Newer performance venues for the literary art Preserving our literary heritage
By Petamber Persaud
Guyana Chronicle
December 3, 2006

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ON OCTOBER 24, 2002, I staged a symposium on Guyanese Literature at the National Library, Georgetown, Guyana.

The event was well subscribed to and the interaction was beyond expectations, sometimes leading to heated exchanges. It went into overtime with writers, readers, lovers of literature unwilling to let go of such a revealing and rewarding evening. And during refreshment, we kept regurgitating the food for thought offered up by the symposium.

And all that took place against the frightful backdrop of mayhem, gunplay and kidnapping in the streets of Georgetown, some of the action took place not far from the library. (Incidentally and sadly, the media couldn’t spare time nor space to even make an inkblot of or streak of reference to the literary event.)

As organiser, I was heartened by the response of persons who braved the upsurge in violence in our country, obviously risking lives and limb that day, to support a literary event. But many confessed during the session and later that they were hungering for such a forum to air their concern, seek answers and to work on solution on matters affecting local writing.

Issues ventilated at that symposium included the state of Guyanese literature,

the need for more performance venues for poetry and other forms of the literary presentations, the need of writers to market themselves, the revamping of parts of the Guyana Prize for Literature, the need to encourage and horn the skill of local writers, the establishment of an institutionalised writers’ workshop, the publication of a regular quarterly literary magazine and the copyright act.

The participants at that symposium who were agitating for performance venues will now be gratified with what has happened since then and what continues to happen at various and varying locations in Georgetown.

In 2002, the Upscale (Guyana) Restaurant launched a weekly Tuesday night open ‘mic’ poetry session. There was only standing room on that opening night. The sessions were well subscribed to and well attended for quite a while but petered out after about a year. But while it lasted, it filled a great need in this country – offering aspirating poets (and established ones) an opportunity to showcase their talent. Now in November 2006, Upscale has re-launched that open ‘mic’ poetry format, picking up the pieces and learning from the past. From the response on the re-launch occasion, the event seems to be back on track, bang on target. There are many plans on how to maintain interest in the event. One such innovation is a monetary incentive to be given to regular ‘Upscale’ performers, courtesy of the Bank of Nova Scotia in Guyana. Other innovations include poetry slam and ‘rapso’ poetry.

The introduction of the Upscale open ‘mic’ poetry format is the brainchild of entrepreneur, Asafa George.

In 2006, the Sidewalk Café & Jazz Club staged the first in a series of poetry events. That was the first ever ‘poetry and pan’ competition in Guyana. There were two categories of competitions – school children & open – which were undertaken over a period of four weeks. According to new General Manager, Vanessa Simon, over that period, she had seen enormous improvement in the presentations especially since the test piece had to be use from preliminary rounds through to the final. In the near future, that location will stage poetry slam and DEF poetry. This move is to add impetus to the revival of interest in the performance of poetry in Guyana.

Poetry slam is quite an innovation form to poetry. Like storytelling in the oral tradition where there is crowd participation and response, performances at the slam are judge by the audience.

The Umana Yana in Kingston is a meeting place and has been the venue for all manner of functions since it was erected. Increasingly it is becoming one of the main venues for the performing art. In 2004, the first ever three-day performance of poetry was staged there under the imposing title, ‘An Odyssey of Guyanese Poetry’. Over that three-day period, some twenty-four performers and poets presented the poetry of nine Guyanese poets including Martin Carter, A. J. Seymour, J. W. Chinapen, Laxhmi Kallicharan, Rajkumari Singh, Wordsworth McAndrew, Sheik Sadeek, John Agard and Ian McDonald. On October 15, 2005, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sport staged World Poetry Day at the Umana Yana. Some poems were presented by nationals of foreign missions housed in this country.

Castellani House is the National Art Gallery. And more. Much more than just the housing of the national art treasures and the exhibition of art work. It has become the hottest spot in Georgetown for the performing art. On March 18, 2004, Castellani House started THE JOURNEY, an evening of literature, celebrating Guyanese literature, past and present, in performances and pictures. This ongoing series of literary events has cover much ground since then, expanding the adventure in literature effecting such themes as ‘literature in translation’, ‘school days are happy, happy days’ and ‘celebrating living women writers’. The series has facilitated over one hundred individual and group performances of prose, poetry and drama. The seventh stage of The Journey was undertaken on Wednesday November 29, 2006; it was a resounding success. That adventure titled ‘winners’ row’ encompassed samplings of literary prize winners from around the world delivered by some of the best voices/readers around including Russel Lancaster, Dr. Rovin Deodat, Dr. Ian McDonald, Alim Hosein, Rosamund Addo, Vanda Radzik, Sacha Wallace, Evan Persaud and schoolgirl, Kia Persaud.

The National Library since its inception 1909 was a platform for book related activities but increasingly the institution is making reading, literacy and literature more attractive. Now that location has on its calendar of events ‘A Dip into Literature’ which is a varied and flexible scheme introducing literature to students in transition from primary to secondary school, to whet their appetite, to increase their appreciation of literature and to uncover and nurture related talents. A ‘Dip into Literature’ is geared to break down the daunting barriers associated with the study of literature.

Bundle the effect of these performance venues together and find a healthier, more relaxed, more cultured, more satisfied state of Guyana. (Responses to this author telephone (592) 226-0065 or email: