (l) confronts antagonist Prospero, played by Dr. Lennox Honychurch over numerous injustices.

On the Friday night, the audience was given some exposure to Césaire’s political, cultural and social ideals through a reading of  selections from Notebook

In Act 3, Scene 2 of 'A Tempest', Cesaire injects considerable humor into his message of inequality and anti-colonialism by portraying two European drunkards ( Stephano and Trinculo) who discover Caliban asleep and discuss how they can 'exploit' him to their advantage.

In Act 3, Scene 2 of ‘A Tempest’, Cesaire injects considerable humor into his message of inequality and anti-colonialism by portraying two European drunkards ( Stephano (l) and Trinculo) who discover Caliban asleep under a blanket (far right) and discuss how they can ‘exploit’ him to their advantage.

of a Return to the Native Land (Cahier d’un retour au pays natal)  by Ann Bruno in French, followed by  Dr. Bully, who repeated each excerpt in English. We also had the pleasure of watching two scenes from Dr. Bully’s recently produced A Tempest (Une tempête), which thrilled the almost full house tremendously.  It was evident that this French West Indian playwright knew how to incorporate satirical humor to relay his message of the senselessness of  imperialism and racism set against the persistent struggle to obtain acceptance and  honour of the Black identity.

We were also graced with the presence of Monsieur Serge Letchimy, President of the Regional Council of Martinique, who spoke in French and Creole, which was translated into English by his assistant. He knew Césaire in the political circles of his country. He informed us that as well as being a recognized literary artist, Césaire was the mayor of Fort-de-France Martinique for 56 years (after which Letchimy followed him)!  He referred to Césaire as a “political emancipator,” and emphasized that it was this exceptional man’s fervent desire to have universal understanding and respect for Black people.

In addition, Keynote Speaker  and Scholar of Caribbean literature  Dominican Dr. Shuyler Esprit, PhD, provided us with more insights through her interpretation of Cahier d’un retour au pays natal(Notebook of a Return to the Native Land).  She emphasized that while Césaire’s vision was global, it stemmed from some deeply personal encounters with racism in France.  While there, he also met others of like mind, including  poet Léopold Senghor, who later became the first president of the west African country of Sénégal.

Keynote Speaker Dr. Schuyler Esprit is a Scholar of Caribbean literature who provided us with many insights into Aime Cesaire, the Festival's honoree.

Keynote Speaker Dr. Schuyler Esprit is a Scholar of Caribbean literature who provided us with many insights into Aime Cesaire, the Festival’s honoree.

With respect to the concept of la Négritude, she urged the attendees to “remember each other.  Remember the person sitting next to you.  You are part of a larger community. To be free, [we] must be together.”

On Saturday morning , I and about 25 others of all ages and experience met to take part in a ‘Writing Non-Fiction” workshop conducted by Dr. Schuyler Esprit.  It was one of a several intimate literary learning sessions that were offered as part of the Festival.  In her lively, enthusiastic and entertaining presentation, she focused on ‘Opinion Writing’.  She emphasized that,

Dr. Shuyler Esprit conducted a very informative and instructive workshop on writing Opinion Essays.  I will try to follow her advice that"less is more, less is good!"  She was also the Keynote Speaker on Friday night.

Dr. Shuyler Esprit conducted a very informative and instructive workshop on writing Opinion Essays. I will try to follow her advice that”less is more, less is good!”

“writing is about you!   [You have to] give [your] audience room to think and reflect on what you have written.”

Following the workshop, I went home for the lunch break and wrote a poem that placed second in one of the writing competitions.  You can read it here.

I arrived back at UWI later that afternoon to check out the Book Fair.  Although smaller this year, I always enjoy looking at the latest from Papillote Press, a London-based publishing house that specializes in ‘Dominicana’. I bought the latest release, a children’s story called ‘Look Back!’, which  is beautifully illustrated and strongly reflects Dominican culture and heritage through fiction.DSCF0452

Vincentian Phillip Nanton certainly knows how to tell a story. we held on to his every word!

Vincentian Phillip Nanton certainly knows how to tell a story. We held on to his every word!

Then I caught a fascinating ‘read’ by Phillip Nanton, a St. Vincentian born sociologist and writer, who offered the audience some humorous selections of his work, which got everyone chuckling.  He was followed by an expatriate countrywoman, Vonnie Roudette, who impressed the crowd with a slide show about her work as an artist, farmer and teacher in St. Vincent.  There, she developed a college level fine arts program, from  which students have benefited  tremendously.

The night was young – and I and other literary enthusiasts were  in for some  more performance treats!

Pardon my vernacular, but the young people who participated in the “Lyrics under the Stars” segment basically blew me away!  I was so impressed with their creativity, spontaneity, innate talent and courage that I can’t wait to see them perform again!

Nigel Durand's musicality was clearly evident on acoustic guitar.  He took me down memory lane as his performance reminded of 'coffee house' days in an earlier era!

Nigel Durand’s musicality was clearly evident on acoustic guitar. He took me down memory lane as his performance reminded me  of mellow ‘coffee house’ days in an earlier era!

This group of young poets, musicians and performers shows tremendous potential.  I look forward to hearing them again!

This group of young poets, musicians and performers shows tremendous potential. I look forward to hearing them again!

Hats off to their organizer and coordinator, Shawna Johnson for her energy, enthusiasm and dedication to the promotion of these young folks.

Reseau Poetique de la Guadeloupe fascinated the audience with a traditional form of spoken poetry set to an Ancient African rhythm.

Reseau Poetique de la Guadeloupe enthralled the audience with a traditional form of spoken poetry set to an ancient African rhythm.

There was more French flavour as the Réseau Poetique de la Guadeloupe entertained us with poems set to music with a traditional African rhythm called Gwo Ka on that French West Indian island.  In Dominica, this drum beat is referred to as Bélé.  They were certainly entertaining and gave the crowd a real feel for a different type of poetic presentation.

The high-caliber entertainment seemed endless. Dobrene O’Marde from Antigua

Dorbrene O'Marde from Antigua delighted everyone with his readings from his new novel Send out You Hand.

Dorbrene O’Marde from Antigua delighted everyone with his readings from his new novel Send Out You Hand.

read from his very popular book which suggests/implies Caribbean unity through its fictional plot and characters.  There were lots of laughs as he read some selections from ‘Send Out You Hand’.

Whitney Greenaway is a very talented award-wining 'slam' performance poet.  The Lit Fest audience loved her!

Whitney Greenaway is a very talented award-winning ‘slam’ performance poet. The Lit Fest audience loved her!

Then award-winning slam poet Whitney Greenaway took the stage and most definitely “knocked everyone’s socks off.”  You have to see this young lady perform if you ever get the chance.  Otherwise, check her out on you tube here.  She was born in the U.S. of Dominican parentage and was actually raised on the Nature Island by her grandmother.  She credits this close relative with being a great influence. Her poetic inspirations are very personal and moving.  I felt as if the entire audience could identify with her expressive musings.  I wish her all the best!

The evening ended for me here, even though there was still more.  I could not stay for it, but I hope to see Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck’s satirical ‘Moloch Tropical’ at another venue in the near future.

For me, the grande finale was Sunday morning, although others would later head off to Mero Beach for the evening performances and closing ceremony.  Fortunately, the weather did start to clear, as it had been a rainy weekend.  But I had been safe and dry, either under the big tent or in the UWI auditorium!

DSCF0440

Monsieur Serge Letchimy, President of the Regional Council of Martinique shared some of his personal reminiscences of the life and work of his colleague, the late Aime Cesaire.

The first  session, entitled ‘Celebrating Césaire’ was an all-encompassing one.  The panel  disclosed more revelations about this exceptional  French West Indian literary artist, intellectual and politician.  The speakers were : Dr. Alex Gil, a librarian from Columbia University who wrote his dissertation on Césaire. While doing his research, he actually discovered a manuscript of a play that was written by Césaire when Martinique was occupied during the Vichy regime in World War II.; Dr. Schuyler Esprit, a Caribbean literature scholar discussed the politics (through his works) of this French West Indian writer; and Monsieur Serge Letchimy, President of the Regional Council of Martinique  presented personal reminiscences of his compatriot.

The trio really painted a complete picture of this exceptional man.  He was collectively described as a “humanist,  poet and  thinker” who even revised his major works in order to appropriately express his views about Négritude in a meaningful manner that matched societal trends.   In an understated fashion, Césaire desired that Black people all over the world honour their history and identity by rejecting colonialism and racism.  He was called a man of freedom, as he was seen by many as a liberator of the oppressed.  It was a very comprehensive presentation and I hope that the material can be condensed into an article by a knowledgeable academic/researcher for publication.  Panelists, take note!

The auditorium at UWI was filled to capacity as an enthusiastic audience listened attentively to local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch.

The auditorium at UWI was filled to capacity as an enthusiastic audience listened attentively to local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch.

Dr. Lennox Honychurch addresses the audience with his revelations about this unusual and exceptional 17th century local dictionary.

Dr. Lennox Honychurch addressed the audience with his revelations about the compiler of this unique 17th century local dictionary.

The final  Festival presentation at UWI was greatly anticipated by a large number of people, and the packed auditorium was evidence of that.  Local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch has a longstanding reputation for delivering fascinating and unusual aspects of Dominican history with great enthusiasm.  This session was no different.  The entire room was intrigued by his revelations about Father Raymond Breton, a  17th century French Dominican missionary who spent considerable time with the Kalinagos between 1641-53.  He also built the first church in Colihaut (on the west coast) and conducted the first mass in Dominica.  He became proficient in the language of these indigenous people and compiled a ‘Karib (Carib)-French’ dictionary of their words and expressions, which was published in 1665.  Then, the following year, he released the French-Karib (Carib) version.  These are very rare books – with single copies in Dominica and the Duke Humphrey’s Library in Oxford, England. Dr. Honychurch provided plenty of anecdotal information about this exceptional priest’s research: “It is a very involved dictionary,” as often whole phrases are used to describe one word.  He reiterated that Dominicans are still the largest users of the Kalinago language, albeit only a limited number of words.

After that amazing presentation, I was satiated with new knowledge and insights about people past and present who had contributed or are contributing significantly to the literary arts in the Caribbean region.  Although Festival activities continued at Mero Beach later that day, I returned to my home to digest, savor and process all the wonderful presentations and contributions from a diversity of academics and artists.

Heartfelt thanks to Chairman Dr. Alwin Bully and other the members of the Nature Island Literary Festival  Committee for their tremendous efforts in organizing this successful event.  It was, without a doubt, a feast for my soul!

The Nature Island Literary Festival 2013: Inspiring the (unlikely) Poet in Me!

I am rejoicing over all the wonderful presentations, encounters and inspirations that I experienced at Dominica’s 6th annual Nature Island Literary Festival (NILF), which was held from August 9th – 11th at the University of the West Indies Open Campus.  I will be writing a full blog report about its program to follow this one.

Although I am not spontaneous by nature, I impulsively entered their poetry writing contest without giving it much thought.  I think I was motivated by the ideas and creative works that had been shared by various literary artists and academics up to midday on the first full  day of the event.

At the  lunch  break that Saturday, I picked up an entry form for the short story and poetry competitions, and headed home.  As I sipped my soup, I read over the instructions.  The poem was to be of no more than  20 lines and had to  be about Roseau.  I overlook the fair city from my porch, and I never tire of doing so. Between spoonfuls,  I simply picked up my pen and out poured some thoughts and  feelings about the lovely capital,  in non-rhyming  free verse.  As directed, I wrote it out on the back of the instruction form, and put my name and contact info on a separate sheet that had a corresponding number with this  anonymous  instruction form.  So when I headed back for the afternoon sessions, I discretely dropped it in the entry box, and absorbed myself in other awesome literary distractions.

While I did attend most of the event, I was not at  Mero Beach for the Sunday afternoon performances and closing ceremony.  When a NILF committee member called me on Monday morning, I was more than surprised to hear that I had placed second in the poetry contest!  And even stranger, when the telephone rang, I had been sorting through some poems I had written many years ago when I first arrived on Dominica! I’ve never penned one since, that is, until this past Saturday! I’ll post my old poems in due course.  But in the mean time, here is what I wrote about lovely Roseau, on the spur of the moment:

The Botanical Gardens are a cool and lovely respite from the afternoon heat in Roseau.

The Botanical Gardens offer a cool and lovely respite from the afternoon heat in downtown Roseau.

Roseau

Stately Victorians mingle with modern designs

English street names mark places once French

Sweltering sidewalks lead to a garden of green.

 

Bayfront, cruise ships rest some days,

I love to watch  the cruise ships arrive and depart from my porch overlooking Roseau.  Photo by Edwin Whitford.

I love to look at the cruise ships. They easily anchor in the deep waters  beneath the pier on the Bayfront in Roseau. Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Roseau is a bustling little Caribbean city and is the capital of Dominica.  Photo by Edwin Whitford.

Dominica’s capital city Roseau is a bustling place. Photo of King George V Street looking west, by Edwin Whitford.

While their passengers experience

The hustle and bustle of a day in port.

 

Most nights, all is quiet

The historic Fort Young Hotel hosts a lively Happy Hour on Friday nights.

The historic Fort Young Hotel hosts a lively Happy Hour on Friday nights.

With the exception of Fridays,

When happy people meet and greet

Over loudspeakers producing pulsating beats.

 

It’s the serene spots I like best:

The Carnegie-designed Roseau Public Library was built in 1906.  It has a treasure trove of books inside!

The Roseau Public Library was built in 1906. It has a treasure trove of books inside (and computers and wireless too)!

Spending time at the century-old public library;

Or taking the steep walk up to Morne Bruce.

 

There, I can meditate over brightly coloured roofs

From Morne Bruce, the Roseau roof-tops are a riot of colour that contrasts with the calm Caribbean Sea.

From Morne Bruce, the Roseau roof-tops are a riot of colours that contrast with the calm blue Caribbean Sea.

And an endless sea view

Where the setting sun always promises another day

Roseau sunsets are simply breathtaking!

Roseau sunsets are simply breathtaking!

To really enjoy the diverse faces of lovely Roseau.

 

                                                                                                Roseau, Dominica

                                                                                                August 10, 2013

* Thanks to the organizers, sponsors, participants and enthusiasts of the Nature Island Literary Festival for inspiring the unlikely poet in me!

A Feast for My Mind: Indulging in Dominica’s Nature Island Literary Festival and Book Fair

Whenever I am in Dominica for the summer, I  look forward to attending the Nature Island Literary Festival (NILF)   which is held at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus. It offers an extensive menu of local, regional and international books, talks, panel discussions and readings by renowned West Indian authors and poets.  As well, several workshops  are devoted to  expert guidance and instruction on techniques and tips on the craft of writing from the’ pros’.  There are many excellent offerings on the program and I  always come away from the 3-day event with fresh ideas and renewed inspiration as a writer and reading enthusiast. And best of all, it’s FREE!

My overview of NILF‘s program in 2010 is found here.

This year  (2012)marked the 5th anniversary of the event, and I was delighted to be on-island to partake of some of its tempting and intriguing selections.

Dr. Shuyler Esprit guides the class through the structural components of a NY Times Book Review of ‘Autobiography of My Mother’ by Jamaica Kincaid. This book is actually set in Dominica.

As a journalist, I benefited tremendously from two  workshops that I selected out of several others that were offered before and during the Literary Festival.  My first option was a three session pre-festival course on ‘Reviewing the Creative Arts’.  It was facilitated by Dr. Shuyler Esprit, a Dominican woman who is an Assistant Professor of English at Trinity Washington University in D.C., USA.  Over six hours, she skillfully guided us through the techniques,analytical tactics and structural outlines that are necessary for creating suitable arts reviews targeted at specific audiences.

Professor Elizabeth Nunez, renowned bestselling novelist dramatically emphasizes a point during her  Fiction Workshop at the Literary Festival.

My other workshop choice presented me with an opportunity to learn more about writing fiction from a ‘pro’. Trinidadian/American Dr. Elizabeth Nunez,  a Distinguished Professor at City University of New York and author of eight best-selling novels took time out from her busy schedule to host this session. She offered her enthusiastic audience considerable advice about this craft as a “process of self-discovery.”  She also ensured that we all were familiar with the structural aspects of this art. Her practical disclosures about attracting a publisher could also prove to be invaluable!

NILF Chairman Dr. Alwin Bully welcomed an attentive audience during the Opening Ceremony. He outlined the program for the weekend and revealed that historically, there have been other literary-minded groups in Dominica. An interest in books definitely continues to thrive!

The high calibre of presentations by these specialists was typical of all the sessions that I  attended over the weekend.  The  number of notable writers and poets at this event was phenomenal.  I felt so fortunate to be able to listen, participate, mix and mingle with such prominent literary personalities.  These people have certainly put West Indian literature “on the map!”

Professor George Lamming addresses the audience at the Opening Ceremony of the Nature Island Literary Festival 2012.

All seats were taken under the big tent during the Official Opening Ceremony of the Nature Island Literary Festival 2012.

Consider Professor George Lamming, Keynote Speaker at the Friday night Opening Ceremony.  This erudite octogenarian and award-winning novelist entranced the audience with his articulations about “the education of feeling,” that is, engaging the reader in feeling for the characters in a novel.  The scholarly Barbadian further expressed that we don’t read fiction for our heads, but for our hearts.  I agree with that pronouncement!

I confess that I did not have a real interest in poetry until I taught literature in senior high school.  It was only when I studied it at a deeper level that I developed a fascination with this literary art form.  My newer-found delight was further enhanced by impressive poetic renditions at this event.  The readers, or should I say performers used dramatic techniques that definitely brought different types of poems to life.

Lasana Sekou, preeminent literary artist from St. Martin.

 Adrian Green, a spoken word artist from Barbados and Lasana Sekou,  a prolific poet from St. Martin held me spellbound with their theatrical poetic performances, which were expressed through their highly articulate voices.  I will especially never forget Sekou’s spellbinding poetic presentation of a traditional West Indian cock-fight.

Adrian Green, Spoken Word Artist from Barbados.

Students from Convent High School entertained the Opening Ceremony audience with their creative choral speech performance.

Although the Literary Festival took place in mid-summer,some  students did take part and were welcome at all sessions.  During the Opening Ceremony, girls from Convent High School in Roseau entertained the audience with their own choral speech creation.  I hope that this type of unifying art will be encouraged at all schools – not just in Dominica – but worldwide!

My enduring fascination with Dominican literature was once again satiated at NILF.  Every year, there are sessions devoted to the Dominican literary perspective.  A panel discussion, interspersed with readings from an unpublished manuscript belonging to the late Dominican author, poet and politician Phyllis Shand Allfrey captured my rapt attention for over an hour.  Many attendees in the packed UWI auditorium agreed that they would like to continue to learn about her life and work, thanks to information disclosed during this presentation.

Dominican Dr.  Irving André reads a selection from his biography about prominent businessman Elias Nassief.

I also got to hear Honourable Judge Dr.  Irving André, a Dominican/Canadian who  sits on the bench of the Ontario Court  of Justice near  Toronto. He read from his compelling biography about Elias Nassief, a deceased  Dominican businessman.  Dr. André has produced a number of biographies about memorable Dominicans and significant episodes in local history through Pond Casse Press, of which he is a co-founder.

Dr. Lennox Honychurch reaches for a text written by a traveler to Dominica in an earlier era.

On Sunday morning, the seats were again all filled in the UWI auditorium as people gathered to hear preeminent local historian Dr. Lennox Honychurch talk about travel writers who have spent time near or on Dominica since 1493!  (This year is significant as that is when Columbus first sighted the island.  There were even some writers on the 17 ships  in his entourage!) Dr. Honychurch’s accompanying Power Point presentation really added to the detailed overview of those who  have been compelled to write about Dominica since the 15th century.

By late Sunday afternoon, my plate was overflowing with numerous tastes of West Indian literature. While there was so much more on the menu, I was completely satisfied with my own literary meal at the 2012 Nature Island Literary Festival and Book Fair.

During the event, there were  also opportunities to listen to some wonderful music by the Sixth Form Sisserou Singers and the Venezuelan Institute’s Cuatro Band. The Roseau Public Library was well represented with an interesting display of Dominican books and archival newspapers. Local foods were readily available, one could compete for prizes in writing contests, participate in open mic sessions and of course, there were books  for sale and exchange!  I was thrilled to have Dr. Elizabeth Nunez autograph two of her latest books for me.

Papillote Press is a small publisher  specializing in books about different aspects of Dominica.

It was fun to look over the available books and do a trade from one’s own collection in exchange for something appealing on the table.

Finally, I would be very remiss if I did not sincerely thank Chairman Dr. Alwin Bully and the entire Nature Island Literary Festival Committee for their dedication, desire and determination which resulted in a first class, freely available feast for many minds! I also salute  the sponsors who generously contributed to enable the success of this  event. I eagerly await the next one!