Poetry is alive and well and in the pink of health. The sentiments were expressed by recent Small Axe Literary competition winner Danielle Mc Shine in response to her craft.
The Trinidad-born, Paris-based writer was recently judged joint poetry winner of the Competition with Sonia Farmer, for her body of poetry she called Moulting Season.
Small Axe is a Caribbean Art and Literary journal out of Columbia University in New York.
The competition, held every year, "encourages the production and publication of Caribbean fiction and poetry," according to its website. It focuses on poetry and short stories from emerging writers whose work centres on regional and diasporic Caribbean themes and concerns.
Mc Shine started writing poems when she was 8-years-old and still in primary school. As she recalled, she wrote poems about her toys and characters from comic books.
"They were very clunky poems from what I remember," she said. "But I was pretty pleased with myself.
"I think I began to pay more attention to writing when I was 14 or 15 and we started to write poems modelled on the work of some British poets we were studying in school. I realised that I enjoyed writing poems."
Conte de fées by French surrealist poet Robert Desnos was the first poem that inspired Mc Shine. Later on she discovered the work of poets André Breton and Jacques Prévert whose writing opened up her eyes to other styles of poetry.
"In addition to the aforementioned poets, a very abridged list would include Pablo Neruda, Mary Oliver, Denise Levertov, Emily Dickinson, Derek Walcott, Rilke, Seamus Heaney.
"Recently I have been reading Dionne Brand, Pascale Petit, AE Stallings. There are many others and many still to read."
Still on a high from her Small Axe poetry win at the close of 2011, Mc Shine said she was encouraged to enter the competition by fellow poet Simone Leid. She took Leid's advice because it seemed to be a good way for her to put together a group of poems that would be a "coherent ensemble but show some variety in form and subject. At least that's the way I approached it."
Mc Shine submitted two series of poems — Four Seasons, which featured four poems and Caribbean Orpheus , a series of three poems. Moulting Season was the overall title of her submission, named after one of her poems.
The 41-year-old magazine employee described the theme of the body of work submitted to the competition as transformational. Themes also included exile and departure, drawn from her own experience of living abroad for the last 14 years.
"When I opened the e-mail informing me of the results, first I was incredulous, then stunned and elated.
I was absolutely thrilled that my poems had been selected by the judges (Fred D'Aguiar, Cyril Dabydeen and Shara McCallum).
"Since I was a joint first-place winner, the cash prizes for first and second places were combined and then shared between us. The winning poems will also be published in Small Axe 38 later this month."
Mc Shine is inspired to write by any and everything — be it an article she just read or a stranger on a train and even the life cycle of silk moths.
Often times, she said, it's an ache or yearning that she is trying to articulate.
"Sometimes a great line arrives and the rest of the poem tries to live up to it."
She writes everyday but not necessarily poetry.
"I do read poetry every day. I see that as an essential part of tuning ear, hand and eye to the possibilities of language."
From her own collection of poems, Liming in the Rumshop with Orpheus, one of the poems she submitted to the Small Axe competitions, is the one she had most fun writing.
"I managed to use a word I really like, but never hear any more — "obstreperous" — though it wasn't something I'd planned from the outset."
Mc Shine is currently working towards publishing a book of poems. She also wants to keep learning her craft and improving on it. Her advice to budding poets is simply to read regularly and to read attentively.
"When you read a poem that surprises you or evokes a response from you, try to understand how the poet achieved that. What's the form? What's the metre? What's the rhyme scheme? How precise are the images the poet uses? What words begin and end the poem? Where are the line breaks?
"Read the poem out loud, too. If that sounds like too much to do all at once, try focusing one aspect, or even just your favourite lines, for a while and see whether you begin to read — and write — poems differently. And send your work out into the world when you feel you've done your best with it.
With spoken word growing among the young lovers of poetry, Mc Shine says poetry is far from being a dying craft as some may think.
"It's one of the oldest literary forms we know and I don't think it's in danger of disappearing. No doubt it will continue to develop in new directions; to me that's a sign of health."