Paul Keens-Douglas, Poet Laureate
AHEAD of World Poetry Day on Wednesday, I would like to send greetings and best wishes to all the poets, writers, authors and word masters throughout the length and breath of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.
I exhort and challenge you to keep on being yourselves and expressing yourselves in whichever way and style makes you who you are and who you want to be. We are all poets in our own way, and every little bit we do helps keep our literary flag flying high, even though we may not realise it when we are in the process of doing it.
It is thus that I would like to reflect on the Talk Tent which celebrates its 35th anniversary this year and which mourns the recent passing of two of its leading lights, who in their own way, did what poetry is supposed to do: reach out and touch. I speak of Hal Greaves and Ramjattan Ramdeen, better known as John Agitation – one a community communicator, the other a brilliant storyteller.
They, in a sense, represent what the Talk Tent has been about all these years, a place where you can talk your talk, show your art, lead by example, inspire others to follow suit. You never know who is listening.
My own career as a writer can attest to this. In 1972 while doing my post-graduate studies at the University of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, famous poet and storyteller Louise “Miss Lou” Bennett came on campus to perform for us. It was after listening to Miss Lou, that right there and then, I decided to try my hand at writing in the vernacular and wrote my first dialect poem De Band Passin. The rest as they say is history.
That’s why it is important that we know how to look at shows like Talk Tent, recognise their relevance and give them the support they deserve.
Many critics, reviewers and analysts tend to focus only on the humour, or the theatrics, or the personalities involved, without seeing the significance of what is being said or what is taking place on the stage.
The motto of the Talk Tent is Where Talk Is Art and that is exactly why the Talk Tent was produced in the first place, as a place where one could go and see the different styles within our oral traditions, be it comic, clown, poet, storyteller, rapso artist, spoken word artist or whatever.
Where one could compare such things as voice, tone, projection, emphasis, body language, facial expressions, choice of material and getting the message across.
Where one could perhaps jog the imagination of our national leadership at every level — church, community, sport, crime, youth — making them perhaps see how these same techniques can be used to revive our failing communication systems. Perhaps this is already happening, I don’t know for sure, but if it is, hurrah!
But for poetry in its many forms to survive and grow, we need to develop more qualified and sensitive critics and analysts. Perhaps you may have heard this said before, well then, it needs to be said again.
Maybe we as poets and writers have to look among ourselves to develop and project our own critics, folk who can talk from experience.
The first Talk Tent was held in a canvas tent on Victoria Avenue, Port of Spain in 1983.
Today, Talk Tent has become an integral part of Trinidad’s post-Carnival presentations, and has managed to retain high standards without sacrificing its vision of being a platform for our oral traditions.
Indeed many of today’s top talk artists cut their ‘eye-teeth’ in the Talk Tent, not to mention the numerous special guests that have graced its stage.
That’s why it’s important that we recognise the value of shows like these in building audiences, exposing artists, and developing support and appreciation of poetry. And so, I salute them and all those who were a part of the journey as we celebrate World Poetry Day.
* Paul Keens-Douglas will be reading poetry on Monday at a special event hosted by the
Circle of Poets of Trinidad and Tobago at the Committee Room, City Hall, Port-of-Spain. Stay tuned for more information at
https://www.circleofpoetstt.org/ or follow us on social media.