Bahamian writer Obediah Michael Smith answers this week’s 20 Questions from Guardian Arts&Culture.
1. What’s been your most inspirational moment in the last five years? Maybe Manuela Yepes’ reaction to my reading in Santo Domingo, Colombia at Medellin Poetry Festival in 2010; what was equal to that though was Tatiana Legáspy’s response to my reading at Colegio Diurno de Limon in Costa Rica; what was equal to that was a literary exchange that developed between D’Anthra Adderley and me after a Bahamas Writers Summer Institute Poetry Workshop I facilitated, here on New Providence at The College of The Bahamas in 2009; what was equal to that was a relationship with a Mexican poet, Maya Lima Rodriguez, that developed at the end of a poetry festival on Isla Mujeres in Mexico in 2011, a relationship which very nearly resulted in our getting married and my staying in Mexico City.
2. What’s your least favorite book? Of all the books I’ve read, I cannot recall being angrier with a book or its author than I was with “Three Lives” by Gertrude Stein. I was left though with a real sense of accomplishment after having gotten through it. To get through it though, I recall pounding it against the floor in exasperation in response to her experimentation with grammar and sentence structure.
3. What’s your favorite genre of literature? Novels or poetry or essays; I am not sure. Oh you know what I love – I’ve read several – an interview that is an entire book in length.
4. What are your top 5 movies of all time? 1. Ingmar Bergman’s “Autumn Sonata”. 2. David Lean’s “Ryan’s Daughter” with John Mills, Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles and Trevor Howard. 3. “My Fair Lady” with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison 4. Jacques Tati's “Traffic”. 5. “A Voyage Round My Father” with Sir Laurence Olivier.
5. Coffee or tea? Tea.
6. What book are you reading now? Yinna, Volume 4 and “The Death of A Poet: The Last Days of Marina Tsvetaeva”.
7. What project are you working on now? A book of poems and prose-poems about women on YouTube, some modeling, most of them dancing, representative of cultures and countries around the world.
8. What’s the last book that surprised you? What is amazing are the very transformative experiences I have been having with my own work, “In A China Shop & Other Poems”, published by Poinciana Paper Press and “El amplio Mar de los Sargazos y otros poemas”, published in Costa Rica in Spanish.
9. Saxons, One Family, Valley Boys or Roots? I had been a Saxons fan for a long time, but the late Jackson Burnside and Arlene Nash-Ferguson have caused me to identify even more closely with One Family.
10. If you had to be stranded on one Family Island, which one would it be? On the island of Inagua, with the flamingos.
11. What’s the most memorable book you’ve ever read? “The Way of All Flesh” by Samuel Butler or “The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion” by Ford Madox Ford or “The Man Died: Prison Notes of Wole Soyinka” by Wole Soyinka.
12. Which writer do you have a secret crush on? All four of these: Sylvia Plath, Marion Bethel, Joan Didion and Susan Sontag.
13. If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be? Some publisher who is eager to publish my work and one who guarantees that the work makes money like when someone in music signs with Columbia Records or some other big firm and you know that worldwide success is guaranteed. The publishing equivalent for me would be W. W. Norton & Company or Alfred A. Knopf.
14. Who do you think is the most important Bahamian in the country’s history? Are Woodes Rogers, Christopher Columbus and the Duke of Windsor Bahamians? And what about Blackbeard, the pirate, Edward Teach? I’d say, Joseph Spence or Amos Ferguson who represent what I think is truest about us culturally. Sidney Poitier is certainly another Bahamian giant.
15. Who is your favorite living writer? Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney; I am unable to choose between them so I choose them both.
16. Sunrise or Sunset? I certainly prefer high tide to low tide but I cannot choose between sunrise and sunset. They are one for me, like up and down of a see-saw. Do I prefer the sun or the moon or the day or the night and I know clearly that I prefer the moon and the night.
17. What role does the writer have in society? Individual and communal conscience, consciousness and identity are central to the writer’s responsibility.
18. What’s your most embarrassing moment? At a reading, some years ago, at L. N. Coakley High School, on Exuma, before the entire school, in the middle of a sentence about him, being unable to recall the name of Anglican priest, Fr. Stephen ‘Rabi’ Davies, and I was, at the time, staying at his house.
19. What wouldn’t you do without? The courage it takes to be honest.
20. What’s your definition of beauty? Interestingly it cannot be intellectualized. When I encounter it though and it is beauty of an extreme amount or to an extreme degree, it goes right through me and I am disarmed, overwhelmed, defenseless. If it were an enemy, I’d be at its mercy, certainly. I’d certainly be undone.
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