Sunday, July 20, 2014

"For Colored Girls" at the Black Box Will Save Your Life

I went to see Ntzake Shange’s “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf, presented by Ringplay Productions and directed by Nicolette Bethel, at the brand new Black Box Theatre at the Dundas Centre for the Performing Arts in Nassau on Friday night. How could I miss it? I wanted to see this seminal womanish work performed at last, and thrilled that my old pal Nicolette Bethel was directing. I was also excited to see the new theatre space, the Black Box. I invited Chrissy Love to come along with me and I went completely prepared to love the show.

And I did love it. For many reasons.

First of all, I love the Black Box. Sprung up behind the dear old Dundas like a miracle, it provides a new kind of theatre experience for Nassauvians. This is theatre in the round. There is no stage, or rather, none that is separate and apart from you. The audience encircles the stage. In fact, you are on the stage with the players. When you take your seat you realize, you are in the play. The actors dance and fly around the room, in and out of doors all around you, and sometimes they come right up to you till they are inches away, they look in your eyes and you feel like you are supposed to say something.  The Black Box provides a wonderfully unnerving, exhilarating new theatre experience for our town. Under Nicolette’s inspired direction and Lawrence Carroll’s impeccable choreography the cast inhabited the entire space, creating a stage all around us, just as we circled round the stage. For ninety minutes (was it really that long?) we were cast headlong into Ms. Shange’s mélange of poetry, dance and music and at the end we emerged feeling all the feelings she intended us to feel. I’m certain that Nicolette, the cast and the entire production team were assured on opening night that this non-traditional play is the perfect inaugural piece for the Black Box.

I know this is a play about race and gender, or rather, racism and misogyny, but to me it is a song about womanish pain. Not about getting over the pain, or healing the pain, or looking on the bright side of the pain, or noble lessons learned from the pain, or being grateful for the pain, or naming the pain anything other than pain. Seems to me the writing is asking us to feel the pain. To hold steady and feel it.  To be a witness to it, and to share in the pain, the kind colored girls feel.  I believe Ms. Shange seeks to break open your cold, dead heart, shock it back to bloody beating again with this play. She means to yuck up our deepest emotions, the main one being compassion, for ourselves and for other women as we navigate this misogynist, racist, patriarchal world. I got the feeling she is saying, among other things, that the fearless act of telling the painful truths about women’s lives, as well as the brave act of witnessing those truths, are exactly the acts that empower us to continue to seek and create our womanish liberation and joy.

The ensemble cast features seasoned performers Claudette Allens (Lady in Red)
and Theresa Moxey Ingraham (Lady in Yellow), as well as new talents Michaela Forbes (Lady in Green), Myra McPhee (Lady in Blue) and Aleah Carey (Rainbow) and rising stars Onike Archer (Lady in Purple), Arthellia Isaacs (Lady in Brown) and Erin Knowles (Lady in Orange). The play calls for each to speak and dance their color into a single prism that shines a multicoloured light  “on what it means to live full, joyful lives in a world plagued with racism, sexism, cruelty and violence.” The cast achieves this objective beautifully, delivering a cohesive performance that will break your hearts, lift your spirits and open your minds to think differently and anew about the womanish experience in these difficult times. Seeing For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf at the Black Box will also change your mind about what it means to see a play in Nassau.  Prepare to be a changed person when you emerge from this show.

I am profoundly grateful to Philip Burrows, Nicolette Bethel and Ringplay Productions for the Black Box and for choosing this play for the inaugural production. I believe what they say, that “theatre saves lives.” I can now say, I’ve been saved. You can be saved too. The play is on again July 24 to 26.

Monday, March 10, 2014

WomanSpeak Launches Issue 2014 at National Art Gallery of the Bahamas March 27

A book launch celebrating the release of a limited edition of WomanSpeak, A Journal of Writing and Art by Caribbean Women, volume 7/2014, edited by Lynn Sweeting, will be held at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas on Thursday, March 27, at 7pm, and the book loving public is invited.

Seven  poets will read at the event, including noted poet Marion Bethel, author of Bouganvillea Ringplay (Peepal Tree Press 2010),  Lelawattee Manoo Rahming, 2001 Commonwealth Prize Winner and author of “Immortelle and Bhandaaraa Poems (Proverse, Hong Kong), noted author Patricia Glinton Meicholas, Small Axe Poetry Prize winner Sonia Farmer, and poet and WomanSpeak founding editor and publisher Lynn Sweeting of The Bahamas, and  new voice Attilah Springer of Trinidad.  Contributing artist Carla Campbell of The Bahamas will show her paintings at the event. A limited number of printed copies of the journal will be available for purchase.

“Voices of Dissent: Women Writing and Painting to Transform the Culture,” is the theme for this new collection from WomanSpeak Books.  Editor Lynn Sweeting of The Bahamas gathers together another small but powerful  collection of poetry, fiction, fairy tales, essays, and art in a  full colour, paperback edition designed by Julia Ames and featuring the painting “The Butterfly Effect: The Duchess” by acclaimed Bahamas painter Claudette Dean on the cover.  In addition to works by the noted and prizewinning poets reading at the launch, also included in the new collection are well known, noted author, poet, editor and teacher, Opal Palmer Adisa (Jamaica), Vahni Capildeo (Trinidad) whose collection of poems “Dark and Unaccustomed Words” was long-listed for the 3013 OCM Bocas Prize, Vashti Bowlah, (Trinidad) who was shortlisted for the 2013 Inauguaral Hollick Arvon Caribbean Writers Prize, and Daniel Boodoo-Fortune, painter and poet, (Trinidad), winner of the First Prize for Poetry in the 2012 Small Axe Literary Competition.

Full colour art by a small but powerful group of contemporary women painters is once again a prominent feature of the new WomanSpeak journal.  At the center of the collected art are Claudette Dean’s paintings from her collection, “The Buttefly Effect, four achingly beautiful portraits of women, each one crowned with enormous flowers that seem to emerge from the tops of their heads, like the power and beauty of the feminine creative imagination when it springs from the womanish mind.   Other contributing painters include Danielle Boodoo Fortune of Trinidad, new voice Cher Corbin of Barbados, and the radical feminist painter Maria Maria Acha-Kutsccher of Mexico, and  Bahamian Carla Campbell who will show two of her paintings included in issue 2014 at the launch.

Founded in The Bahamas in the 1990s, revived in 2010, WomanSpeak began as a personal labour of love for founding editor Lynn Sweeting and a few local writer friends in Nassau, a forum where they could publish their own creative work. In the new era the journal began to attract the attention of international writers and painters. The creative work of 30 women writers and painters from across the Caribbean and the world make up the new collection.

Today WomanSpeak exists to provide a forum for Caribbean women’s creative work, to nurture that creativity by publishing fine literature and art by women, to discover and publish emerging and developing writers, to preserve publications for future audiences, and to create a space where community and sisterhood among contemporary women writers and painters of the Caribbean can be cultivated and encouraged.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Halloween is for the Children

Hey good people of the Bahamas, lets bring back the secular Halloween traditions of costumes and trick or treating for our little ones. Dressing up and pretending to be someone else is good for their creative imagination. Remember, trick or treaters are not criminals, just little children trying to trick or treat like Dora does on tv, for goodness sake, lets be nice to our children. Lets create a safe holiday for the little ones, lets be kind and generous to one another. Lets especially look kindly on the little children who have no costumes, who dress up as best they can  with what they have, lets be most generous to them. Lets stop complaining about how unsafe it is and let us put a pumpkin in the window and turn our house into a safe place to trick or treat.  Anglos, lets stop hiding behind our drawn drapes talking about crime when black little kids are trick or treating outside, stop “canceling” or “postponing” trick or treat  night in your neighbourhood because you are “afraid of crime”  because this boils down to refusing to open your door to  black little children who come to your door on Halloween night proper.  You can’t cancel or postpone Halloween. (To the people in the overly decorated  house who wouldn’t answer the door to my eight year old son a few years back because your neighbourhood association decided to cancel Halloween, I say, you are bad, bad people.) This is so 1980s and not in a good way, this is so racist. And fundamentalists, stop demonizing a harmless secular tradition for children, stop using the “pagan roots” of Halloween for an excuse to deny our kids some safe neighbourhood fun in 2013, remember, all your Christian traditions have pagan roots. I don’t like what American pop culture does with Haloween, I don’t allow monsters and zombies, though I will tolerate a dashing vampire, a good witch and a friendly ghost. I don’t like the way mainstream culture makes Halloween gory and scary, or the way costumes for women these days are all sexed up. I don’t like the exploding fireworks. I love little children in costumes trick or treating, I focus on them. I love putting on my witch’s hat and doing a little neighbourhood theatre for them. The modern secular Halloween traditions celebrate childhood, our children desperately need to be celebrated.  Low self esteem is killing us.  The simple tradition of dressing up and trick or treating on Halloween is a little way we can teach our children that their lives are worth celebrating, that we think they are worth celebrating  It is a way to create family and neighbourhood togetherness, a way to create community, the kind centered around children. So come on people, receive the little trick or treaters with some generosity, some creativity, some grace.  Let them have some fun, for Christ’s sake. Lets all have some fun. Have (create) a happy Haloween!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

A Human Rights Poem for Blog Action Day 2013

Seeing What Cannot Be Seen
(A Human Rights Poem for Blog Action Day 2013)

Squadrons of government
soldiers in riot gear,
massed and ready
behind the white man
confronting the forest man,
for any reason
to begin firing,

nation of mothers, fathers,
children, grandfathers,
grandmothers, The People,
behind the forest man,
their bodies,
their voices,
their stories all
outside the shot,

the forest under fire,
fields of burning stumps,
dead bodies, murdered chiefs
laying in their graves,
violated treaties,
stinking mines,
cattle ranches worked
by Indian slaves,
missing children,
dying animals,
all these are
what cannot be seen

in the photograph,
nor the citizen journalist
aiming the camera,
nor the face
of the blog writer
who published the picture,
or that of the Global Voices
online editor who reported
the report
of  the last
on the rain forest Indians
taking to the streets
to save their land,
to save their lives, nor

the face
of the forest man
to die rather than step aside
for the bulldozers
because without the forest
he will die anyway,

we cannot see ourselves
in the picture

until now.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Imagining These Words Matter

I am blogging in the Crab Grass Garden. It begins to rain. I laugh. Then think of them. The mother and daughters murdered in Pakistan a few weeks ago for making a film of themselves outside in the rain laughing. The mother showed the film she made of her daughters to a friend who showed it to her male relatives. The men were outraged, broke into her home in the middle of the night and shot them all dead. Mainstream (patriarchal) culture called it an honour killing. The mainstream press never covered it. Bloggers wrote about it and I read about it at Global Voices Online. The rain keeps misting down and I wonder, what exactly was it about the film that drove the men to murder? I remember a clip of the offending film on Global Voices. In it the girls were dressed conservatively though their faces were uncovered. As for laughing, they barely cracked a smile, they giggled then stopped. I realize, it wasn’t what was in the film that pissed them off. It wasn’t the creative act either. Not the mother’s act of picking up the camera, or turning it on her daughters and encouraging them to smile. It was not that she archived the little film, not even that she showed it to friends that enraged them. The rain keeps on falling lightly around me and I realize with certainty, it was the idea of creating the film that got them killed. They died because of that single, fleeting moment when one of them said, Imagine making a film of ourselves! Imagine seeing ourselves in a film! Imagine! In the patriarchy the womanish imagination is illegal and the penalty is death. I am blogging in the rain in the Crab Grass Garden, imagining these words matter, imagining bringing this blog back to life with writings that say something about the power of writing to challenge an unjust status quo, imagining the new poems I will write, the ones to protest misogyny, hyper-fundamentalist father god religions and the 200 million girls gone missing in the world that no one talks about. Imagining poems I will write to protest my own government’s failure to pass laws and implement policies that improve women’s lives. Imagining my words had the power to change things. Where I live, I can imagine myself writing and publishing a blog, then do it, and no one will want to kill me for it. But I don’t take my freedom for granted. Not for one minute.I dedicate these words to that mother and her daughters, because   perhaps they knew what was going to happen. Perhaps they decided it was worth it.

WomanSpeak, Vol.7/2014 Soon Come

I spent the summer putting together the new issue of WomanSpeak, Vol.7/2014 and at the time of this writing we  are in the final stages of editing. It should be in print by the end of October. I am humbled, excited and a little terrified to see my little kitchen table publication, a personal labor of love, a forum for me and my friends, now growing into an international journal with writing and art by contemporary Caribbean women writers and painters from around the world. It is a tiny volume as international journals go, thirty contributors, 150 pages. But in it are the creative expressions of an emerging new school of feminist/womanist/wombanist/womanish writers and painters who in this collection at least direct the power of their art toward challenging the unjust status quo, in the world and in our heads, at work to diminish the freedom, autonomy and empowerment of women. This is a special community, the contributors all understand that we are creating something new together. They know it is a small journal from a small place. They know it is still invisible, that the readership is small. But they also seem to know they are the voices of a new school of women's lit and art coming out of the Caribbean. there is a renewed consciousness of the woman writer as activist that infuses many of these works. WomanSpeak is becoming a gathering place for such writers and painters. I am grateful to them all for for their good work, for their literary and painterly activism and for believing in this journal, and for believing in me. I want to let them know, the new issue soon come.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Security of Person

Security of Person

That I am here

not running
from bombs
of chemicals
or fire,

not hiding
from soldiers
for whom rape
is a weapon
of war,

not afraid
of going to jail
or dying
in a genocide
if I say
in this poem,
my government
fails me,

not silenced
to keep from
getting killed
by male relatives
on calling murder
a matter
of honour,

not in terror
of death
by land theft,
unmanned drones
or a wall
going up
between me
and the fields
where I grow my
family’s food,

not in a tent
facing the night
in a refugee camp
in a country
that doesn’t want me
because my country
is getting
blown away,

not kidnapped,
trafficked to God
knows where,
not enslaved.

that I am here
at my desk by the window,
attempting poetry
means that
for this moment,
I am safe.

So this poem
must be written
for the ones
too busy surviving
to write,

for mothers
in the millions
who’ve never known safety
in their entire lives,

to bear them witness,
to demand
the human right
to security of person
be upheld
for all people
of the earth
at last,

because the safe ones
aren’t really safe
and poets
can’t be counted
among the silent ones.

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