FIELD NOTES : Interrogating Truth:: Poetry and Journalism with Andre Bagoo in Trinidad and Tobago
A Note on Notebooks
AT FIRST, I wanted to keep them separate. After all, they could not be more different. One, plain blue with the words ‘REPORTERS NOTEBOOK’ written on its thin cover. The other, a fancy Italian notebook with a hard cover that looks like brown marble; the kind of pattern you used to find on the insides of old books thrown out by the library. For a long time I walked with the reporters’ notebook on work assignments and saved the other notebook for home; for later; for after the real work of the day was done.
Somehow they conspired to get together.
In truth, they were meant for each other.
As a journalist who is also a poet I find both activities are increasingly influenced by the other. Since I launched my first book of poems, Trick Vessels, in March this question has come up time and time again: what is the relationship between your journalism and poetry?
I sometimes think the poems in the first book have not consciously sought the political but somehow managed to be heavily influenced by it. The things I cover as a political and investigative reporter – ranging from Parliament to worker deaths to special reports and commissions of inquiry into state sleaze – somehow found a way to imprint on the landscapes and emotions I sought to create. While I do not mean to limit any reading of the work, I cannot help but feel the entire exercise was an act of ventriloquism for what I was covering and feeling as I sought to bring news to the masses. There is something there, inside and outside the work.
Nowadays, though, I find the relationship to be different, possibly more direct. After all, they were made for each other, these separate two. I now find myself writing new poems on news stories from Trinidad and Tobago. For example, one poem I recently started is about the spotting of a lion-fish in the seas off Tobago which sent shockwaves. There are tragic poems two. This is an island where murder has become our defining characteristic: we are plagued with crime; we measure the year by how many people were killed. Our murder rate per capita is one of the highest in the world. There were 354 reported murders last year on an island of 1.3 million. The murders are linked to drugs, gang-warfare, crimes of the mentally ill. How to avoid writing about this? I think I am close to understanding what Ezra Pound meant when he said, ‘Literature is news that stays news.’
Is poetry — or literature and art — really inconsistent with journalism? Do they both not aim, through different tools, to interrogate truth, whatever that may be? After all there is a long line of poets, going all the way to even Walt Whitman, who were both journalists and poets.
Perhaps related to this is the recent development within my notebooks. As a reporter I used to zealously kept my notebook separate from my poetry notebook. But suddenly, I find I have rejected the separation. Lines (that may or may not become poems) are now found in my reporters’ notebook in between my poorly scribbled notes (a CAT reporter once described my handwriting as “another language”). Notes on dry, factual subjects appear between lyrics.
For example, covering the Bocas Lit Fest in April, I wrote detailed notes into my poetry notebook. I devoted several pages to an address by the great Caribbean writer George Lamming who spoke at the festival’s award ceremony.
“We are like a people who do not know the house they live in,” I took down (the quotes were later used for a news article I wrote). “We are familiar with the room we inhabit but we do not know how these rooms relate to each other nor do we understand how this collection of rooms defines the Caribbean, a region which is now in its deepest crisis of fragmentation.Let us leave here with a conviction that the region will not be allowed to fail.”
Turn the pages and you find, in the same notebook, detailed notes of the evidence of the ongoing commission of inquiry into the scandalous collapse of two key financial institutions in the country: Clico and the Hindu Credit Union (HCU). In between, there is a pressed flower, then a newspaper clipping – a photo of a bird swallowing a beautiful fish. And even a recent poem, ostensibly about a bulldog, inspired by a cover of the daily newspaper I write for, the Newsday. I’ll end by showing both:
A Bulldog Upon Discovering His Image On the Cover
The page might tear so easily
So easily a face can rip in two
Two legs, cricket white, might rip
Sinew torn tissue. Too
Golden the eyes circled by white
As white as sharp, as claws
Our hero –
the boys who would
for gun-shaped paw
Rest upon them pitbull
Find piteous birth allow
: white to every hue
not purple but blue
not blood, sardonyx
eyes as claws
Dogs don’t see
colour they say
such lies :
Visions made of tails
Andre Bagoo is a poet and journalist working the Trinidad. His first book of poems, Trick Vessels, was published in March 2012 by Shearsman Books. He writes for the Newsday and maintains a blog on arts, PLEASURE.
Editor’s Note: Oh! It’s one of those “why I love the internet” moments… A little over a week ago I received a submission from Andre Bagoo to the coming print issue, in which he explained that he was a “poet and journalist working in Trinidad and Tobago,” to which I replied with gracious thanks for his submission, and also a … “how exactly did you find us?”
What I learned is that Andre arrived at us via Jacob Perkins and Matt Nelson’s 30/30/30 post on Paul Legault, which he’d found via Legault’s website, and that he stayed on to read and enjoy our other projects. He had already been thinking about submitting for FIELD NOTES, he wrote, when I asked him if he’d like to contribute – eking out intuitively that the poetry/journalism overlaps to be found there would be rich in many ways.
A fruitful, engaged dialogue followed (and now continues); and in the meanwhile, this gift for all of you. Thank you, rhizome!