“Growing up, I was always interested in language,” says Andre Bagoo. “I used to write poems, short stories… most of them were about boys I had a crush on.” He would anonymously gift his crushes pamphlets, leaving them his imaginative landscapes. But Bagoo was being shown another path. Many Trinidadian students are sold the same dream: Study hard. Become a doctor/lawyer. Profit. “The whole creative sector, the sector that revolves around the imagination, is not regarded as a viable career,” Bagoo explains.
When Bagoo left Trinidad to study law at King’s College, London, his life’s trajectory seemed clear. Yet, London filled him with a love of literature, not legislation. Subliminally influenced by that distinctive story of the Caribbean person in London, the narrative of the Windrush generation, Bagoo immersed himself in the theatre and in writing.
After the personal renaissance of London, it seemed impossible that Bagoo would become a lawyer. He returned home and wrote obsessively. Months passed. This was not how the story was supposed to go. “My mother started to complain,” Bagoo recalls. She said, “You need to get a job.” Cajoled into seeking employment, Bagoo perused the major newspapers; all were advertising for a court reporter. A job Bagoo applied for at his mother’s request ballooned into a 10-year career.
Sitting surrounded by his four books of poetry, Bagoo recalls the story of Robert Lax, who edited publications such as the New Yorker, before giving it up to write on a remote Greek island. “He had these poems within him; he had this language… and he went through a circuitous path to eventually find that,” Bagoo explains. “He rearranged his life in such a way to match the poems inside him longing to come out.” For a long time, Bagoo did not rearrange his own life, even though the demands of journalism swallowed much of his writing time. “I had this aha moment when I looked back at my life after ten years in journalism and I realised the love of my life has been right there all along,” says Bagoo. That love, of course, was language.
It has been a year and a half since Bagoo wrote his resignation letter—not a poem, but an important piece of writing. “What has since ensued has been a period of saying yes to every single thing that I have never had the courage to do in my life before,” he explains. “I have explored the visual arts, the visual poem… dance.” Naturally, Bagoo’s ideas have begun to evolve. “There is language in everything, be it dance, be it visual art… be it a very dry report,” he explains. His latest collection, The City of Dreadful Night, is a book-length visual poem sequence which explodes traditional interpretations of language.
I ask about the challenges of being a young writer—I’m a writer too; I know how hard it can be to earn a paycheque. Bagoo admits that it is intrinsically harder for Caribbean authors to establish a career, given the small size of local audiences. “Still, people do buy books!” he declares. “There are so many risks to take in our art…. It just needs to happen. And when is it going to happen? We shouldn’t just wait around for help. We should really really try to make it happen.”
He continues, “Everyone starting out has obstacles. The question is if I’m going to have to endure these types of risks anyhow, why not do something I love?” “Love” is the title of one of Bagoo’s poems, especially dear to him because it embodies feeling the emotion. His love has always been language, in all its forms. “Love” acknowledges that all of us have limited time but our passion pushes us to rise beyond barriers and cry out, saying “time be damned, Earth be damned. / Give us another chance.”
Pitch lake for an eye.
He stares because he knows
even after death hair grows,
ripples in the wind tunnel of time.
He stares because he sees
a school of corbeaux curating the city,
pterodactyls hunting in tar.
These days, dinosaurs fly out the oily depths,
saying time be damned, Earth be damned.
Give us another chance.