Today marks World Poetry Day, which the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) declared in 1990, “to promote the reading, writing and teaching of poetry throughout the world and to give fresh recognition and impetus to national, regional and international poetry movements.”
In recognition of the day, Barbados TODAY caught up with well-known Barbadian poet, Dempstu DJ Simmons Simmons, to find out more about his career as a poet and his thoughts on the day.
Q: How old were you when you recognized that poetry was your talent?
A: I am not sure what age I was. I always enjoyed performing. I never really saw it as poetry; I saw it as music, expression. I just thought it was a way to communicate through words, whether I was rapping, chanting or singing, just being poetic in the language; I just saw it as my way of contributing to the performing arts.
Q: As a veteran on the poetry scene in Barbados, what is your goal for the development of poetry on the island?
A: I just want to do what I can to mentor and inspire other poets coming up to show them they actually can make a living in terms of words and voice. You have to be creative in how you do it. Don’t limit yourself to Barbados but take your work to the region and the world. I try to do my part to inspire energy in the youth, because that is what is needed so people can see it more as a professional craft, not mediocre, not something you can do at the drop of a hat, but just spend the time to craft what you need to do. Carry out your research, write, edit and re-edit, so when you publish it or perform it, you would have effectively communicated the message you wanted to bring across in the first instance.
Q: You are part of the group Iron Sharpens Iron; how did this group come about?
A: This is a long story. Adrian Green (fellow poet) saw a poet called Heru when he was studying in America, who told him “iron sharpens iron”. It comes from a text in the Bible—Proverbs 27, verse 17—and it essentially means that as you get better, I get better, and as I get better I will make you better. So when Heru told him that it inspired Adrian, and when he first saw me perform he said the same thing to me and it inspired me as well. So, on November 10, 2008, with the help of Allan Sheppard, the former lead vocalist of Spice and Company, we decided to put together a concert called Iron Sharpens Iron to show how spoken word can be embraced and expressed. It was supposed to be a one-off, but then we found out how many other poets were out there who needed a space where they could express themselves, be critiqued, and learn to perform better, and we decided to take it further with online talk shows, live performances, open mic events and a host of other activities.
Q: You are a NIFCA award-winning performer and poet. When did you realize that poetry can also be performed?
A: I recognized that CBC used to show a lot of old NIFCA performances before the news and after Days of our Lives, so I sought out the NIFCA stage as that was the biggest stage for poets at the time. In so doing, I realized the amount of talent that used to be on stage at NIFCA and was able to make a lot of friends, and I got a couple of mentors out of it as well. I always knew poetry should be communicated, so it was to make sure you get a platform where it can be communicated as effectively as possible.
Q: Who or what inspired your poetry?
A: Bajan dialect, Bajan people inspired me to write poetry. I love to hear how Bajans talk. Whenever someone told a joke or story it always had a cadence to it that was very beautiful and poetic; just the way Bajans talk all the time inspired me to communicate how we speak and make it colourful on the stage.
Q: DJ Simmons has become a household name when people think of poetry. How does that make you feel?
A: I don’t think of myself as a household name. I am happy that poetry is a household name, and now when you talk about poetry or spoken word it is not nursery rhymes or some “sing songy” thing, but something you can delve into; something that can be part of luncheons, weddings, beauty pageants; it can fit entertainment packages in any space; it can also be educational and used in workshops. It is extremely versatile; it is easy to take in based on how it is performed. It is essentially a conversation you are having with your audience.
Q: Your poetry has a rhythm and also entertains. Was this something you created?
A: Nothing in the world is original so I could not have created it. I was inspired by many things—the tuk band, Bajan rhythms and voice. Nothing I created. I just took it with my voice and self-expression, honed it and put it to my voice, but I didn’t create anything, I just got inspired by it.
Q: What does World Poetry Day mean to you?
A: The day that everyone remembers us, remembers there are poets around. This is a good thing as it is then up to us to stamp our memories in people’s brains so they can keep remembering us all through the year, not just one day to celebrate poets. It reminds us of the impact that words and storytelling have on our culture.
Q: What advice would you give to a young poet?
A: Never settle for mediocrity, always look to people you consider better than you, not just in writing but in anything. Once anybody does anything expressing themselves you can be inspired, you can learn from it. Even if it is a chef you can look at in the level of detail he goes into to prepare and plate a meal, just attention to detail. Edit your work, try to memorize it so you can perform it in any place, whether a corporate office, in front of 1 000 people or at a rum shop. Have different ways to express the message of your piece; it doesn’t have to be the same words all the time, it is the vibe of your piece that you want to communicate at all times. Memorize and learn the words, challenge yourself to find new ways of bringing your message out. Do your research, make sure everything you are saying is right and that you feel good about it, spend time honing your craft and paying attention to detail. (DH)