Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Poetry, islands, ocean

I went on the Poetry at Sea cruise that Didi has mentioned from time to time here. Didi asked me to write something about it afterwards, so here's what I've got.

We were a tiny group, five students and five instructors (a couple of whom doubled as students in the other instructors' workshops). Some people were traveling with family and friends.

Beautiful relentless constant merciless sun. The heat was overwhelming. I loved it. I've lived most of my life in a place (Minneapolis) legendary for cold weather, and in the Caribbean heat I often felt I was about to boil away like a jellyfish. I didn't mind.

I generally liked the poetry workshops. I particularly responded to the ones led by Nick Carbo (in which, following Nick's directions, we all made origami cranes from paper on which we'd written words and possibly added colors) and Denise Duhamel (inventing new definitions for words in alphabetical lists). The classes led by Gabe Gudding (where we wrote and traded curses and then wrote praises), Annie Finch (on poetic forms) and David Lehman (on finding sources of inspiration for writing) were fine too.

In St. Thomas I wandered Charlotte Amalie, spent time sitting at the water's edge feeling wonderful east breeze in off the bay, watching the activity of the harbor. I sat a while in Emancipation Park, a small town-square type of park named in commemoration of the official abolition of slavery in 1848 after 245 years of slave trade.

In St. Maarten I wandered Philipsburg on the Dutch side of the island, which was okay though if I had it to do again I would go to Marigot on the French side. Both days on the islands the heat was overwhelming. Did I say that already? I was afraid of the sun. I kept finding shade to sit in. I was in no hurry to do anything.

On both islands I did the best I could to avoid the streets a block or so back from the harbor that were crowded with jewelry stores. Newsletters distributed to passengers on the ship were filled with ads for jewelry stores on the islands.

Deeply entrenched poverty on the islands side by side with the aggressive tourist business. A large migrant worker economy in the Caribbean, people working service jobs following the tourist industry. When I was on the islands I tried as much as I could to withhold any conclusions and just let the places work on me. I tried to let myself be aware of my ignorance.

The days at sea I spent a lot of time sitting in shade and watching the ocean. More clouds than I'd expected, though they provided no relief from the heat and sun. On one clear night a crescent moon above the sea. Island lights on the horizon. I kept my eyes open for sea life (dolphins etc.), never saw any, though I talked to a couple of people who had seen small sharks once.

Massive quantities of food on the ship, although -- when I finally found something to eat in St. Maarten with real flavor in it -- I realized how bland much of the food on the ship had been. In St. Maarten a woman who worked in a small cafe told me it starts to cool off in that part of the world sometime around November.

The last day of the cruise we were at Princess Cays, privately owned by the cruise company, at the southern tip of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas. Basically a beach with a couple of bars and gift shops and a boat dock. The ship anchored offshore and small boats shuttled passengers to shore. While I was standing on an open deck (under a roof) at the bow of the ship, debating whether to go ashore, it started to rain, a little for a few minutes, then the entire sky opened up from horizon to horizon, and the island disappeared in the mist.

It rained like that for 15 or 20 minutes, with huge thunder and brilliant lightning. Then the rain let up and over the next half hour the weather cleared. I sat on deck, feeling rare cool breeze, and just watched the weather. As the sky cleared, I saw colors of the water and sky I'd never seen before -- dazzling clear greens, astonishing turquoise, deep-shaded violet. Then after a while it got bright and clear and hot again, and I decided not to go ashore, I was satisfied.

Toward the end of the week we had an open reading by the students -- Mike Alexander, Kelly Thomas, Angela Armitage, Barbra Nightingale, and me. The last night of the cruise we had a general gathering and a reading by the five instructors. I really enjoyed the readings.

I guess Didi is going to do a special feature in MiPoesias of poems from the cruise. I wrote a couple of poems I felt were good enough to keep. Whichever ones Didi decides not to use in MiPo, I'll post here.

Some good pictures of the cruise in Nick Carbo's blog Carbonator. (Scroll down to the entries beginning May 27, and work your way up.)

This past weekend here in Minneapolis it barely got up to 60 degrees on Saturday, with gray sky. I wore shorts and sandals all day.


Michelle e o said...

Sounds wonderful Lyle. I so wish I could have done the trip.

H. W. Alexy said...

Sounds like a wonderful cruise.

This summer, I'll be spending some time in Oslo and the Lofoten Islands with a bunch of old poetry friends.


Pris said...

What a great series of photographs. Wish I could've been there, too. I know what you mean about the tourist vs reality part of the islands. I've sailed to the Bahamas and flown there once on a two engine plane, both times to places where the cruise ships can't get in or big planes. Life is completely different than what I'd seen on a cruise there. On one cay, a wide strip of concrete served as the road and a few golf carts were the vehicles that traveled it. The houses were small and close together and clearly with few luxuries. The phone station fired up its generator between 3 and 5 each day and you gave the operator your number and money and she dialed the call and handed the phone to you. It was peaceful. Quiet. A whole different life.

But I digress....

Lyle Daggett said...

Pris, that's fascinating. You know, there are days when I think I could live that way...

Michelle, H.W., thanks for your comments as well.