|Bahamian poet heads to 2012 Olympics in London|
Arts & Culture Editor
Published: May 26, 2012
Distinguished Bahamian poet and scholar Christian Campbell had always dreamed of going to the Olympics but not quite like this.
Campbell is more known for his award-winning collection of poetry “Running the Dusk” than his swimming skills, but the writer swam competitively in high school and college, even competing once in the CARIFTA Games. Dreams of attending the Olympics as a swimmer have now given way to years of dedication to literature and his writing craft, as after an extensive nomination process, Campbell will read his work at the 2012 Poetry Parnassus.
“I knew the level of commitment and talent that you need to swim in the Olympics and as a young swimmer who used to fantasize about what it would be like to swim for the Olympics,” he said.
“In that sense it’s wonderful that even though I’m not at the level of people like my god brother Nicholas Rees who are Olympians, I can go to the Olympics as a poet.”
Campbell is just one of the expected 204 poets one from each participating nation in this year’s 2012 Olympics in London, UK that will head to the world capital to take part in Poetry Parnassus, in the biggest gathering of poets in world history.
The event is just one facet of the Cultural Olympiad, the largest cultural celebration in the history of the modern Olympic and Paralympic Movements, which culminates in the London 2012 festival from June 21 to September 9. Twelve thousand events encapsulating dance, music, theater, fashion, food, art, film and writing will take place alongside sporting events, celebrating culture in all of its forms and from all corners of the globe.
Named after Mount Parnassus, which in Greek mythology was the home of the muses for artistic inspiration, Poetry Parnassus will gather poets, rappers, singers, and storytellers from around the world to participate in a week-long series of literary events at the Southbank Center.
Led by the Southbank Center’s artist-in-residence Simon Armitage and artistic director Jude Kelly, it will present readings, panels, interactive displays, workshops and even a “bombing” of 100,000 poems from a helicopter over an eager crowd as its big opening event.
With such a variety of events, Campbell is excited about taking part in the epic celebration of culture. Besides an intimate reading of his poetry, he will also take part in a group reading of emerging poets called “Group World Order” and a series of workshops under The Caribbean Poetry Project which works to bring Caribbean poetry to both British and Caribbean high schools.
“I’m thrilled about it I think the Olympics provides this unique opportunity to have challenging rich dialogues between many nations and many groups,” he said.
“I think what’s interesting about Poetry Parnassus is that some of the tensions and questions about representations that I’ve been meditating on this relationship between cultural politics and artistic production that that’s always been both a rich and contentious relationship will be addressed by us.”
Indeed, in a globalized world where national identities are rife with stereotypes and expectations especially in the artistic community with its histories and migration and immigration this gathering of poets is set to redefine what is means to write from a place, directly challenging the notion of “representing” any country.
“I think the idea of nation always creates problems for poets because the poet’s job, to me, is to defy boundaries,” Campbell pointed out. “But at the same time, I am not interested in that kind of apolitical stance that pretends you reject all of these ideas and communities that organize our lives.”
“For me it’s more interesting to both embrace and resist, that dance with those ideas the friction between them in some ways is where the poetry is.”
“In thinking about this, I always go back to Walcott and his poem The Schooner ‘Flight’: ‘I have no nation but the imagination’.” He continued. “What I think is really interesting about that line that I think people sometimes miss is that it’s not an outright rejection of nation that ‘imagination’ has ‘nation’ in it.”
As he pointed out, being both Bahamian and Trinidadian and having lived in many places including currently in Canada where he teaches as a member of the Faculty of the Department of English at the University of Toronto both defies “Bahamian-ness” and yet shares similarities with many Bahamian and worldwide citizens across the board.
Indeed the Cultural Olympiad is set to redefine how nations represent themselves in such global events as the Olympics by expanding its celebration way beyond the sporting field which for so long has taken precedence in the public imaginations of countries such as The Bahamas to initiate complex examinations of identity in a globalized world.
Rather than “representing” The Bahamas in some sort of pseudo cut-and-dry Ministry of Tourism way, Campbell looks forward to being just one part of a rich and diverse Bahamian arts community, which he hopes to share with the familiar and new faces in London. Having studied in Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and experienced London extensively, he looks forward to visiting again.
“What I’m most excited about is what I don’t know and who I don’t know,” he said. “Even though there are a lot of familiar names to me and names I admire, there are a lot of poets who I have no idea about, especially in thinking about poetic traditions outside of Western literary traditions that I’m most familiar with. So I really just want to listen and learn and make connections, so that’s really what I’m thrilled about.”
“The only thing I have to say is Usain Bolt and Michael Phelps better train hard,” he added. “I’m coming, and I’m ready!”