In the semi-final round of the First Citizens National Poetry Slam, he stole hearts with his sensational ode to TV presenter Desha Rambajhan, to secure his spot in the final. Then, on Sunday 1 May, he captured imaginations to rise to the top of his cohort of fourteen finalists. He is the 23-year-old first-time finalist Seth Sylvester: the 2016 First Citizens National Poetry Slam Champion and winner of $20,000!
Sylvester was flanked by Kyle Hernandez in second place with a cash prize of $5,000, and 2014 champion Idrees Saleem in third place receiving $3,000. This is the fourth year that First Citizens has supported the local spoken word movement but the second year of the National Poetry Slam with its handsome top prize along with prizes for all finalists. As a bonus, the top three will be given the opportunity to perform at the Cascadoo International Spoken Word Festival closing showcase, as well as the main stage at the New Fire Festival in 2017.
A mega-successful second run at the Globe theatre, the Slam has proved itself the big-ticket closing event of the NGC Bocas Lit Fest, selling out yet again to an animated audience of established fans and newcomers. “It’s been so inspiring to see this event grow each year from strength to strength. I have no doubt this is the best show we’ve had to date, both in terms of production and performances. I believe in these young people — the 2 Cents Movement, the poets — I believe because they believe”, says founder and director of the Bocas Lit Fest, Marina Salandy-Brown.
Also in the mix were Courts Bocas Intercol champion, Shineque Saunders, who opened the show as the “sacrificial poet” and Minister of Tourism and Tobago West MP Shamfa Cudjoe, who delivered her piece penned especially for the event. “It was truly an extraordinary event ,” remarks First Citizens Deputy CEO, Business Generation, Jason Julien, “and a timely reminder as to the depth and quality of talent that exists here in Trinidad and Tobago. We at First Citizens are truly proud to be associated with this unique forum for young artistes to express their voices in an unfettered way. Poetry, Spoken Word and the Oral Traditions channel the voice of who we are as a nation and these voices must be provided with a creative platform.”
At the end of the show, Jean-Claude Cournand, founder of the 2 Cents Movement and Bocas Youth Outreach Coordinator, left the crowd with a powerful message about the meaning of the work behind spoken word — to him and to the wider national community:
“I realise more and more that this movement is not about poetry, it is about people. My best friend was killed while I was organising the Slam in 2015 and [as it comes] around again this year I am brought back to the fact that the core idea behind all this is outreach — so deaths like his wouldn’t happen. Somewhere in a poem I believe is the inspiration for someone to make a better decision. Tonight we celebrate the potential of art, and the precedence stories take in shaping meaningful human lives. In this country, in this time, where the real recession is the devaluing of the human life . . . stages such as this that place value on people, matter more than ever.”
The final round of competition was judged by a first-class panel of award-winning local and international actors, authors and poets, led by our very own eminent exponent of storytelling in the region and chief judge, Paul Keens-Douglas.
The First Citizens National Poetry Slam was the finale of the 2016 NGC Bocas Lit Fest, Trinidad and Tobago’s annual festival of words, stories, and ideas.