St Lucia-born poet cops Bocas lit prize

A report by Michael Mondezie for Trinidad and Tobago’s Espress.

St Lucia-born poet Canisia Lubrin is the 2021 winner of the One Caribbean Media (OCM) Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.

Lubrin’s The Dyzgraphxst, a book-length poem published by Penguin Random House Canada, was announced the overall winner by chief judge, Trinidadian-British poet Vahni Capildeo, during a virtual presentation streamed live via the Bocas Lit Fest website, Facebook and YouTube channel last night.

The NGC Bocas Lit Fest started on Friday and ends today.

The Canada-based poet, winner of the Bocas Lit poetry prize, was one of three genre category-topping authors shortlisted for the coveted OCM award and US$10,000 prize.

Jamaica-born Maisy Card’s debut novel, These Ghosts Are Family, winner of the Bocas Lit fiction prize, and T&T’s Andre Bagoo’s wide-ranging collection of essays, The Undiscovered Country, winner of the Bocas Lit non-fiction prize, were the other two finalists.

Card and Bagoo will receive awards of US$3,000 each.

“To be among the finalists already (felt) totally full to me. The overall winner spot (feels) like a too-bright spotlight. The professional boon of international recognition brings varied kinds of good, I think,” the 37-year-old writer told the Sunday Express when asked to put words to the achievement.

A clear winner

The Bocas four-member adjudication panel, which along with Capildeo also included Jamaican poet and academic Opal Palmer Adisa, Trinidadian-American writer and scholar Rosamond S King, and Malachi McIntosh, editor of the UK-based literary journal ­Wasafiri, described Lubrin’s work as “postcolonial poetry at its best”.

“The Dyzgraphxst is exciting, experimental, and maintains integrity from beginning to end. Aware of and alive with the impulses and innovations of Aimé Césaire, Dionne Brand, and so many more revolutionary thinkers with whom we have been blessed.

“These poems take apart our individual personal pronoun, the ‘I’, questioning and finding new ways to feel and think and know what we suppose to be our ‘self’. Some books use language to keep running smoothly. This book shifts what language can be and do. It is thrilling to read it and to relish giving up the illusion of mastery of meaning; to revel in not fully understanding, like swimming beyond the breakers in a sea full of flotsam and jetsam,” Capildeo wrote in her judge’s remarks.

In response, Lubrin—who currently teaches at Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) University and the University of Toronto—said Caribbean voices have unique stories to tell that can benefit the world at large.

Lubrin congratulated both co-finalists Bagoo and Card on their continued efforts to ensure those tales are told.

This is the second consecutive year that a poet has won the most prestigious international annual award for Caribbean writing, and the fourth poetry win in the 11-year history of the prize.

Lubrin is the third St Lucia-born writer to win the overall prize, all for poetry.

“That gesture (of winning) will never not fill me with awe. I mainly celebrate that Caribbean literature continues to be uniquely and expansively additive to the world. Andre and Macy, what a thing to be here with you two. Yes, that is a whole lot,” Lubrin said during an online exchange.

The Bocas Lit Fest continues with its online livestream today featuring children’s programming from 9 a.m., followed by an in-depth discussion panel titled The Big Idea: The Way Ahead—asking how the Covid-19 pandemic and other recent developments may shape the Caribbean’s future.

The latest edition of the festival’s popular Extempo Debate, and a series of lively discussions and readings by authors of new fiction, will also be staged today.

The festival ends tonight with the launch of The 100 Caribbean Books That Made Us—a provocative crowd-sourced list of books in all genres that Caribbean readers have found most influential and inspiring.

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