writers on writers: Ian Gregory Strachan

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Ian Gregory Strachan from tongues of the ocean on Vimeo.

Excerpts

Why do you write?

I think the creative process is life-affirming.

It was an ambition to be able to write my own story, to be able to add something to the collection, the world’s collection of books, and I suppose as I became more politically aware, I became aware of a national identity, I became more aware of wanting to add something to the Bahamian collection, to the Caribbean collection, to be able to tell stories about the place where I was from.

And then there’s just the other matter of it being a form of resistance.

It’s just refusing to accept, or be overcome, or be silenced by what you see around you, what’s happening around you. Resistance is actual survival, psychic, emotional, spiritual attempt to stay alive.

What are your poetic influences?

I think when I grew into young adulthood and I started reading Caribbean poets and African-American poets then I think I began to figure out what I loved. Walcott, obviously.

Just as much Walcott as Brathwaite have been influences. Césaire—of course I’m not reading Césaire in French, I’m reading Césaire in English—obviously in terms of the African American experience, Langston Hughes. Langston Hughes and the Harlem Renaissance poets, Claude McKay and others would have been very strong influences on me.

What is the role of the poet in society?

I will define the poet broadly as not merely a wrier of poems that are in a book or a journal.

A poet broadly is the songwriter as well.

Anyone who uses language in that way, in a way which is out of the ordinary, not ordinary speech but something that has a lyricism to it, and an intensity to it. What is the role of that type of utterance in a society like this, or in society generally?

I think the poet is giving to the community. In the Anglican church, there’s a ritual. Before the priest delivers his message he comes down from the altar with the crucifix, and the Bible is opened and he sings the Gospel. And everywhere in all these churches they’re singing the same Gospel on the same day.

There’s something about what the poet is doing, and what poetry does for community, which is binding people and creating a story, creating a narrative.

It’s almost a religious process, a spiritual process. You’re trying to speak to life and to reality, you’re doing it through a very heightened language which makes it out of the ordinary, out of the everyday, and I really do see poetry as a spiritual thing.

And so the poet is giving, feeding society. Feeding the community, his people, her people, giving them spiritual food in a way.

Some people believe that poetry is an outdated art form, especially poetry written for the page, which has been by the spoken word. What is your view on this position?

Poetry begins as spoken word and becomes text.

I don’t know that I believe that we will ever get rid of text. I’m not alarmed or threatened or frightened by the performance of poetry. That’s a part of it. That’s one avenue by which you can bring your words to life.

I will admit that poetry isn’t everyday. It isn’t a part of people’s everyday in a way that they are mindful of. Mind you, when they listen to a song, then poetry is a part of their everyday, but poetry as we are talking about it now, as in The Poem as a form, is not a part of their everyday. But in this society, people love it. When they have the opportunity, when they take the time, they are rewarded, and they feel rewarded. And so that tells me that it’s not going to become obsolete.

What do you dream for tomorrow?

I dream for myself a wooden cabin on a beach. And a porch as a part of that cabin that I am sitting on looking out at the water. And lighting a fire on the beach as the sun sets. And I dream of being somewhat removed from the smoke, from the noise, from the traffic, from the incessant anxieties of this particular society.

That was my childhood, ironically. Our mother was a schoolteacher and we lived in Andros for a while, and we lived on a cliff—we lived on a hill, and my backyard was a cliff and the ocean in Morgan’s Bluff. Unfortunately we lived there for three years—I say unfortunately because I can’t get it out of my spirit—and I remember walking through a wood of almond trees, and I remember soldier crabs, and I remember land crabs and a beach that was practically my own.

And that’s The Bahamas. It’s not The Bahamas that I’m living today.

•••

is a playwright, filmmaker, novelist and poet who is currently Associate Professor of English at the College of The Bahamas, where he is working on establishing programmes in Film and Drama Studies. He is the author of several plays, including No Seeds in Babylon, Fatal Passage, and Diary of Souls. His other works include the novel God’s Angry Babies, the academic treatise Paradise and Plantation: Tourism and Culture in the Anglophone Caribbean, and the documentary Show Me Your Motion.

 

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