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This report is taken from PN Review 245, Volume 45 Number 3, January - February 2019.

Syntax Poems

Making Multivocal Performance Texts
Vahni Capildeo
The writer Martin Carter (1927–1997) was involved in the conscious creation of Guyana, from revolutionary times and his jail writings to his representative later roles, from government minister to beloved regional poet. He was sensitive to the histories inscribed in his, and any, land as ‘tongueless whispering’. Today’s Caribbean is no less animated and inscribed by the ‘shape and motion’ of Carter’s language. His original audiences could recite his poems by heart. Nowadays his words continue to make their way into genuinely popular song, protest and performance, for example during the curfew-challenging event in Trinidad in 2011, ‘I Dream to Change the World’.

Why then my transreading of Carter to produce new ‘syntax poems’ for performance, when his work is still alive, still carrying out its own propulsive transformation?

From 2014 to 2016, during and after my Judith E. Wilson Poetry Fellowship at the University of Cambridge, I had access to a blackbox studio theatre, a dark space with insulated walls and movable seating. With a group of people including genius theatre maker Jeremy Hardingham and brilliantly inventive students Paige Smeaton and Hope Doherty, I started to evolve a way of immersing audiences in the feeling of the world of a poem, rather than staging standard readings of texts (microphone and lectern, audience forced to face one way and be worshipful). We were not interested, either, in a conventional dramatisation of a poetic script. Instead, immersive experiments became the context for events including reading of full texts alongside what I call ‘syntax poems’ gleaned from them. The ...


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