Well, even though I lament that I'm stuck in childhood, I did a pretty grown up thing the other day in May. My best friends and I (along with three other acquaintances) drove down to St. Elizabeth for Calabash. Calabash is the most famous (and I think only) literary festival in the English speaking Caribbean. Brainchild of my once favourite Caribbean author, Colin Channer, it's held every year at Jake's, a seaside resort in Treasure Beach, St. E. Very scenic and very free...there is no entry fee. The food at the venue is real expensive though (however, there are even more expensive places in Jamaica...at a poetry reading I went to the other day, I paid $J100 for a mini bottle of water, whereas at Calabash a long bottle of water cost $J150 which is comparatively cheaper. Alas, this post is not about economics.) Where was I?
So, Calabash is a three day event. Before I went down, a veteran attendee explained that it's better to book a room in the vicinity of the event because traveling from a far distance makes one prone to reaching late and missing history. Well, on the first day, Friday we were on time. Unfortunately however, I suffer periodically from narcolepsy. So while a writer I cannot remember read her work, I fell into a sleep punctuated by severe bucking (reminiscent of my mother in church most Sundays). When I finally woke up at the break, I decided to stop at a cafe and drink some coffee. Fully roused I went back and landed smack in Chris Abani's set. I don't remember now what he was reading, but it was tres captivating. It was poetry, it was. Then when he finished reading, he played his sax. Beautiful. Another poet, Yusef Long Last Name wasn't bad but his work revolved around war. Sadly, his war poems weren't as resonant as the one I read about in The Daily Tale.
But back to Abani. I had to buy his book. One of them. Though I suffer acutely from bruk pocket (penury).
I bought one of his novellas and he signed it. I was pleased. The rest of the night was forgettable...a horribly boring movie directed by Perry Henzell (from The Harder They Come fame). Then a traumatizing 2 hour ride home characterized by being lost and driving in circles. We were staying at a great house (old slave estate) in Malvern, which is around 45 minutes from Treasure Beach (if you don't get lost).
Next day, we fought among ourselves before returning for the second day's offering at Calabash. My main man, Derek Walcott, the idea in my head of what a poem should sound like and mean: He read that day. And I missed the majority of it. We were late. Sigh. I did get him to autograph my Selected Poetry though...a copy I've had since second year in college. That day I wondered why I had come to Calabash...my sole intention had been to hear Walcott read. Then when I got there, I caught the last bit of him reading a letter for VS Naipaul...which I barely heard. My mind was in a million places. (Up to this day, I wonder why I went to Calabash especially since that same bit I caught was the headline of the Entertainment Section of the Gleaner the following day. I'd been there, hadn't I? Hmmmmm).
Sunday's highlight I think (or was it Saturday?) was Kei Miller's reading. I don't consider myself a fan but he was pretty entertaining. I consider him a cross between a performance and a literary poet. For example, he read a poem about the spiritual worth of the young woman who broke her neck doing the "dutty wine" (dirty wine, a Jamaican dance). Entertaining.
I found myself constantly socializing. At the expense of the person reading on stage. Oh look, there's Kashaka. Hi, what's up? I'm great and you? Oh for real? Interesting...oh Beverley Manley's done reading...wups.
Overall, the experience was like a big one pot meal with so many tasty ingredients that you wonder why you can't like any one element more than the other. Or like a great meal you couldn't finish so you can't say completely what made it a great meal.
I liked it. The driving part was liberating. The great house was completely beautiful. On the Sunday, I got antsy and sad. I know myself really well. I love my friends and socializing. But if I spend more than two days away from home, with friends, I get antsy. Almost like I love your company, but now that two days have passed, I love my own company more...when I was an 8 year old I went on a 2 day 1 night Brownie trip and the day I was to return home, I cried bitterly for my mother. It made no sense, I was going home that day! Similarly as a 24 year old, at Calabash on the day I was to return home I got really sad and moody. I am a strange creature.
Artistic isolation? There's more to it I suspect. But hey, every poet is a bit like Walcott's Mass Man.