by Carol Williams
Poet laureate Esther Phillips is unapologetic about her love and passion for Barbados.
Those feelings were evident on Friday evening as she took the diverse audience present for an event held in her honour on a trip down memory lane.
In her readings at the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination, the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Phillips paid homage to other literary icons and academics – Professor George Lamming and the Kamau Brathwaite.
Professor Lamming, a close friend, was among the dozens of people in attendance.
“There’s a call going out these days for a return of the old values, caring, sharing. I call them ‘eternal values’,” said Phillips, who, in her readings, paid tribute to places and people who have not only impacted her life but Barbados as well.
Among those were women whom she described as ‘intelligent and resourceful but were denied the opportunity of education but they are the foundation on which we stand’.
The event was titled The Laureates Series: Celebrating Poetry and Barbados’ First Poet Laureate held in collaboration with the university’s Department of Language, Linguistics and Literature. The series was first staged in 2015.
“We must remember that our poets are our country’s storytellers and historians,” said Minister of Creative Economy, Culture and Sports John King.
He spoke of a number of initiatives by the National Cultural Foundation aimed at getting poetry ‘back in its rightful place’.
In his tribute, he praised Phillips as a highly accomplished daughter of the soil.
“The Ministry of the Creative Economy, Culture and Sports joins with the University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, in acknowledging Ms Phillips for having been actively involved in the literary development of Barbados and for her invaluable contribution to the literary community regionally and internationally,” he said.
Minister King further noted her “unwavering commitment to literary arts in Barbados”, adding, “That is itself an achievement.”
Phillips is the editor of Bim: Arts for the 21st Century, founder of Writers Ink Inc. and the Bim Literary Festival & Book Fair. She is producer of the CBC radio programme, What’s That You’re Reading? as well as chair of the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment.
Her publications include, When Ground Doves Fly; The Stone Gatherer and Leaving Atlantis.
A highly acclaimed writer, she has won numerous awards, among them the Governor General’s Award for Literary Excellence in 2016 and the Alfred Boas Poetry Prize of the Academy of American Poets.
In 2014, her poetry was recorded for the Poetry Archive in the United Kingdom, which regards her as “one of the significant poets writing in English.”
Some of her poetry has been translated into Spanish as part of a PEN project implemented by the University of Puerto Rico, and that collection is due to be published later this year.
“Her poetry is rooted in our islands but it also explores the innerscapes of our humanity and our soul,” said Professor Curwen Best, Professor of Popular Culture and Literary Studies.
Multiple award-winning artist at the National Independence Festival of Creative Arts (NIFCA), Aprille Thomas, said: “As a young writer, as a young poet it is very encouraging. Thank you so very much Esther for all that you’ve done to encourage young writers like myself.”
Following the event, Philips told Barbados TODAY she was touched by the turnout and the support she received.
“I felt as if there was a lot of warmth in the room, a lot of goodwill so that made me feel very happy. There were all kinds of people present. That is part of what I’m aiming for in my poetry, to see everybody come together,” she said.
“We have too many unnecessary divisions in this society. Poetry has to do with emotions and feelings of all human beings so whether you’re white, black, brown, that is of no consequence and I’m very interested in what everybody has to say, what everybody is feeling.”
The literary luminary recently submitted a collection of poems for publication.
She said her next major project is the BIM Literary Festival and Book Fair scheduled for 2020.
“We’ll be bringing in writers. I don’t want to call names yet but we have a list of names, not a lot because we have to be careful of our economic situation. We usually have panel discussions; we bring in writers to present their work and we have writers’ workshops,” she added. (CW)