THE applause was loud at the end of Deneka Thomas’ piece. She had also gained audible approval during her spirited and passionate piece from her primarily young audience.
The closet was no place for anyone to be, especially TT’s LGBTQI community: she made sure all of TT knew that when she was finished.
It was no surprise when Thomas 26 was named this year’s First Citizen’s National Poetry Grand Slam winner. A release from the NGC Bocas Lit Fest on Sunday’s event said, “The 26-year-old Thomas is the third woman to win in the Slam’s six years.
She was one of 16 contenders for the 2018 Grand Slam champion title and one of just six women to make it to the final round of competition. Her piece addressed the unfair strain and constraints of living in the closet as a member of the LGBTQI community and interrogated the right of others to dictate how two consenting adults should have sex.”
The National Poetry Slam concluded the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, which ran from April 25-29. The filled auditorium at the National Academy for the Performing Arts (Napa) on Sunday evening saw at least seven of the 16 finalists address the rights of the LGBTQI community and this country’s response.
Other topical issues were crime, consent and even Kumti Deopersad (a frustrated housewife who left home for a time). But many of the poets spoke to TT’s response to the LGBTQI community and its right to an equal place.
The poetry slam began with a performance by the University of the West Indies’ (UWI) African Society and the I am Christian Theatre Group of Maloney. The 2 Cents Movement’s artistic director Derron Sandy did a piece about poets and their work as the group danced in the background.
Runner-up Kyle Hernandez, like the winner, addressed LGBT rights, using Jesus as the mouthpiece to deliver a message of tolerance and love. He said to the audience, “It is I (who) invented human rights.”
He also asked, “How can you do God’s work without him?”
“I see nothing has changed since the last time I died,” he added. Third-place winner Idrees Saleem, the 2014 winner, addressed the issue of consent with a play on the word No.
In WhatsApp responses to Newsday, Thomas, this year’s winner, said of her piece, “The idea behind the poem was to genuinely tell what is literally my daily reality and the reality of so many folks in the queer community, especially considering the current climate of TT and LGBT rights. “Telling that story of what it is like being in a closet and being ostracised for who you are was important to me...more than winning, or even placing.”
She performed fifth in the night’s line-up.
Thomas said it really took digging into herself and “pulling out all of the things I personally struggled with within my own journey.
And then putting it into this metaphor, personifying the closet and giving life to such an inanimate thing which is responsible for housing so many people.”
She told Newsday she was nervous about performing on Sunday, as: “I felt like I was exposing myself raw. I put myself in a really vulnerable place by doing such a controversial piece.
“If people had a doubt about my sexual identity and my personal views, I knew it would clearly state it...but I’d also made up my mind to do it regardless of what people thought of me after.
“It took all of my energy not to break down in the process. It came from the depths of me. I emptied myself on that stage.”
Thomas said when she heard her name announced as the champion she was “genuinely surprised.”
But, she said, presenting the narrative “was most important to me, and winning means I get to continue the conversation in a huge way, and that is the greatest reward at this point in time.”
With poetry and advocacy being her passion, and as the project director of Girl Be Heard TT, she hopes to continue using “socially conscious theatre and spoken-word poetry to develop, amplify and celebrate the voices of young women.”
Thomas won $50,000, Hernandez $20,000 and Saleem $10,000.
The event, founded in 2012 by the 2 Cents Movement, evolved into a partnership with the NGC Bocas Lit Fest and gained sponsorship from First Citizens Bank in 2013. This year saw 154 people pre-registered for auditions.