I wrote this after attending the Antigua launch of Chadd’s cumberbatch Ya Ya Surfeit back in August 2010. The option to publish wasn’t picked up by any of the usual suspects. But, hey, that’s what blogs are for. Here then are reflections on a beautfiul night. Photos by Marcella Andre.
By Joanne C. Hillhouse
Ya Ya Surfeit; translation, plenty chat. When Montserratian Chadd Cumberbatch
launched the book here recently there was plenty of something else; laughter – I mean, laugh until you belly hurt you laughter.
The poetry collection, which enjoyed a theatrical launch at home earlier in the summer, travels well. It helps that Cumberbatch, no stranger to either stage or movie lights, brought to the reading, the ease and charisma of a natural storyteller. The effortless chemistry between Cumberbatch and radio personality Marcella Andre, who also participated in the Montserrat launch, was a plus.
The stripped down presentation and smaller venue, meanwhile, allowed for a certain intimacy not just with the performers but the words. Certainly, it allowed even those of us who’ve read this poetry collection and witnessed the coming alive of favourite pieces at the previous launch, hear the words as if for the first time; I mean really hear them, and be tickled or moved anew as a result.
As with the book itself, the pieces chosen for the Antigua launch were well ordered, beginning, rightly, with the reflective Ascent to Grace before picking up the pace with the defiant Emancipation and the caustic Fences – the latter capturing well the attitudes of some to the all-a-we-is-one-family sentiment and having fun with the words. “So hall you bauxite”, therefore, emerges as the kiss-off it is when dependent only on the sound of the words for the meaning, a reminder that so many of the pieces in this collection, while they read well, really feel meant for the stage or some sort of audio recording. At other times the visual is so clear – “with a flick of her plastic, blonde weave” – the layers of meaning immediately reveal themselves. That’s from Buy Local, which ends with the sarcastic, “It is her religion to take communion at Western Union”.
Cumberbatch went to great lengths to reiterate – perhaps overmuch – that not all the pieces reflect his lived experiences. But certainly Daily Bread, the seed of which was planted during a tedious staff meeting at his day job, is. It was Andre’s favourite piece and she declared we could all relate to:
“Lord de wuk
De never-ending-forever day wuk
De back and forth
De forth and back…
And the meeting
And the other meeting
And the meeting to plan the next meeting
About the briefing
About the memo
Re de missive from de Ministry
Cause de Boss say
De minister say…”
You get the idea.
And for everyone who’s ever been to a pageant, Priscilla, featuring “…Peggy daughter, the one wey look like one ‘O’” was no less relatable, easily earning the biggest laughs of the night – the kind of laugh where you swear somebody’s about to tek een. Well, to be honest, the competition for biggest laugh of the night tug-o-warred between this and the three-man skit On the Block which wondered, what do women want?
The pieces in what Cumberbatch described as the “love zone” earned a different kind of laughter, more subdued, more the laughter of commiseration; I’ve-been-there-I-know-what-that’s-like kind of laughter. From Monday to On Rumpled Sheets to Crescent to Grey to Confessions of a Love Sick Fool, the pieces tracked love’s slow unraveling: such as “Tonight I’ll slip away from you and you will never know because you don’t see me anymore” (from Wakening) and “I fell hard like a rock/hard like granite/hard like diamond/heavy like a stone/and I shattered…like glass” (from I Fell).
The encore came via the poet’s reading of one of his favourite pieces, Conversation with Cheese. It was a reminder of the real life relatability, layers of meaning, and sly humour of the well-worth-buying collection. In it, a young boy asks a Rasta – Cheese? – why he smokes weed. The answer comes via the Bible and, specifically, how Moses received the epiphany that led him to Pharaoh’s door precipitating the Israelites’ exit from Egypt: “through the burning bush”.