Sunday, January 30, 2011

Nobel Laureate Week in the Island of Derek Walcott & The Drought of Poets

We went to Headphunk on Thursday night last – this session’s theme was “Chosen – A Literary Legacy” in honour of the fact that in St. Lucia, it was “Nobel Laureate Week”; the week where ostensibly, we celebrate the fact that our tiny island produced two Nobel Laureates…giving us the highest per-capita of Nobel Laureates in the world I am told.
It’s never been a high profile week on the St. Lucian calendar and this year, the year and month where Derek Walcott won the TS Elliott Prize for Poetry for his ‘technically flawless’ new book of poems entitled “White Egrets”…this year was no different.
The not-so-momentous week began with a 4-day display in the Derek Walcott Square in Castries where it was billed that “Choiseul Hosts Nobel Laureate Annual Exhibition”.  Now, despite my close affiliation with Choiseul as it relates to crafts, I confess, I did not go. I meant to go, but other commitments got in the way. I did however, promote the event my usual way – through my big mailing list. A few people went after that, but alas, the reports that came in were far from encouraging: “Well, I saw a few tents, with a few things” “No, there were no performances…we waited a while, but there was just a DJ playing normal music”
It would be unfair to leave it there though – as the Star Newpaper report shows, yes, there were performances and activity…but so few people really noticed this event. So few people ever notice the Nobel Laureate Week events…
But without getting into details of what was scheduled and what not…the thing that strikes me is that I had more people asking me if I knew what was where, than I had people saying they were going, had gone or wanted to go, to any of the events. Our visiting neighbours ended up at Headphunk sort of in error –they wanted the Derek Walcott Lecture which they’d seen listed as happening on Wednesday, but then were told by ‘people’ no, it’s not Wednesday, the Nobel Laureate thing is Thursday and it’s at Samaan’s Park…
I just spent a while Googling to find proper reference to what was when – I found a promotional video on YouTube (should I just be glad it's on YouTube?) which listed everything as boringly as you possibly could. Sorry whoever produced it but this is the kind of thing that makes people figure it’s not an interesting set of events to go to

I found standard (un-exciting) press releases and a couple of newspaper reports – after the event as always – now fair enough, we don’t have daily papers, and if the organizers do not supply a proper press pack – complete with pictures of the actual artists, lecturers, references to their work…dare I suggest that a timed programme for the performances at The Square might have been useful? Forgive me, but if we are celebrating excellence then why, oh why must we do it so badly?!
Explain to me how it is that anyone – young student or old hardback – will be able to learn what excellence really is if our National Events are of such sub-standard quality? And I’m not talking about the performances – it’s the promotion, organization, stage set up, décor … and before any of the organizers, stage decor companies, etc get vexed...I know it is a 'lack of budget' and often a lack of understanding or commitment from the powers that be.
I could almost forgive this year as Tomas gave us roads slipping and sliding and dams to fix, houses to relocate…ok, we have a lot else of urgency to be spending our money on in early 2011…but then why was it so in 2010, 2009, 2008…?
From the as yet unpublished manuscript Navel String - due out later this year, in the poem entitled Perhaps The Children,
“How in the land of Walcott can there be a drought of poets?”
That was the line from Adrian Augier’s poem at Headphunk last Thursday that stuck hard like an African thorn in your heel on Pigeon Island.
Adrian Augier Performs at Headphunk during Nobel Laureate Week, St. Lucia (photo FP)
Adrian is the 2010 Caribbean Laureate for Arts and Letters as awarded by the ANSA Foundation.  In 2009 he was presented with the NDATT Caribbean Cacique Award for his contribution to the development and integration of Caribbean Theatre. His performance at Headphunk ROCKED the house and got a standing ovation…but ask your average St. Lucian, ask half the people who should know – I bet you nearly none of them would be aware of his accolades…they might know he’s the guy who does the Rituals carnival band…or the guy who ‘gets’ to do all the shows for the Tourist Board…
From another of St. Lucia’s accomplished poets Kendal Hippolyte, in his poem “Going” that he recited Thursday past, “In the intuitive logic of a child, where you are going tells you where you are.”
St. Lucia, where are we?