Sunday, May 5, 2013

Through The Third Bocas - the Peter O'Connor commentary

Caribbean Literature sailed comfortably through the Third Bocas and out into the wider sea last weekend. 

The Third Bocas Litt Fest was an outstanding success of workshops, discussions, readings, book launchings and acknowledgements of the range of works coming out of the Caribbean.

Sustaining four days of activity which is neither a sporting event nor a fete is not an easy task in Trinidad and Tobago. And while “huge crowds” were not present at NALIS where the event was hosted, there was a consistent presence and ongoing flow of participants and interested persons throughout, and the level of active participation by attendees, as well as the invited authors, poets, publishers and agents, was high.

This was all relatively new to me—my background not being in literature, far less specializing in local and Caribbean literature, although, I – like most of us, I hope?--- am familiar with the “bigger names” of our literary history.

The Bocas Litt Fest is the brainchild of Newsday Columnist Marina Salandy-Brown, and she remains its driving force. Introduced in 2011, it has developed, and received worthy corporate support, over its three years of growth. 

For me, the written word is an extension of the spoken word, that is—storytelling, and that is “word of mouth”, or in Spanish “Bocas”. And indeed, as the title of this Literary Festival, that name should call to every Trinidadian, because for most of us, our journeys to this island began through the Bocas de la Sierpe (The Serpent’s Mouth), and word of this island was carried back to Europe after Christopher Columbus departed via la Bocas del Dragon (the Dragon’s Mouths). 

Columbus assigned these names to the channels between Trinidad and the South American Mainland. He did so in acknowledgement of the swirling currents and tides he fought to enter and depart the Gulf of Paria. 

The Dragon has four “mouths” between Trinidad and the mainland—Bocas de Monos between Chagaramas and Monos Island, Bocas de Huevos between Monos and Huevos islands, Bocas de Navios between Huevos and Chacachacare island, and Boca Grande between Chacachacare and the mainland. These are commonly known to us as the First, Second, Third and Grand Bocas.

The Dragon’s Mouths in particular have played an important part in our history, our storytelling and early literature, and all this makes the title “Bocas Litt Fest” just that much more intriguing to us all.

But what was it for, and why should we have this Festival at all? Well, it is a long overdue gathering and discussion opportunity for the Literature of our many islands, and neighbouring countries. We in these islands share distant roots, in terms of our origins, but we “grew differently” in this New World in terms of language, religion and cultures imposed upon us. 

And yet there is a thread running through our stories—our Literature—which ties us all back to almost forgotten memories in Europe, Africa and Asia. The enduring tragedy of our presence here is not only in how some of us arrived here, but the fact that our indigenous populations are no longer present.

From this history we have an amazing set of experiences, which when told as stories present an undeniably rich source of literature, of which we should all be proud, and indeed this is recognized in the accolades bestowed upon our better known writers. 

But there persists in the Caribbean, and I acknowledge that this is true to some extent in the wider world, a distinct difficulty in getting new works presented and published. And while we must understand the economics of it all it is difficult not to acknowledge the huge potential of Caribbean Literature. And not as something “quaint” or “exotic” as some people tend to consider us, but as work worthy and deserving of publication.

Two of the interesting discussions were whether there should be a “national” literary genre or style, and whether our literature should be “political”. I was pleased to note that both these hypotheses were rejected in favour of the ideal of liberating ourselves to produce our writing unfettered by controls or ideals seeking to confine us within some artificial bounds—whether of subject, style or language, as in vernacular.

If something is missing here in the Caribbean, it is not quantity or quality of content. It is the wherewithal to have the written works published. I see a need for publishers to support what we are producing, and to take some risks in this support. I truly believe that the potential rewards far outweigh the risks of an occasional commercial failure.

And so, to close with the metaphor with which I began, our passage through this Third Bocas has been most encouraging. What is needed now is a fair wind in our sails to carry our messages everywhere!

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Jai & Sero

Jai & Sero

Our family at home in Toronto 2008

Our family at home in Toronto 2008
Amit, Heather, Fuzz, Aj, Jiv, Shiva, Rampa, Sero, Jai