1. When did you first know you wanted to be a writer?
I have a difficult relationship with labels like “writer” or “poet.” Definitions and meanings vary so widely; I’m never really sure what is meant or not meant by the person asking. Labels also often draw a finite inclusion and exclusion line, and, in my experience, things are never that simple. At the simplest level, a writer is just someone who writes, something I would encourage everyone to try at some point in their life, without thinking about “being a writer” or who your reader will be.
I recently read an interview with Kwame Dawes where he said, “Poets are priests of language, and that title has to be earned.” So, with all that in mind, I don’t think I’ve yet categorically said to myself, “I want to be a writer,” and these days, I’m not often in a hurry to call, label or tag myself anything, except the full name my parents gave me.
But for sure, I do think there was a point a few years ago when I felt a compulsion, an overspilling, to voice something and seek to improve the way I could express myself in a literary form. At the time, I wasn’t really clear what I wanted to say or why, but poetry was the form that I felt drawn to.
Although I have been an avid reader from an early age, my career background is computer programming, so I am relatively new to the whole literary world and am still learning and understanding what exactly being “a writer” means, in terms of a vocation; and understanding all the complexities and the business part of becoming/being a writer.
For now, I am just enjoying the journey of “poeting,” learning all the various aspects of the craft and seeing where things lead.
2. How have you developed as a writer?
I think my writing development goes hand in hand with my self/character development and personal and spiritual growth; the two cannot be easily separated for me. As I become more comfortable and confident in myself and more comfortable and confident with the tools of poetry and what I can do with them, so my writing has developed, and I take more risks on the page.
With all its horrors, the pandemic has led to a host of online workshops, open mics, events like poetry readings and literary festivals, virtual spaces to share, discuss and connect with other writers and writing communities, and a host of other opportunities. All of these have helped to improve my craft and my confidence. I have also been reading poetry voraciously from a diverse range of poets, and other articles that catch my interest, not just literary ones, from quantum physics to the amazing life and anatomy of an octopus. I assume it’s the same for everyone.
Writing draws on so many different inputs. Since school, I have had very little formal literary training, so the internet and books have been my key resources.
3. What was the most challenging part of writing Guabancex?
Writing Guabancex was cathartic. It might seem a weird thing to say, as the collection deals with what happened during and after the traumatic event of Hurricane Maria, but working through the complex, conflicting, and confusing mix of emotions and thoughts through the potent craft of poetry was very empowering and gave me a lot of joy, release, and clarity. Also, the alchemy, transmutation, of something aesthetically beautiful being created from the debris and devastation; holding the physical book in my hand at the end was life-affirming. To paraphrase Kamau Brathwaite, I, too, believe art can come out of catastrophe.
Some of the challenges with writing the poems were the vulnerability I felt using the lyric “I,” when the speaker was not necessarily a factual “Me,” and tackling some of the more complex topics or themes that might have been viewed as “political.” I had to take some deep breaths and resist self-censoring.
Another equally challenging aspect, which I never even considered, was how I would feel “performing” some of the poems; first because performing to an audience is still not an aspect that I’m not comfortable with, and secondly, I found it difficult to “embody” some of the personas in the poem, some of the tragic emotions, performing trauma or sadness; especially when that is not how I felt at the time, years after writing the poems.
I was also conscious of not wanting to re-traumatize anyone who had experienced a hurricane. In addition, hearing about, or seeing the impact of some of the poems on audiences and readers, was unexpectedly complex to deal with emotionally; like hearing a poem made someone cry, or having people feel sorry for me, or for “my Grandmother,” when the Grandmother persona was not a “real” person but drawn from the real and the imaginary. It was emotionally confusing.
There are a whole host of things that happen after you publish a book that I did not have a clue about, so it’s been a steep learning curve and sometimes an uncomfortable one; especially being “visible” when you are a natural introvert and being expected to articulate yourself clearly.
4. What is the most important lesson you have learned from writing Guabancex?
That I have no control over how my work will be read or received once it is “out there”; who will read it, what will be read into it, how readers and critics will respond to it - and that I have to learn to be comfortable with all of that; especially as it can often be a positive and nourishing experience to read or hear how your words have been received.
Also, to trust and have courage as much as possible, going into the unknown. My major life lessons time and time again have been that life will take you down paths you could never have imagined, positive and not so positive, and one thing definitely leads to another; a constant ripple of cause and effect or effect and cause, which is unavoidable, and perhaps necessary for experiential learning and growing.
Lastly, that the promotion of a book takes a lot of hard work and effort, is a whole complex science by itself, and requires skills and a mindset/character disposition that seem at times in opposition to the writing process; all made more “interesting” during a pandemic and when your book is themed around a devastating hurricane. Again, the process sometimes left me feeling conflicted.
5. What are you working on now?
I wish there were a different word we could use besides “working,” again because there are so many expectations and connotations to the word “work”; there is a lot of joy in crafting and creating as well as the hard work, which sometimes doesn’t get talked about. Also, “poeting” for me, is not something separate from living and “being,” so my practice as a daily ritual means paying attention/listening/observing, reading (tons of that), thinking/reflecting/imagining (a lot of that too), writing, and following where my curiosity leads; as well as all the other mechanics of improving my craft and being part of a writing community.
I have no formal writing background, so I have a lot of catching up to do, especially with reading poetry, essays, and other literary material. I’m also trying to familiarise myself with the host of literary journals, finding the good fits, and investigating if and how a living can be “earned.” I also have a pre-Guabancex collection I have been having fun with for several years, but she’s starting to get stage fright as she feels she will be compared to Guabancex, and she is a different child, birthed at a different time in my life.
About the Author
Celia A. Sorhaindo was born in The Commonwealth of Dominica. She migrated with her family to England in 1976, when she was eight years old, returning home in 2005. Her poems have been published in several Caribbean journals, Anomaly, New Daughters of Africa Anthology, and longlisted for the UK National Poetry Competition. She is co-compiler of Home Again: Stories of Migration and Return, published by Papillote Press, and her first poetry chapbook collection, Guabancex, also published by Papillote Press, was longlisted for the 2021 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature.