Geosi Gyasi: Did you have a choice in becoming a writer?
Andre Bagoo: In a sense no. The heart wants what it wants. But I chose to, and aspire to, becoming as good a writer as possible in the circumstances, given the relatively short space of time I’ve got left. Though life is short, writing, like much else in life, is a long, hard journey where the destination is uncertain, but possibly a thing of beauty – and so forever.
Andre Bagoo: Differences yes. Major differences, I’m not so sure. It’s like asking what is the difference between poetry and prose. We may single out formal aspects, set out certain criteria to differentiate. But the more I think about how poetry and reportage use language, is the more I realise how they both aim to telegraph and interrogate truth. Both are different kinds of records, both are artifacts of our time.
Geosi Gyasi: What is the importance of poetry, if I may ask? Do you think poetry has a place in the modern world?
Andre Bagoo: Auden said poetry makes nothing happen. I agree, in the sense that there are no normative values over art. But I also disagree, and let me say why. When I read what I believe to be a good poem, when I hear someone like Mervyn Taylor read his work, or when I see a poem like ‘There’s Nothing Like the Sun’ by Edward Thomas or am moved by a poem from W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop, Phillip Larkin, Langston Hughes, or from Mark Doty, Carol Ann Duffy, Derek Walcott, W.S. Mervin, Tony Harrison, Geoffrey Hill, DM Aderbigbie, Jim Goar, Andrew Faulkner, or when I go back to Shakespeare and find something that makes you gasp, makes you breathe a little differently, makes the mind settle, creates that spark of recognition that says, “Yes, this is what it means to be alive, to be human, this is what we are”, I am convinced something has happened. Who’s to say what’s important? Poetry is around us whether we want it or not: it is not confined to the page but sneaks into music, prayer, and the spaces we congregate in, our shared tongue.
Geosi Gyasi: You live in Trinidad. Could you tell us anything we don’t know about Trinidad?
Andre Bagoo: At 4,828 square kilometers, Trinidad likely has the largest diversity of butterflies of any country in proportion to its size. We have a type of butterfly here simply called ‘Yellows’. They are rare, but one of the most beautiful butterflies of this country. They fly in the sunshine and are avid water-drinkers. Another species is called ‘Bamboo’. It is black and green and has the habit of circling for hours just above the trees in the bright sunshine. It comes down from time to time to suck flowers. And then there’s the ‘King Shoemaker’, black with a band of bright pink splashed centrally over both wings. Also fairly rare. It’s food is varied and includes rotting fruit, tree sap and sugar. It’s underside is brown and when at rest with closed wings, it seems to disappear into the ground.
Geosi Gyasi: Where do you get your ideas to write?
Andre Bagoo: Anywhere really. Sometimes while am walking, or working out. This past week I got one on a random, unscheduled trip to the National Museum. Sometimes a whole poem will come, in terms of an overall outline, plan, subject matter or theme. Sometimes a single phrase or sequence of words. I try to keep notes. Also, when I read a poem I enjoy, I try to understand why I enjoyed it and take mental note of that and how some of the principles gleaned could be applied to another idea. I am not frightened to pluck lines, but you don’t want to steal too much, no matter what TS Eliot said. The ideas are easy, the writing is the hard part!
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific place where you sit down to write?
Andre Bagoo: Hell no. I can write in a reporter’s notepad I carry on my person, on my iPad, on my laptop at home, or on my mobile phone. It really does not matter where I am.
Geosi Gyasi: You are the editor of the arts blog, Pleasure. Could you tell us anything about it?
Andre Bagoo: I started this upon returning to Trinidad fresh out of university to keep track of and reflect some of the excitement happening here. Unfortunately am not posting as often as I would like because my range of activities has expanded so much, but every now and again there’s something there.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your poem, ‘Changeling’?
Andre Bagoo: I read the poem ‘Changeling’ today as being about the mandate of the poet, whose job it is to report on and on behalf of his readers. I wanted to convey a dizzying sense of boundaries being dissolved, of protean body parts being reassembled, as the world is, through language and art. And so the title.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you refer to “The Night Grew Dark Around Us” as a love poem?
Andre Bagoo: It is, and recently I realised it was heavily influenced by WH Auden, specifically his poem, ‘As I Walked Out One Evening’ which has a stanza that reads:
‘The years shall run like rabbits,
For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages,
And the first love of the world.’
If you’re interested, you can read more about my relationship with Auden at a post I wrote for The Operating System for their 2015 Poetry Month festivities here: http://www.theoperatingsystem.org/4th-annual-napomo-303030-day-6-auden-in-iceland-andre-bagoo-on-w-h-auden/
Geosi Gyasi: Do you show your manuscripts to friends before you send them out to publishers?
Andre Bagoo: Unfortunately, to my increasingly small circle of friends, yes, I do!
Geosi Gyasi: Do you continue to write for Newsday? What is your typical day working as a journalist like?
Andre Bagoo: Every day there’s something new. The details of my daily schedule, though, are a bit too byzantine and complicated for me to go into here. And well, if the readers aren’t already falling asleep, I wouldn’t want them to. I must say, though, if I had one wish, I would ask for my body to no longer need sleep.
Geosi Gyasi: Which of your poems do you feel most proud of?
Andre Bagoo: Depends on the day you ask me. Trick Vessels was such fun to write and I like the poems about beer; hypnotizing cats; watermelons and my father. I do like ‘Present Tense’, ‘Auden in Iceland’, ‘After Tchaikovsky, Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture‘ and many others in BURN. But my first ever published poem, ‘Carnival’, which came out in the Boston Review in 2009, has a personal resonance I will always be devastated by.
Geosi Gyasi: Are you comfortable with the label, “Trinidadian Poet”?
Andre Bagoo: Hell yes. And proud.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you tell us how you came to write your first collection of poems, “Trick Vessels”?
Andre Bagoo: The idea came while I was at the Cropper Writers Residency in Trinidad. Once I discovered what a trick vessel – or elaborate mechanical puzzle – was I saw this as an apt metaphor for art and poetry. This became the organising principle behind that collection and things flowed from there.
Geosi Gyasi: At what point in your life did you write, “From the Undiscovered Country”?
Andre Bagoo: I believe this was after Trick Vessels when I was looking around for something else to do. The title is meant to allude to Shakespeare’s line from Hamlet which goes, “The undiscovered country from whose bourn / No traveler returns, puzzles the will.” The sequence was a collaboration with Luis Vasquez La Roche, a Trinidadian graphic designer/artist of Venezuelan origin who was at the time interested in doing sketches on the bus routes of the country. I was intrigued by the idea of travel and speed, and also the high rate of motor vehicle accidents in the country. The sequence touches upon the conflation between journey, sex and death, but also deals with other topics that came to mind in this period which I think was around 2012/2013.
Geosi Gyasi: Tell us all we need to know about your new book, “Burn”?
Andre Bagoo: In BURN, I wanted to create a coherent grouping of poems. There are several strands that coalesce. I seek to examine art and interpretation, how this mirrors relationships and love. I also wanted to move the reader to feel and experience Trinidad. The book’s title is in all caps as an homage to newspaper headlines. It’s meant to signal: there are stories here. Each poem is an artifact which aims to inform, entertain and persuade.
Geosi Gyasi: Your books, Trick Vessels and BURN were published by Shearsman Books. How did you discover Shearman Books?
Andre Bagoo: We need more publishers in the Caribbean. Persons living in this region still have to seek publishers in North America or the UK. In terms of discovery, it doesn’t take long for you to encounter Shearsman, a poetry publisher operating in the UK. And when I did, I submitted Trick Vessels. And now I am pleased to be getting a second book published there.