IT was a night of intensity at the NGC Bocas Lit Fest event, Backchat: Port of Spain, on Wednesday night as poets and writers read some of their work to an eclectic audience.
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the first-ever Caribbean LGBT literary reading, Euphoria Lounge in Port of Spain was crowded with people eager to hear short stories, poems, spoken word performances, and book excerpts from LGBT and LGBT-friendly individuals.
Members of the audience laughed, cried, cheered and were generally struck by the images painted by the words of Sterling Henderson, Colin Robinson, Shivanee Ramlochan, Garvin Tafari Parsons, Lisa Allen-Agostini, Andre Bagoo, Angelique Nixon, Kyle Hernandez, and Kei Miller.
Each piece carried a different sentiment. Some were passionate, controversial, overtly sexual, angry, emotional, subtly queer, or sensual; and covered a range of topics including love, defiance, everyday life, and relationships with friends, family, lovers, and the writers’ countries of birth.
Ramlochan and Robinson first read a poem from the other’s book, then one of their own. In Small Story, Robinson told of a man speaking to a friend who tells him his mother is ashamed of who he is. He read about the man’s mother who spoke quietly about her faith, loved him, and so hid her shame.
Ramlochan read a Facebook post she wrote a few days before the High Court ruling that declared Sections 13 and 16 of the Sexual Offences Act, “the buggery law,” unconstitutional. She spoke about the people in all aspects of society who live in fear, live a lie, or live in isolation because of who they love. She said her politics was queer... “Queer like there was gayness here before Columbus was a thought in his father’s genealogy. The kind of LGBTQ+ that doesn’t get discovered. The kind that was always here, on these islands, never once thinking to ask permission. The kind that will still be here, with or without the kind civil condescension of law.”
Bagoo and Nixon played off each other’s work, matching each other topic for topic, giving each other backchat. Bagoo’s Catullus in Libya and Nixon’s Ripe Mango had the most obvious references to sex that night. Nixon’s Warrior and Bagoo’s The Water in The Pond Considers Narcissus, deals with romantic relationships.
Their final backchat was about relationships with family and country. Bagoo’s After Olive Senior, “Flying”, speaks to the hurt when family members do not accept or understand an LGBT person.
And Nixon’s I Am, We Are, Speak, is about the rejection by her own Caribbean people.
“So when you cut your eye at me, turn your back,
or raise your fists in hate, rejecting my body
when you see my female hands touching her shoulders
my fingers lingering, along her back, a second too long,
you have already heard stories about me
my ‘lifestyle,’ you suck teeth and shout ‘sissy’
Remember I told you
that I love you anyway
I hold open your eyes with my pen’s light
I embrace your fists with my third eye’s alliance
I do not threaten you
I do not hate you.”
Hernandez gave a stellar performance of two spoken word pieces. The first was about a barbershop – a place where he wants to belong but instead crushes his spirit when his barber and those in the shop makes hurtful, negative jokes directed at gay people.
The second was about religious people using Jesus as a reason for their hate and discrimination, and Jesus’ possible objections: “Doh call up my name in allyuh mouth if allyuh planning evil... Where two are three are gathered to hurt is not church, it’s collusion.”
There were also open mic sessions that allowed other writers, including Deneka Thomas, Alexander Johnson, and Brandon O’Brien, to contribute to a night that left the audience with a lot of food for thought.