These poems speak compellingly about British Virgin Islander history on land and at sea. From what emotional terrain do you draw the foundations of your work? Where do you set your horizons in poetry?
I think, especially with this work, there was an intense desire to put those remarkable narratives and experiences in a place outside of memory and little-read history titles. I really wanted to commit them to verse, as a way — perhaps a contradictory way — to make them real. As a fledgling writer, I saw all this history, all this landscape, and all this water sort of carrying on on its own, outside of the consciousness of the wider region, and completely outside of the experience of the non-islander. In a way, I guess you could say that my writing it is a sort of profane exercise, as I’ve abstracted and mythologised things that are very real already.
As far as my poetic horizons go, I try to let the tides tug me along, and trust that they will take me where I’m meant to go. I thought I’d write a book of poems and then move on to spend some time experimenting with fiction, but poems seem to keep coming. I think I have to trust that.
Make Us All Islands resists oppression with a tender ferocity, such as in “Blue Runner”: “we must learn again / . . . how to pull the thin / shimmering spears from our throats.” Where do you channel the quiet vigilance that dwells in this collection?
It’s funny that you mention vigilance, as the motto of the British Virgin Islands is the Latin word vigilate or “be vigilant.” I can’t say that was an overtly conscious motivation of mine, and I am always wary of messages that call for things like cultural revivals and draw lines around national identities, but as I wrote I often returned to the rituals and practices that located us here as Virgin Islanders. That is the space where poems like “Blue Runner”, “Bushing the Pit”, “Boiling Bush” and others came from, in a spirit of documenting those rituals of ours and how those rituals are a quiet resistance of the insidious orders of colonialism, patriarchy, capitalism.
The BVI is often overlooked in celebrations of Caribbean literature. What is needed for clearer focus on underwritten spaces in our islands?
The answer to this is twofold. While BV Islanders have been writing at least for the last hundred years, that writing has hardly ever left our shores. Several of our local writers, for various reasons, self-publish their books, which makes it less likely for anyone outside the BVI to read them. So the first part of the answer is that writers in the BVI have to look outward, have to publish through regional and international platforms that are listening for new voices, and put their work through the rigours of those processes. We have to travel to literature festivals and book fairs in the Caribbean and make the effort to become part of the greater chorus of the region. We have to look beyond the BVI as our audience in order to do that.
The second aspect might be that once those sorts of things are happening in the smaller spaces of the Caribbean — say, Bermuda, Turks and Caicos, St Vincent, and the like — it may take some effort on the part of festival directors, editors, and publishers to reach out to emerging writers in those spaces. For my own part, that is one of the reasons David Knight, Jr, and I founded Moko, and I can point to my own developing career as a template for what is possible in writing from a small place.
Born in Trinidad in 1982, Richard Georges grew up the British Virgin Islands, where he lives in Tortola. He teaches at the H. Lavity Stoutt Community College, and is co-editor of the online literature and art journal Moko. His book of poems Make Us All Islands, published in early 2017 (and reviewed in this issue of Caribbean Beat, page 32), is shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection, part of the UK-based Forward Prizes for Poetry. His second book, Giant, will be published in 2018.