To Those Who Would Lead, For Those Who Would Follow
Caribbean Laureate for Arts & Letters 2010
Laureate Evening - Government House, St. Lucia - October 08, 2010
There are many deserving persons who might stand here in my place. And, I would like to think that a few of them are right here with us this evening. I would also like to think that many more St. Lucians will have this honour, proving what we already know: that we are as capable of excellence as any other nation.
Many of us know this; in an unspoken, subconscious, sort of way. We know that we are capable of moments of greatness, exceptional achievement and high honour. We see it happen spontaneously every now and then. We offer appropriate congratulations. We nod knowingly, basking if possible, in the reflected glory: I was there you know, I was there.
But this is not about us. It is not even about me. It is about those who might follow; those who will see this and say without malice: Yes, that is where I want to go; I too can achieve. So, the question is, are we prepared to just be here, or are we ready to make a difference?
And, wouldn’t it be great if this was our thing, our honour, a reflection of our country’s determination to produce the region’s most distinguished artists. We could, you know. We really could. We could be the island-mecca for the creative arts. This could be our contribution to Caribbean civilization.
Moreover, we could be the Caribbean-mecca of creative industries, and that could be our contribution to ourselves and to the Caribbean economy: Imagine this nation as the anchor island for design, film, music, publishing, fashion, architecture, animation and all the technology associated with those knowledge-based industries of now and the future.
For those of us who live and work in the arts, an unspoken subconscious sort of knowing, a green flash every now and then, will never be enough. Not when we see legions of potentially amazing young St. Lucians who have what it takes to blossom into world class talents. Or at least to blossom into the best people, the best St. Lucians, the best Caribbean citizens they can be.
And let’s not make money the excuse. Money is always handy, but it is hardly our greatest handicap. The cruelest cut of all is the waste and the indifference when our young people are so adrift and unfulfilled and so in need of inspiration.
Underfunding and understaffing will always force us to make difficult choices. But if we just did what we should. If we just had some minimum investment below which we were not prepared to wallow. We know that dreams and prosperity are not achieved by one generation at the expense of the next. We also know that wealth is not measured in cash, but in equity, respect, education, well-being and a certain quality of life, which like a tide, raises all boats at the expense of none.
So, if at least we matched some modest effort to our modest means, we could live with that. We would understand. We would take that and run to the mountaintop and we would make you proud.
My wish for us as a nation is that more of us would value and invest in the creative spirit of our people. Believe me, it is the most sacred faculty with which we are endowed. To create, god-like from nought, is to tap the awesome power of the divine within each of us. It unleashes our essential humanity and empowers us to achieve things dreamt and undreamt.
Half our investment and employment problems would disappear if we just invest in people and empowerment. Think of all the problems that we would no longer expect governments and politicians to solve.
No doubt, some of us with elections looming will worry about raising a nation of intelligent, articulate, self-motivated people. And you should worry, because our people want what most people want: a safe, stable, just environment in which to work live and raise children without compromising their dreams. We want good government. We don’t much care what colour it is. Allow us our dreams and our dignity and our sense of purpose and you can run the country forever.
Empowerment is the great dividend of the arts. It is awesome to see a teenager suddenly turned on by the sheer spectrum of possibilities before her; to see that light go on in a child’s eyes and know that he will never do drugs or carry a gun.
It is exactly the same power turned on itself that you now see manifested in violence. And it will never go away. You can throw cops at it, guns at it, more laws at it, it will never, ever go away. Not the way you think. Because, the answer is not to build bigger jails but to build better people. The answer not money but management of the little that we have.
What you can do with that power, is redirect it. Ignite it with a positive flame and watch it burn more bright than you imagined. Educate and enlighten it and feed that energy to as many people as you can.
People who know themselves and their history, who understand where they are now and where they need to get to, people who can see by the example of others how to get THERE... are going to get THERE. All we need to do is open the door, turn on the light, and get out of the way. It’s such a small thing to ask. Such a small thing to answer.
I close with a piece that started life as an article written for publication by the Ansa McAl Foundation which has so honoured me, and in so doing, honoured all St. Lucia. The prose has since become poetry, and it is offered with my profound gratitude.
It’s hard thing.
To live without passion
in a place that is a part of you,
to stay all level-headed and distant
when you can feel the wind
like it’s your own hot breath
When you know a place so well
that you can tell from the smell inside the house
and the dark drumming on the zinc roof
that august rain falling heavy like a rake
and ripping ‘way your very skin
from the surface of the earth.
It’s a hard thing.
When in dry season
you see all the soil crack-up
like a big brown heart that split apart
and all the happiness that come
from loving green leaf
and bubbling spring
done gone and evaporate into air.
It’s a hard thing.
To stay all cool and comfortable
in a place that is your home
since before you born
because three generations before you
struggle, struggle, struggle
till they buy a house and land, together,
and get to own the place that their great-grandfather
used to rent but could never buy
in his one life before he die.
It’s a hard thing.
Not to cry when this place is part of you
as much as the hand that hold the pen
to write down this thing;
that same pen that your godfather give you
when you pass for college,
that pen with the deep dark ink that flow
like a bloodline from it.
And you know there must be
a dose of melancholy inside you there,
with this craving for a longtime day
when we used to understand
that history is not what people tell us
but part of who we are:
determined to tell our story
under moonlit mango tree or street lamp
or in painting or our poetry
or that sweeter music that used to bubble up
from deep inside a place
where we were not, like now,
afraid to go.
And that we owe
a debt, a loyalty
to this landscape that sustain us,
this earth that make you, this earth that
make you ask ancestors
if it was alright to fell a tree
that was older than you
because somebody navel string
might be buried under there…
It’s a hard thing.
© Adrian Augier 2010.
All rights reserved.