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POETRY'S APPEAL BEYOND RHYME AND SEASON

Jan 1, 2002 – Candles flickered on the tables at Marisol Restaurant as twilight descended on a recent Sunday evening. Tiny Christmas-red light chains added to the festive feeling. Spotlights shone down on a pedestal microphone positioned at the juncture of three rooms, so audiences in all three as well as the outdoor dining garden could hear and see performers.
Listeners and performers — at least 50 of them throughout the evening, with a peak count of 75 — lounged on window-seat cushions, sat at the bar, ordered drinks and eats from the regular menu or a special "Rock Lounge" version, table-hopped between performances and examined the painting of featured artist Naila Buckley. A few nervously paced outside awaiting their turn to be seen and heard.
Such was the ambience of the third event of the Rock Collective, an "informal, nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing artistic spirit on St. Thomas," in the words of organizer Tiphanie Yanique.
Dubbed an "open mic experience" of poetry, music and visual art, Rock Collective gatherings take place at Marisol on the first and third Sundays of each month, from 6 to 9 p.m.
At the Dec. 16 event, Serena Williams was host for the early part of the evening — a lively, appreciative host marveling at "the word pictures they make!" Most performers were introduced by first name only. Williams herself opened the evening with a poem, "My Opinion," describing succinctly her definition of poetry.
Many of the presenters were poets. Some, such as Mary, were experienced in reading before an audience; others, such as Hector, were "very nervous." Fenzie was presenting his first effort at poetry writing, a work "written just before the show." Betsy chose to read a published poem by Jean Joseph – titled "Warning" but familiar to many as "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple …" (Her outfit was not purple.)
Most of the presenters were young people but a number were mature and, in some cases, published writers. Intermittent microphone problems did not daunt them.
Several poets focused on the topic of love in its varied forms — unrequited, shared, upbeat, negative or angry at betrayal. Mary read her poem on the sacred struggle for life: a dead bull calf born to a too-young heifer. A dynamic Mireni read his "Poem to the Raped," with sad words for the injured, and an angry "You destroyed an angel" to the violator.
Actor/poet Marcus read "War between Mind and Body," a serious work until the very last line.* Abraham read of his ideal "Nubian Queen" and passed paintings around the room. Blake presented a moving tribute to his deceased wife and daughter. Bruno's dark recitation on death personified in "black hat, black gloves" ended lightly, as the figure assured the poet he was only checking out "a future investment."
Several performers addressed the season in word or song; "Dem Lindquist Girls" and Marcus did a rendition of "Santa Baby." Cornelius presented a poem in the spirit of Christmas and then sang the song beginning, "C is for the Christ Child …"
Between words, the audience listened to live music. Rapper Abyss, unused to a stationary microphone, made up for it during his dancehall-style session with lots of arm movement and other body language. Kenrick Augustus and Akin Chinnery sang and played guitar, backing each other up.
Later in the evening, Josephine Lindquist took over as host, and the tempo picked up as drums came into play as a percussive accompaniment to African dancing, and recitations. Robert Luke showed up. Vibes read her work to great applause. The listening crowd grew and, despite the scheduled 9 p.m. ending, the event went on until 11:30 p.m.
Rock Collective gatherings will continue indefinitely at Marisol, with rotating hosts. Poets, artists, dancers and other performance artists are invited to take part – as are those who choose to play the essential role of audience. The next evening will be Jan. 6. For more information, call Yanique at 513-2266.
Poetry readings happen
After Yanique, an alumna of All Saints Cathedral School, graduated from Tufts University, she received a Fulbright scholarship for, as she puts it, "reading and writing Caribbean literature." During her Fulbright year, she lived in Jamaica and Trinidad and there attended events that, she realized, "we can do on St. Thomas."
Upon her return to St. Thomas, Yanique formed a group to lead the "Rock Collective" that includes Mary Alexander, Lindquist, Augustus and Chinnery. Yanique praised sponsors for their assistance and contributions: Marisol Restaurant, the V.I. Council on the Arts, LP's Cafe, and Blue Turtle Gallery.
Poetry readings have proven to be a strong draw in the Virgin Islands in recent times.
On St. Croix, a formal and long-lived example was Frederiksted's "Collage," which took its name from the restaurant where it was held. "Collage began shortly after [Hurricane] Hugo," University of the Virgin Islands professor Arnold Highfield said. "A group of 12 to 15 started it, with readings Saturday mornings," he said. Four published books of poetry came directly out of the readings, and several poets were published during the years of the event's existence – among them Marty Campbell, Alfredo Figueredo, Highfield and, posthumously, Senya, whose poems were prepared for publication by Campbell.
Currently, poetry readings on St. Croix take place Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m. at Marjorie Rollins' Studio, according to Priscilla Watkins, who observed there are several other reading and writing groups that meet regularly on the island.
On St. Thomas, the long-standing "Poetry and Conversation" was sponsored by the University of the Virgin Islands Humanities Division, organized by UVI staff member Alexander. Gatherings were held monthly during the school year from 1997 through 1999 at L'Hotel Boynes on Blackbeard's Hill. When the hotel closed, the event was relocated to Grandma Sandy's Cookie Company, but after a few sessions it was disbanded.
According to Alexander, the audience and performers for Poetry and Conversation included more "older folks and young children than the Rock Collective." Attendance, she recalled, was about the same.
In the 1990s, during some of the years that her Education Station Book Store was open, Latifah Chinnery-Nadir organized occasional readings there and elsewhere. One session, "Poetry and Jazz," took place at Gladys' Cafe in 1995.
Also in the early 1990s, the St. Thomas-St. John Arts Council held twice yearly "Arts After Dark" poetry readings at rotating venues on the two islands which typically attracted 50 or so people. They, too, tended to run long beyond the allotted two hours, according to Jean Etsinger, one of the organizers.
The modern-day history in the islands of poets and artists hungry for a venue and audiences eager to listen, look and reflect continues.
* And Marcus's last line? Come out the bathroom, "you've been brushing your teeth too long."

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Jan 1, 2002 - Candles flickered on the tables at Marisol Restaurant as twilight descended on a recent Sunday evening. Tiny Christmas-red light chains added to the festive feeling. Spotlights shone down on a pedestal microphone positioned at the juncture of three rooms, so audiences in all three as well as the outdoor dining garden could hear and see performers.
Listeners and performers -- at least 50 of them throughout the evening, with a peak count of 75 -- lounged on window-seat cushions, sat at the bar, ordered drinks and eats from the regular menu or a special "Rock Lounge" version, table-hopped between performances and examined the painting of featured artist Naila Buckley. A few nervously paced outside awaiting their turn to be seen and heard.
Such was the ambience of the third event of the Rock Collective, an "informal, nonprofit organization dedicated to nurturing artistic spirit on St. Thomas," in the words of organizer Tiphanie Yanique.
Dubbed an "open mic experience" of poetry, music and visual art, Rock Collective gatherings take place at Marisol on the first and third Sundays of each month, from 6 to 9 p.m.
At the Dec. 16 event, Serena Williams was host for the early part of the evening -- a lively, appreciative host marveling at "the word pictures they make!" Most performers were introduced by first name only. Williams herself opened the evening with a poem, "My Opinion," describing succinctly her definition of poetry.
Many of the presenters were poets. Some, such as Mary, were experienced in reading before an audience; others, such as Hector, were "very nervous." Fenzie was presenting his first effort at poetry writing, a work "written just before the show." Betsy chose to read a published poem by Jean Joseph – titled "Warning" but familiar to many as "When I am an old woman I shall wear purple ..." (Her outfit was not purple.)
Most of the presenters were young people but a number were mature and, in some cases, published writers. Intermittent microphone problems did not daunt them.
Several poets focused on the topic of love in its varied forms -- unrequited, shared, upbeat, negative or angry at betrayal. Mary read her poem on the sacred struggle for life: a dead bull calf born to a too-young heifer. A dynamic Mireni read his "Poem to the Raped," with sad words for the injured, and an angry "You destroyed an angel" to the violator.
Actor/poet Marcus read "War between Mind and Body," a serious work until the very last line.* Abraham read of his ideal "Nubian Queen" and passed paintings around the room. Blake presented a moving tribute to his deceased wife and daughter. Bruno's dark recitation on death personified in "black hat, black gloves" ended lightly, as the figure assured the poet he was only checking out "a future investment."
Several performers addressed the season in word or song; "Dem Lindquist Girls" and Marcus did a rendition of "Santa Baby." Cornelius presented a poem in the spirit of Christmas and then sang the song beginning, "C is for the Christ Child ..."
Between words, the audience listened to live music. Rapper Abyss, unused to a stationary microphone, made up for it during his dancehall-style session with lots of arm movement and other body language. Kenrick Augustus and Akin Chinnery sang and played guitar, backing each other up.
Later in the evening, Josephine Lindquist took over as host, and the tempo picked up as drums came into play as a percussive accompaniment to African dancing, and recitations. Robert Luke showed up. Vibes read her work to great applause. The listening crowd grew and, despite the scheduled 9 p.m. ending, the event went on until 11:30 p.m.
Rock Collective gatherings will continue indefinitely at Marisol, with rotating hosts. Poets, artists, dancers and other performance artists are invited to take part – as are those who choose to play the essential role of audience. The next evening will be Jan. 6. For more information, call Yanique at 513-2266.
Poetry readings happen
After Yanique, an alumna of All Saints Cathedral School, graduated from Tufts University, she received a Fulbright scholarship for, as she puts it, "reading and writing Caribbean literature." During her Fulbright year, she lived in Jamaica and Trinidad and there attended events that, she realized, "we can do on St. Thomas."
Upon her return to St. Thomas, Yanique formed a group to lead the "Rock Collective" that includes Mary Alexander, Lindquist, Augustus and Chinnery. Yanique praised sponsors for their assistance and contributions: Marisol Restaurant, the V.I. Council on the Arts, LP's Cafe, and Blue Turtle Gallery.
Poetry readings have proven to be a strong draw in the Virgin Islands in recent times.
On St. Croix, a formal and long-lived example was Frederiksted's "Collage," which took its name from the restaurant where it was held. "Collage began shortly after [Hurricane] Hugo," University of the Virgin Islands professor Arnold Highfield said. "A group of 12 to 15 started it, with readings Saturday mornings," he said. Four published books of poetry came directly out of the readings, and several poets were published during the years of the event's existence – among them Marty Campbell, Alfredo Figueredo, Highfield and, posthumously, Senya, whose poems were prepared for publication by Campbell.
Currently, poetry readings on St. Croix take place Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m. at Marjorie Rollins' Studio, according to Priscilla Watkins, who observed there are several other reading and writing groups that meet regularly on the island.
On St. Thomas, the long-standing "Poetry and Conversation" was sponsored by the University of the Virgin Islands Humanities Division, organized by UVI staff member Alexander. Gatherings were held monthly during the school year from 1997 through 1999 at L'Hotel Boynes on Blackbeard's Hill. When the hotel closed, the event was relocated to Grandma Sandy's Cookie Company, but after a few sessions it was disbanded.
According to Alexander, the audience and performers for Poetry and Conversation included more "older folks and young children than the Rock Collective." Attendance, she recalled, was about the same.
In the 1990s, during some of the years that her Education Station Book Store was open, Latifah Chinnery-Nadir organized occasional readings there and elsewhere. One session, "Poetry and Jazz," took place at Gladys' Cafe in 1995.
Also in the early 1990s, the St. Thomas-St. John Arts Council held twice yearly "Arts After Dark" poetry readings at rotating venues on the two islands which typically attracted 50 or so people. They, too, tended to run long beyond the allotted two hours, according to Jean Etsinger, one of the organizers.
The modern-day history in the islands of poets and artists hungry for a venue and audiences eager to listen, look and reflect continues.
* And Marcus's last line? Come out the bathroom, "you've been brushing your teeth too long."