TT-born poet shortlisted for Montreal Poetry Prize

A report from Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday.

TT-born actor and poet Nehassaiu deGannes is celebrating a return to her writing roots. Her poem, To Find, To Be was a shortlisted finalist in the Montreal International Poetry Prize Competition in Spetember. It was chosen along with approximately 50 other works, selected from nearly 5,000 entries submitted from across the globe.

And although deGannes did not win, she is excited about what the honour means for her writing career and for the launch of her forthcoming full-length book of poetry, which will be published by Tupelo Press in February 2021, said a media release.

“To have been shortlisted for the Montreal International Poetry Prize was a huge honour,” she said. “And the timing of it has been so fortuitous, coming now, just a few months before my first book-length collection of poems, Music for Exile, is released next year. I’ve spent a great deal of time in recent years working as an actor, but what many people who may know me primarily through the world of theatre may not know is that I started out as a writer. My love for and interest in acting emanated from that.”

Born in TT into a family with roots in Grenada, Guyana, St Vincent and Dominica, deGannes was raised primarily in Canada. She earned her bachelor of arts in English literature from McGill University and went on to do an MA in African American Studies at Temple University, as well as an MFA in literary arts at Brown University.

Her career trajectory changed when, at Brown, she found herself being pursued by several of her MFA colleagues in the playwrights’ programme to act in their productions. This led to performances on Brown’s main stage, a newly discovered passion for acting and eventual enrolment in Trinity Rep’s Conservatory Graduate Acting Programme, where she trained for three years.

Since then, deGannes has performed off Broadway, regionally and internationally at a number of theatres in the Americas. Among her credits are Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at the Stratford Festival of Canada; Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel at Shakespeare and Company; Danai Gurira’s The Convert at Central Square Theatre in Cambridge, Mass; Sarah Burgess’ Kings at Studio Theatre of DC and Aleshea Harris’ Is God Is Off Broadway at Soho Rep.

She recently made her feature film début in the indie police drama Equal Standard, opposite Ice T, Tobias Truvillion and Robert Clohessy.

Throughout her many stage successes, however, deGannes never stopped writing.

She won the Philbrook Poetry Prize for her chapbook Perscussion, Salt and Honey and was awarded the Centre for Book Arts Letterpress Chapbook Award for Undressing The River.

Other published poems include Fingol: A Caribbean Libretto and Vortex (Callaloo Journal), Still Life –Tabula Rasa with Ginger Lilies (Cave Canem Anthology X11), When Last – (The Caribbean Writer) and Black Madonna Greets A Sunrise (American Poetry Review).

She describes her collection in Music for Exile as, “Vividly of the moment, while layered with the swirling weight of history. Music for Exile centres the perspective of a Caribbean immigrant girl growing into womanhood as she confronts all species of violence (intimate and epic,) demands the journey be worthy, and sings into being a radical sense of belonging.”

She said she has been acting full-time for the last decade, but is very happy for the opportunity to publish the full collection.

“Thanks to Tupelo, a press I have long admired, for giving Music for Exile a home. It’s sobering, how the early poems still resonate sharply today. My poems confronting the policing of black bodies or unpacking intimate violence speak directly to present urgencies. So many of us are voicing a long overdue right to feel that we fully belong, that we can truly call this place home. That desire, that long buried ache, lies at the heart of my work. Personally and collectively, we are exposing the wound. I am excited to have Music for Exile contribute to this larger transformation, this reckoning, this healing!”

For further information on Music for Exile visit https://www.nehassaiu.com/music-for-exile-bis.html

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