Interview with Dorothea Smartt, Brit born Bajan literary activist, live artist & poet

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Dorothea Smartt is a literary activist, live artist, and an established and respected poet with an international reputation. Born and raised in London she is of Barbadian heritage. Described as a ‘Brit-born Bajan international’, her work typically bridges the islands of Britain and Barbados, effortlessly shuttling between local and global scenes as it weaves a diasporic web. With two full collections, Connecting Medium and Ship Shape [Peepal Tree Press] her twenty years of experience, includes been engaged by the British Council and travelling to Bahrain, South Africa, Egypt, and Hungary. In 2013 she was keynote speaker at the Frank Collymore Literary Endowment Award, the premier literary award in Barbados. She is an honorary team member and advisor to Cambridge University’s Caribbean Poetry Project. She is Co-Director of Inscribe, a national writer development programme, Associate Poetry Editor of “Sable Litmag” and guest co-editor of their LGBTQI issues, and an Advisory editor to “Scarf”, a global arts & literature magazine. In her forthcoming third collection she continues to rework standard narratives, this time examining same-sex relationships and cross-gender experiences as push-pull factors behind ‘West Indian’ émigré workers on the Panama Canal.

In this interview, Dorothea underlines her relationship to her Bajan voice as a critical medium for her poetry. She reflects on her South London birth and upbringing in a Bajan household and the process of finding her voice and creating her place in the world as a Black girl in Britain. In the course of discussing her depiction of specifically located characters and their particular voices within her poetry collections, she repurposes historical and mythological figures, from Medusa to “Samboo” whom she renames Bilal. She engages us in her practice of historical “healing, restitution, recovery, re-membering and re-calling” in the excavation of overlooked and erased voices in past and present contexts. Her philosophy as a cultural practitioner is revealed through her treatment of cultural narratives as they impact individual and collective memory and consciousness, and implicate themselves in geographical landscapes. Her work re-inscribes a gendered, multiply located, lived and mythologized individual, familial and collective healing space.

She concludes by reading the introductory poem to her latest publication, “Reader, I Married Him & Other Queer Goings-On”, which was launched in Barbados at the Bim LitFest held on May 15-17, 2014.

Kagendo Murungi is a Kenyan writer, video producer and activist with a background in international sexual and gender rights advocacy. Her writing has been featured in the Queer African Reader (2013), Kwani? 07 (2012), United Nations Days of Vesak/International Association of Buddhist Universities Conference Journal (2012), Yellow Medicine Review (2011/2010) Sing Whisper Shout Pray: Feminist Visions for A Just World (2002), Role Call: A Generational Anthology of Social & Political Black Literature & Art (2002) and a range of other publications and multimedia productions.

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