Bocas Lit Fest

By Shivanee Ramlochan, 2012 Bocas Lit fest blogger


Nicholas Laughlin talks with Brendan de Caires.
PEN Canada believes that free expression matters. They do; it’s on their website. More importantly, it’s imbedded into every act of intercessory advocacy they create – and these intercessions create movements. These intercessions save the lives of people who then save the lives, spirits, and creative imagination of so many. While most people seem perfectly content to endorse couchside criticism (the notion that, yes, sure, things should be safe for creative artists, but how?) PEN Canada is run and maintained by those who know that the sustenance of safety, the creation of better lives for writers, means work. Brendan de Caires, PEN Canada’s programmes and communications co-ordinator, discussed this, among other things, with Bocas programme and festival director, Nicholas Laughlin.

I have to admit upfront that I wasn’t particularly sure what this event was going to be about, and, even worse, I wasn’t necessarily enthused. Ah, I was so wrong! I was outstandingly and deliciously wrong, and I’m glad to be so. This was the festival’s first short talk feature, and in the tradition of Bocas 2011’s excellent sessions, it highlighted issues, brought forth concerns, made accessible and relatable seemingly foreign agendas… all in the space of an hour or so.

Writers, both Laughlin and de Caires agreed, need a certain understood sort of protection, no matter how risqué, how potentially scandalous their work – de Caires confessed with quiet glee to PEN Canada’s proud defense of sadomasochistic lesbian pornography (which from there on in began to be referred to with harmless and hilarious gratuity). We Western-world bloggers and creative folk run the risk of chronic avoidance – we’re able to gorge ourselves on the democratic right of social media promotion, of as many acts of creative abandon as we can fit into our schedules. We tend to forget how dramatically different things are, not as far off as we think, that is, if we think about the issue of artist censorship, torture and wrongful incarceration at all.

De Caires describes himself, when asked, as “a qualified optimist”, as someone who believes that “the attention of serious people could tilt the world in a certain direction”. Those are the tilts and paradigm shifts we need, he avows, and the game-changers, the policy-makers, the creative and creating revolutionaries must be free in order to do so. It sounds like simple logic, doesn’t it? There is nothing simple about dictatorships and terrorist regimes muzzling the writer’s alchemizing voice when it sounds the claxon call of change, though.

If you do nothing else, de Caires urges, it is worth it to read more widely, to listen more attentively, to the stories of artists beneath tremendous pressure, to the stories that have both happy and tragic endings. We must, he says, expend imaginative capital on places we will never go, on people we will never meet. Advocacy begins in thought, and so we can at least with our intentions shape the sort of artistic community we envision, not just for ourselves, but for everyone, everywhere. We must remind trapped and victimized artists of that simple, powerful truth: You Are Not Forgotten.

Photo by Lyndon Baptiste.

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