Sunday, 23 September 2012

Appraisal of LiTTscapes – Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago by Pearl Eintou Springer, National Poet Laureate

Appraisal of LiTTscapes – Landscapes of Fiction from Trinidad and Tobago
by Pearl Eintou Springer, National Poet Laureate at LiTTribute to the Republic,
September 5, 2012.

In fevered rush
To share
I thrust
A flood of words
At closed unwilling minds
With joy
Watch those minds
With warm rush
of response
my unaccustomed pleasure
come back
for more and more
Awesome power
gives shape
to minds,
staunches thirst
with words
that walk
the perched words
of ignorance

These words were written by me as a young poet/librarian, in my wish to express the urgency and anxiety I felt about sharing my love of my national literary patrimony; and, my feeling that a critical element of national development and a sense of patriotism, was/is a national involvement with, and love for this patrimony.
Let us explore the functions of a people’s literature and why it should be celebrated. I will look at them from the point of my own experiences.
From the age of eight I was a prodigious reader of European fiction.  I was steeped in the writings of Dickens, Dostoevsky, Zola, Shute, Shakespeare, Baldwin, Hardy, the Lake poets.  Consequently, in my dreams, my blackness disappeared, and I was white with flaxen curls, flowing behind me as I ran through fields of daises and buttercups – in full colour.  On my first visit to England, I made sure to make the mandatory literary pilgrimage of the anglophonic bibliopile by visiting Holmes at Baker St, the Lake District; Stratford – Bronte House.  I could almost hear Heathcliff turn in his grave and steups at this little black girl calling his name as I walked the Yorkshire moors.  We all know the wonderful – Wuthering Heights. 
My love affair with my literature began at St. George’s College, where Gloria Valere, the daughter of the great Lord Constantine introduced me to Colour Bar, (one of his books).  This was my first introduction to the notions of race and colour that I was living, experiencing.  It was to elucidate for me, the alieness from self engendered both in what I was the reading and the societal that I was living. Aubrey Garcia introduced me to Caribbean History.  I met, through their work, Naipaul, C.L.R. James, Selvon, all of whom I was later privileged to know personally.  So, the experience of Caribbean literature was an awakening of my self knowledge, and the erosion of the invisibility and lack of recognition that the society had given me. 
When I first joined the library services as a young girl of 19 (clearly many years many years ago) my color and grassroots derivatives made me unsuitable for desk work.  So, I was hidden away in the small choky room that housed the West Indian collection.  I read and read and deepened the process of getting to know me begun at St. George’s. When I worked the late shift, my only point of interaction with readers, I began to proselyte.  I tried to introduce people to Selvon, Mittelholzer, Hearn, Lamming, Carew, the poets Jagdip Maraj, Faustin Charles…these amongst many others. 
Many times I got negative responses “but that is bad English” they would say of Selvon’s beautiful Calypso prose when they allowed themselves to be seduced into reading our Caribbean writers there was the inevitable recognition of village, community, tanty, uncle…
My own experiences clearly illustrate the importance of ones literature to sense of self, to self worth, to cultural literacy; to analyzing, evaluating; to being pregnant with ideas about the inherent possibilities of shaping, reshaping our population.  For me this is not only an ideological or philosophical position, but a lived reality.  And let me here make the point, that our literature is not merely confined to pages in books, but to our kaiso, our pichikaree, chutney, stick fight lavways, our Traditional Mas speeches, midnight robber, pierrot, Black Indian, warao; our great variety of drum beats, folk songs, chants…
I have been using our literature, our poetry, our plays, storytelling, music, to impact and refashion negative behaviours since the mid 80s in the UK, in the USA, other Caribbean islands and at home.  I have seen positive improvements in grades, sense of self, values.
Our curricula still entrench the notion of our invisibility in our own nation space.  Most of it and certainly the manner of teaching bear doubtful relevance to the needs of our children and youth.  We are cursed with leadership in many facets of this society which is dangerously culturally illiterate.  As we celebrate our jubilee year we have not properly celebrated our writers, our musicians, our artistes, the poetry of our patriotic calypsos, our literature is what records, carries the wisdom of our ancestors, the pains of the then and now and possibilities for the future.  Our literatures reflect and can reshape the soul of the nation.  Surely, we have produced more than Machel Montano, wonderful as he may be.  How can we as a nation be satisfied with the crast mediocrity of so much of our jubilee celebrations while our writers, our poets, our playwrights, our storytellers go unsung.  We have a nation to build; children to rescue from the clutches of crime; children to turn into patriots, children to teach self-love, children to teach to be discerning, contemplative, critical, knowledgeable of the beauty of our nation language even as we master the formality of the English.  Children to teach English language, children to teach to appreciate our flora, our fauna, our forest, to treasure and protect and our environment; children to teach our history; as told from our perspective in our literatures; children to teach the greatness of civilizations from which we have come so that we can truly begin to create a society where there is the elimination of the fear of difference and not the anonymity of the blurring of rainbow colours.
We need programmes in our schools that explore the fullness and richness of our society through our literatures, through specially targeted programmes.  More police; more jails. They have their place no doubt but human beings young and impressionable need a collision with self a flowering of patriotism that I know our literatures can give.  We do not need anyone from the lynching states of the southern USA to teach our children values when they are imbedded in our stories, our sayings, in our festivals of meaning, our dramas…our Ramleelas, our Ebos, our chants, our bhajans.  We need to learn from Anthony in ‘Green Days by the River’ to love again to smell of fresh coconut oil in our hair, to learn from Lovelace the indomitable courage of resistance and to appreciate the swing of our melodious behinds.
As we celebrate our fiftieth anniversary we are faced with the crassness and vulgarity of the first custom built, library building in the region, the Trinidad Public Library, built around the turn of the century, from whose hallowed halls the voices of Eric Williams, Don Basil Matthews, Samuel Selvon, George Lamming, Leroi Clarke, CLR James, voices have echoed, now standing derelict.  Built since 1901 it stands as testimony to our cultural illiteracy.  The top floor of NALIS, our National Library, has been given over to government offices.  WHAT THEY DOING THERE???????????
Let it be clear that I believe as trinbagonians our humanity entitles us to claim and enjoy all literary, artistic, creative expressions of all peoples. Today is another opportunity to begin again and recommit to our youth, as I give my compliments to this project. It is an opportunity to commit to our own literary tours, to celebrate our literatures in our schools, in our communities as a necessary prerequisite to our development, to heal our self-schism, to

                By centered heritage
                Give our people light
                For imaginings
                New beginnings
                There is a word
                Running through my head
                It does not let me sleep
                It drives me from my bed
                It is a word
                Crying out against
                My Invisibility
                Longing to testify
                To my humanity
                And that word
                Now fills my world
                With Creativity

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