Andra Simons is a Bermudian original, writes Vejay Steede in The Royal Gazette.
Spoken word in Bermuda owes quite a debt to Andra (although he would never agree to that assertion). He was a co-founder of the legendary Flow Sundays Open Mic event, and an ever-present force during the golden age of Spoken Word in Bermuda. His is a voice that has been sorely missed within these shores since he sprouted wings and floated away in the early years of the new millennium.
Well, he recently returned to deliver a command performance at the Chewstick Foundation’s latest Griot Session last Friday night. A crowd of around 30 poetry lovers and long-time admirers filed into the new Neo Griot Lounge on Court Street to witness the triumphant return of one of Bermuda’s most celebrated prodigal sons. Andra delivered a spectacular performance in two parts: the first half of his set featured a reading of his critically acclaimed collection of poems ‘The Joshua Tales’ and the second was a polished stage performance worthy of the world’s greatest Spoken Word arenas. Make no mistake, Andra Simons is a world-class artist, and his work should be studied in our schools; at least at the Bermuda College.
While the performance was utterly life-affirming for an artist (which the crowd was brimming with), the best part of the night for me was the privilege of sitting and visiting with an old ally and friend. Andra was even gracious enough to answer a few interview questions. Here’s how it went:
When, where, and why was your first poem composed?
I can’t recall my first poem but my earliest memories around writing poetry are connected to my mother, Coralita Simons. By ten years old I had become a devourer of books and at play time I would often write short stories (and I even attempted a novel). My mother would challenge me to writing duels, we’d drop topics in a hat, draw one out and each write a poem on the same drawn topic. Sadly, none of those poems survive, and my first poetry journal as a teenager was misplaced while at Berkeley, but I don’t want to talk much more about that I feel nauseous by the memory of the loss!
What has most inspired your art?
Tales. I’m interested in all stories the character, the conflict, and the resolution. This is what excites me, whether it is my own tales, others, or the creation of new tales. Delving into the heart of characters that’s my inspiration for plays, performances, and poetry; and, likewise, I search for tales in the art forms that move me, always reminding myself that the tale doesn’t have to be linear and/or obvious, but have a beating heart.
What has least inspired your art?
Nature. I’m ashamed that I have written so little about nature. I love being surrounded by it, the ocean often is a huge character in my work but I can’t find the spark that would make me write a collection about the landscapes around me, in the same way landscape paintings feel strange and void to me. But I have taken on the personal challenge and I’m exploring nature through a character I’ve created called ‘Fireside Boy’, based on a friend who willingly disconnected for three weeks into the Welsh countryside. I’m hoping to look at the natural world through my character’s eyes, and find the tales the flowers have held from me in the past.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m presently working on my new collection, ‘Two Steps on the Water’. After I published ‘The Joshua Tales’ in 2009, I began looking at my other past material and re-editing ten-year-old poems that I thought had no home. Plus my new work had taken a drastic change towards a collective plot and bold characters. I started to see a common world to which all the poems belonged. Thanks to the Bermuda Arts Council, I’ve been able to return to Bermuda to research and develop this world which these poems now inhabit.
Tell me about a few career highlights.
Even though I now reside in London some of my career highlights happened here in Bermuda. I think they remain prominent in my mind because there seemed to be a culmination of collaboration, material and open audiences. Of course there was the explosion of Flow Sundays from the very first night in the hot, dark, room at the back of Coconut Rock. Also the co-founding of Waterspout Theatre and, of course, holding ‘The Joshua Tales’ in my hand.
When, where, and why was your last poem composed?
My last poem is hiding in a cardboard moleskin notebook. I wrote it while at the Bermuda National Gallery on Wednesday, September 14. My imagination was exploding while getting lost in the works of William Collieson (one of my favourite Bermudian artists), I saw beautifully strange people peeking out from between the crevices and treasures in his art.
What is your assessment of poetry in Bermuda?
I can only comment on what I’m able to access in London. But what I can say is that it’s obvious that poetry seems to have commanded a certain respect on the Island that wasn’t there in the mid-1990s. The power of expression has become an epidemic, and that can only be celebrated. What saddens me is that people who were producing beautiful reflections of themselves and their community seemed to have fallen stagnant. I think there are many reasons for it. The economics of Bermuda puts demands on the artist which makes it difficult to sustain both cost of living and creativity; and especially so for poets as there is little, or no, remuneration. It can be futile if a writer feels as if no-one is listening or reading. It would be wonderful if there were a small publishing house that worked with Bermudian writers to produce quality chapbooks that are promoted both here and abroad, but if we are going to ask the world to read our literature, we should be reading it. I long for the day every household will have a corner of their living room dedicated to Bermudian writers, the day that every student can name their favourite Bermudian poet, short story writer, and novelist, and when Bermuda College can offer a course on Bermudian literature. We have to open up to the words of our writers or else we risk, as a people, disappearing like the citizens of Atlantis (with other cultures telling our stories for us). International business and tourism aren’t going to ignite the imagination and hearts of our future generations.
Poetry in Bermuda owes a lot to you; do you feel you owe it anything?
I’m so uncomfortable with that statement. What I’d rather say is that poetry in Bermuda owes a lot to our generation. Those along with me who no longer felt the braces around our feet, or gags in our mouths, these were the obstacles that had a distant scent in the air but were no longer a threat. All the closet poets who scratched out their thoughts in the dark collectively said, “I want to be heard”, and our whole community answered back with a resounding “YES, PLEASE!” However, I do feel I owe poetry in Bermuda something. When I moved to London many people were telling me that I needed to reflect my new world around me and I understood what they were trying to say, but I refused. I’ve accepted that I’m an Island poet. My tales are of and about the land, me and the people who helped shape me. My job now as a creative self-exile is to make my story universal so that the reader as far away as China can see themselves in the language that highlights the journeys of people who grew up on a tiny rock on the edge of the Sargasso Sea.
Friday night also featured a stirring performance of the wonderful 1Undread husband and wife team Brian and Nicole Swan, who delivered all original works with panache to spare. The evening was quite breathtaking at times, and Andra’s level of artistry and professionalism was inspiring. For more information about Andra, and to purchase your copy of ‘The Joshua Tales’ go to www.andrasimons.wordpress.com.
For the original report go to http://www.royalgazette.com/article/20110920/ISLAND04/709209945