Today’s guest on #MeetTheContributor is Andre Bagoo, a poet and writer from Trinidad.
As well as being the author to several books of poetry including Trick Vessels (Shearsman, 2012), Pitch Lake (Peepal Tree Press, 2017), and Narcissus (Broken Sleep, 2022), his poetry has appeared in journals such as Boston Review, Cincinnati Review, St Petersburg Review, PN Review, POETRY, and The Poetry Review.
He also was recently a Guest Editor of the Summer 2022 issue of The Poetry Review.
Published quarterly by The Poetry Society, The Poetry Review is home to the world’s best contemporary poetry and writing about poetry. Since first publication in 1912, it has featured new poems, essays and reviews by internationally renowned and emerging poets, both Nobel Prize winners and newcomers. Famous contributors include T.S. Eliot, Allen Ginsberg, Derek Walcott, Philip Larkin, Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay and Alice Oswald.
Without further ado, let’s hear from Andre!
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1. How did you first get involved in the arts?
We inhabit “the arts” whether we chose to or not. In Trinidad and Tobago, where I’m from, Carnival happens every year. It’s a kind of poetry in motion in which revellers disappear into costumes, dance to calypso, soca, and steelpan, and play together in a theatre of the streets. There are traditional characters who have literary inflections: the Pierrot Grenade mesmerises with verse; the Midnight Robber often spouts iambic pentameter; the Bookman holds a large notebook and records the goings-on around him. A Trinidadian might choose not to “get involved” with Carnival, but Carnival will certainly find a way to get involved with them. It is a living, breathing, thing as conceptual as it is tangible. Even in years when Carnival has been cancelled, you can feel its potent intersections as being central to life in the islands. The entire Caribbean region has, perhaps because of its rich, potent fusion of cultures and expressions, produced art of startling power. The steelpan, the only acoustic instrument invented in the 20th century, was invented in Trinidad. There have been three Nobel Laureates in Literature alone from the region, including two from Trinidad. The collective output of our writers is also key to the islands’ genetic makeup, alongside the mas.
2. How did you find the experience of guest editing the Summer 2022 issue of The Poetry Review?
When I was offered this assignment, I was mindful of The Poetry Review’s long and storied history; its list of illustrious editors, including Emily Berry and Maurice Riordan, as well as previous guest editors such as Kayo Chingonyi, Mary Jean Chan and Will Harris. Richard Scott, my co-editor, was one of my literary heroes. I accepted with relish. And everything that ensued was electrifying, from the nuts and bolts of putting together a publication of this import and currency to reading through thousands of poems sent to us for the issue. Richard and I thought long and hard about what we wanted to do, which prose pieces we wished to commission, which books we wanted reviewed and why, and which poems we felt matched the ethos we developed for our iteration of the Review, as well as our own individual sensibilities. In the end, we were often surprised but managed to achieve every objective on our list of goals. It was a thrill.
3. What has been your proudest achievement in your career so far?
Having “a career” is the achievement I am most grateful for and proud of. In a Caribbean space in which the notion of being a writer is, despite its rich literary heritage, still not a straightforward thing (in fact, nowhere is being a writer a straightforward thing!) I count it a victory.
4. What does an average working day look like for you?
Movies give us idealised impressions of what a writer’s life looks like. The writer sits at a desk in front a large window. The window overlooks a scenic landscape: a vast, verdant field, a snow-capped mountain range or maybe a lake. There tends to be a cosy fireplace. A nice vase of flowers. A large dog is sometimes involved. In the stillness, the writer lingers poetically, searching for inspiration. It miraculously comes. Then they pen their magnum opus, undoubtedly a masterpiece, with the speed of a film montage. My day is nothing like this.
I sit in my apartment amid the polyglot streets of Port of Spain. Outside, you can hear workers scraping rubbish off the road, dogs barking, music blasting from massive speakers at nearby fetes, steelpan players practicing, cars honking, scrap-iron dealers passing, the postman calling out because a post box is too small. If the weather changes it is either too hot or too wet. At nights, tiny frogs make noises so loud my dog sometimes has trouble sleeping. All of this is to say writers are people too: we must wash the dishes, feed the dog, sweep the floor, do the laundry, do groceries, water the plants, babysit nephews, help friends with crises, help family members with crises, and, like, somehow earn a living. I recently read a quote from the poet Elizabeth Bishop, talking about the day she won a prize. “I thought I should do something to celebrate, have a glass of wine or something,” she said. In the end, all she could do was eat two Oreos because of where she was located. The prize was the Pultizer Prize. These are the banal realities of a writer’s life.
5. What advice would you give to a young person wanting to become a writer or poet?
There’s no one way to be a writer. You are on your own path. If you wish to be a writer, do all the work but also do you.
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Thank you so much for taking part, Andre. It’s fascinating to hear the real working day of a writer!
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