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St Lucian Poet Canisia Lubrin Wins OCM Bocas Best Book Prize

By Carol Quash

A BOOK-LENGTH poem that the OCM Bocas prize for Caribbean Literature judges consider “post-colonial poetry at its best” has triumphed in the stakes for best book by a Caribbean writer published last year. The Dyzgraphxst by St Lucia-born poet Canisia Lubrin is the 2021 winner of the prize, which comes with an award of US$10,000 courtesy One Caribbean Media.

Image of 2021 winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, Canisia Lubrin. - Photo courtesy Bocas Lit Fest
2021 winner of the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, Canisia Lubrin. – Photo courtesy Bocas Lit Fest

It is the second consecutive year that a poet has won the international annual award for Caribbean writing, and the fourth poetry win in the 11-year history of the prize. Lubrin is the third St Lucia-born writer to win the overall prize, all for poetry. The other two are Derek Walcott in 2011 and Vladimir Lucien in 2015.

Vahni Capildeo, a poet from TT, winner of the Forward Poetry Prize, and chief judge of this year’s OCM Bocas prize made the announcement online via the Bocas Lit Fest website, Facebook, and YouTube in a virtual presentation on April 24. Joining her on the final judging panel for the prize were Jamaican poet and academic Opal Palmer Adisa, Trinidadian-American writer and scholar Rosamond S King, and Malachi McIntosh, editor of the UK-based literary journal Wasafiri.

The Dyzgraphxst, published by Penguin Random House Canada, was chosen by the judges from a short list of the three books previously selected as category winners, which included Jamaica-born Maisy Card’s debut novel These Ghosts Are Family – the best book of fiction by a Caribbean writer in 2020 – and Trinidadian Andre Bagoo’s wide-ranging collection of essays The Undiscovered Country – the best non-fiction book of 2020 by a Caribbean author. Card and Bagoo, a former Newsday journalist, will receive awards of US$3,000 each.

In her judge’s remarks Capildeo said The Dyzgraphxst “is exciting, experimental, and maintains integrity from beginning to end…Aware of and alive with the impulses and innovations of Aimé Césaire, Dionne Brand, and so many more revolutionary thinkers with whom we have been blessed.

“These poems take apart our individual personal pronoun, the ‘I,’ questioning and finding new ways to feel and think and know what we suppose to be our ‘self’. Some books use language to keep running smoothly. This book shifts what language can be and do. It is thrilling to read it and to relish giving up the illusion of mastery of meaning; to revel in not fully understanding, like swimming beyond the breakers in a sea full of flotsam and jetsam.”

Image of Dyzgraphxst by Canisia Lubrin
Dyzgraphxst by Canisia Lubrin

Lubrin is a writer, editor, teacher and critic. Frequently anthologised, her work has been translated into Spanish and Italian. She is the author of the awards-nominated poetry collection Voodoo Hypothesis. The Dyzgraphxst is her latest book. In addition to winning the OCM Bocas Prize, the book was recently shortlisted for Canada’s Griffin Poetry Prize, and in March 2021 Lubrin was also named a winner of a 2021 Windham Campbell Prize. She teaches at the University of Toronto and is soon to become an editor at Penguin Random House.

The prize announcement was just one of the many virtual events hosted by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest team via its website www.bocaslitfest.com, and Facebook and YouTube pages this weekend. The festival continues today with children’s programming from 9 am, followed by an in-depth discussion panel titled The Big Idea: The Way Ahead, asking how the covid19 pandemic and other recent developments may shape the Caribbean’s future.

The programme also includes the latest edition of the festival’s ever-popular extempo debate, and a series of lively discussions and readings by authors of new fiction. It ends with the launch of The 100 Caribbean books that made us, a provocative crowd sourced list of books in all genres that Caribbean readers have found most influential and inspiring. These will all be livestreamed via the Bocas Lit Fest website, Facebook, and YouTube.

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