Bocas Lit Fest

By Shivanee Ramlochan, 2014 Bocas Lit fest blogger

What is Douen Islands? It’s a free downloadable pamphlet of poems, written by Trinidadian journalist and author of Trick Vessels, Andre Bagoo. You could also say that it’s:

  • a project bearing numerous limbs
  • a series of unfixed destinations
  • an archipelagic chain
  • a curiosity shoppe

Perhaps one of the more evident things to say about Douen Islands: it is a collaboration, one helmed by Bagoo, along with his designer wingman, Kriston Chen (who engineered design elements for the Douen Islands e-book).

On April, Saturday 12th, Douen Islands: In Forest & Wild Skies unfurled at Alice Yard, as part of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest’s official pre-festival schedule of events.

Douen Islands invitation.
Douen Islands invitation.

The Alice Yard space, as its co-director (and NGC Bocas Lit Fest Programme Director) Nicholas Laughlin noted, in a recent blog post, remains thankfully immune to creative stasis. So much happens, wrote Laughlin, “in a simple backyard in Woodbrook which we and our collaborators have reimagined over and over again — the space continues to surprise us.”

Douen Islands hashtag and logo, at the Alice Yard entrance.
Douen Islands hashtag and logo, at the Alice Yard entrance. Photo by Kriston Chen.

Entrants to the Douen Islands spectacle, last week Saturday, may have found much to regard with astonishment – from the clustered mounds of dry foliage, heaped in inviting cairns on the concrete floor, to the projected lines of Bagoo’s poetry, making curious messages in the oncoming dark. Tyre swings hung, suspended by rope from rafters, and Sharda Patasar’s soundtrack echoed from speakers throughout the night’s proceedings.

Words from one of Andre Bagoo's poems are projected onto the Alice Yard walkway.
Words from one of Andre Bagoo’s poems are projected onto the Alice Yard walkway.

The evening was framed as one of “experimental readings”; I was delighted to begin it, by not reading at all. I wrote two new poems, inspired by the movement and array of motifs in Bagoo’s Douen Islands, and I wrote them, literally, on the walls. My communicative artillery consisted of chalk, dry-erase marker, and poster paints in patriotic colours. My hands got messy; my clothing acquired copious smudges and blots as I knelt (and performed one dubious ground-roll), the better to make my writing cover the intended terrain.

In my Douen Islands installment, I received the rare gift of silence, beneath the scrutiny of a live gathering. It became a different kind of recitation, an act of self-awareness, of transportation through scrawled verse taking on its own astonishing life.

I write one of my poems onto the walls.
I write one of my poems onto the walls.

Sharon Millar engaged the crowd immediately after I wrote, transporting them from the poet’s blackboard to the rooster’s gayelle. In a room festooned with candles, Sharon read her short story. Both reader and audience’s faces were illuminated by votives and hurricane lantern-light, the latter’s red bellies filled with pitch oil to keep their flames constant.

Millar’s prose, delivered in her clear, consistent pitch, needed no amplification in the silence of the douen yard. Her writing catapulted the attendees into the heat and raucous squalor of the cockfight arena, into the tender hearts of people caught in the thickets of their own circumstances. As is so frequently the case with Millar, the writing was inquisitorial, by turns ruthless and deceptively lulling. Each of her stories hosts a complex heart of revelation, and “The Gayelle” fits exceptionally in her fictional rank and file.

Sharon Millar reads "The Gayelle" to her audience through a lantern-lit window.
Sharon Millar reads “The Gayelle” to her audience through a lantern-lit window.

Following Sharon’s reading, all eyes turned to Andre Bagoo, the chief celebrant douen. Sustaining the element of surprise, Bagoo did not appear in expected ways: his silhouette was espied through an illuminated screen, upon which was also projected an eclectic assortment of Kriston Chen’s moving images.

A still of Bagoo during his performance, against a backdrop designed by Kriston Chen.

Chen’s design and Bagoo’s poetry existed in intuitive symbiosis, both suggestive of chiaroscuro, wordplay and departure. The spectacle that emerged was both wondrously strange and energetically riveting to behold. A modest handful of props were employed by Bagoo to marvellous effect – a lit flambeau, a chair, the appearance of a bed. Official Douen Islands films, created by Chen and Bagoo, were also screened as part of this collaborative performance.

Bagoo performs with a lit flambeau, while the Alice Yard audience looks on.
Bagoo performs with a lit flambeau, while the Alice Yard audience looks on.

After the sequence of performances, all three segments looped in one concurrent flow: the writing on the walls melding into the gayelle, giving light to the master douen’s moonlit proscenium. Meanwhile, Rodell Warner’s live tweets from the Douen Islands’ official Twitter were projected into the Alice Yard bathrooms, in messages that proved both cryptic and hilarious to parse. If audience members came away from Douen Islands: In Forest and Wild Skies curating more wonderments than assurances, this, one senses, is perhaps what Bagoo and Chen in part intended.

Helmed admirably by Bagoo and Chen, Douen Islands marked a pre-#bocas2014 celebration of singular and rewarding vision, affording each of its collaborators the space to cavort, to confront their own interpretations of the douen myth, and to engage in bountiful creative practice. It was an honour, to experiment in Alice Yard in such company, beneath forest and wild skies.

The event's principal collaborators, following the series of performances.
The event’s principal collaborators, following the series of performances.

Unless otherwise stated, all photographs taken by Nicholas Laughlin, NGC Bocas Lit Fest Programme Director.

Douen Island Links:

You can see both Andre Bagoo and Sharon Millar as part of this year’s official festival programme:

Sharon Millar will read her work at the launch of Pepperpot: Best New Stories from the Caribbean: Thursday, 24 April (8 pm until, Martin’s, Woodford Street)

Andre Bagoo will be part of a conversation on The Books That Made Me, with Neil Bissoondath and Zee Edgell: Sunday, 27 April (10 – 11 am, 1st Floor Seminar Room)

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