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Bahamian poets stand out at Trinidad literary festival

  • Bahamian poet Sonia Farmer was one of this year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest New Talent Showcase writers. BOCASLITFEST.COM

Published: May 11, 2013

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The Bahamas was well represented at this year’s NGC Bocas Lit Fest held in Trinidad and Tobago.

Bahamian poet Sonia Farmer was one of the New Talents Showcase writers at the 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest, and poet and author Marion Bethel chaired the festival’s poetry judging panel.

The annual literary festival with a Caribbean focus, brings together  writers, readers, performers and publishers for a four-day celebration of books and writing. Every year, the NGC Bocas Lit Fest New Talent Showcase selects exceptionally talented writers who are yet to publish their first book, and give them a platform to share their work and engage with a larger audience.

Farmer, who is also founder of the small press, Poinciana Paper Press, shared readings from her work at the festival.

“Many of Farmer’s poems are written as a kind of authentic interrogation of the history/histories surrounding the infamous pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read, both of whom were convicted for piracy in the 18th century,” writes Shivanee Ramlochan, the 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest blogger.

“Farmer’s work delves deep, beneath the maritime considerations of what’s lazily conjectured about this duo, as both buccaneers and women. Writing about their lives sees the poet addressing the significance of these figures to Bahamian history, and in so doing, revisiting the Bahamian cultural landscape with a fresh, unstinting pair of eyes.”

Farmer is the winner of the 2011 Small Axe Literary Competition for her poetry, and has been published in tongues of the ocean, Poui, WomanSpeak Journal and Ubiquitous. Her two limited edition chapbooks of poems – “What Becomes Us” (2007) and “Grow” (2008) – are both published by her Poinciana Paper Press.

Ramlochan notes that Farmer brought along a selection of Poinciana titles, “which she proudly displayed following her reading.

“The Poinciana ethic, she elaborated to panel moderator and festival Program Director Nicholas Laughlin, is that literature can to be beautiful to behold, in printed form. Her well-honed techniques revolving around letterpress, book-binding, paper-making and print-making bear this out: each Poinciana product is a treasure of image and text, an intimate sort of reader-publisher correspondence in times where the art of the small or boutique press often becomes swallowed up in mass market paperback syndrome,” Ramlochan writes.

Bethel, well-known for her poetry, short fiction and essays has been published in prominent journals and literary magazines, including BIM, Poui, Callalloo, WomanSpeak, The Caribbean Writer and The Massachusetts Review.

Anthologies in which her writing has appeared are Moving Beyond Boundaries, Wheel and Come Again and MaComère, the Journal of the Association of Caribbean Women Writers and Scholars.

In addition to these publishing credits, Bethel is also the author of two full volumes of poetry. Her first, “Guanahani, My Love” (1995) was the winner of the Casa de las Américas Prize, and was reissued by House of Nehesi Publishers in 2009. Her second volume of poetry, “Bougainvillea Ringplay” (2009) was published by Peepal Tree Press.

In a special 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest themed issue of their quarterly newsletter, Paper Based Bookshop featured a spotlight review on Bethel’s latest collection, glowingly evincing that it “semaphores a rich linguistic relationship: intersections are made between English and the poet’s Bahamian tongue, resulting in poems that tell the truth in magnificent variations of uttered sound. As with [Kendel] Hippolyte’s ‘Fault Lines’, these are unsettlingly honest navigations, too, housed in a style that is at once crisp and undulating, precise and generous in all it seeks to unveil. All of the reader’s senses are called upon in the process of absorbing ‘Bougainvillea Ringplay’: it enforces a series of transportive euphorias, as does the best work that seeks to delineate the shifting of seasons and the demarcation of desire.”

The 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest, held in late April, included more than 60 events over four days. This year’s festival included the Caribbean leg of the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference, a series of vigorous high-level debates among writers looking at some of the big questions facing contemporary literature. Readings by dozens of writers from the Caribbean and further afield, a series of events focused on budding and emerging writers, including workshops in fiction and poetry, and the New Talent Showcase, shining a spotlight on promising writers close to publishing their first books, and screenings of films based on Caribbean novels.

An annual literary festival with Caribbean focus and international scope, bringing together writers, readers, performers and publishers for a four-day celebration of books and writing.

At the heart of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest is a series of readings by some of Trinidad and Tobago’s and the Caribbean’s finest writers of fiction and poetry — from authors of books already considered contemporary classics to prizewinning newcomers.

At each session, writers read from their recent books, discuss their work, and answer questions from the audience. This is a chance to encounter writers up close. Each reading includes a book-signing session, and books are available from the participating booksellers.

The NGC Bocas Lit Fest also showcases Trinidad and Tobago’s vibrant performance poetry scene, with daily performances and open mic sessions in the National Library’s Abercromby Street arcade.


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