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The 'Calabash' Runneth Over: The Good, The Great and the Passable at Calabash 2012
As the temperatures rose marking the impending arrival of summer, throngs of lit-lovers swarmed to the once sleepy fishing and farming village of Treasure Beach, St. Elizabeth. They came in hopes of poetry, prose and good vibes. Their arrival marked the return of the Calabash International Literary Festival which transforms the sea-side town from its normal sedate state to a hubbub of activity.
Calabash 2012 offered up servings of the good, the great, and the passable. Fortunately the first two far-outweighed the third. The diversity and strength of the readers participating in the festival remains one of its most commendable and enjoyable features, and this year’s festival was no different.
On Friday night the audience was treated to helpings from Chimamanda Adiche’s memoir and Victor Lavalle’s hilarious and gripping adventure story, Big Machine topped off with snippets of noir fiction from the recently published Kingston Noir read by Marcia Douglas, Patricia Powell and Ian Thompson.
The festival’s history is replete with delightful impromptu moments such as that which occurred when Adiche had to take an unscripted intermission to be sprayed with insect repellant to thwart the numerous bugs attempting to dive-bomb her during the reading. The crowd laughed and cheered the spraying, accepting it as a part of the festival’s flavour.
On Saturday Calabash benefited from a wonderful conversation between Orlando Patterson and festival director, Kwame Dawes, the lyric poetry of Shara McCallum, and a fantastic reading of her first novel Pao by Kerry Young, easily the highlights of this years’ festival. The day's readings also contained the words of Olive Senior as well as Sadie and Melissa Jones. Dawes introduced the segment with a reading of Evan Jones' (father to Sadie and Melissa Jones) classic Jamaican poem 'Song of the Banana Man' and had members of the audience chanting the words along with him.
Saturday night began with readings by Alecia McKenzie, Maaza Mengiste and Garfield Ellis who ignited more than literary fires with his titillating excerpt of his latest novel Till I’m Laid to Rest.
It was only then that the usually blazing Saturday night offering paled. The segment ‘Tongues of Fire’ has traditionally lived up to its name but on Saturday night the flames barely flickered. Anis Mojgani started at a good pace, amusing and engaging the audience. However when Claudia Rankine dropped her voice to a barely perceptible drone any fires Mojgani had sparked were quenched. Though he delivered a more lively reading Kevin Young also failed to set the night ablaze.
On Sunday the good and great continued to come forth with a commemorative reading of Patterson’s Children of Sisyphus, poetry from Fred D’Aguiar and Carolyn Forche and with a curry goat (sold by the shop by the gates to the grounds) which is a special piece of poetry.
Music continued to feature heavily in the festival, being a part of all three days. Friday night opened and closed with music. The festival opened with the thoughts of Carolyn Cooper, Sonjah Stanley Niaah, Vivien Goldman and Colin Grant while performances by Raging Fyah and Nomaddz closed the night in fine Reggae style.
The Sunday afternoon finale featuring music from Jamaica’s 50 years of independence and then some, was one of the crowning moments of the festival. In true Calabash style, patrons danced and sang as the Calabash Acoustic Ensemble (Ibo Cooper, Seretse Small, Wayne Armond, Stevie Golding) and guests pulled hits from the mento, ska, rock steady and reggae eras, bring the festival to a ringing close.
With its theme Jubilation, marking Jamaica’s 50th year of independence, the festival made a satisfactory return after its one year hiatus. Running May 25 - 27, the 11th installment of Calabash remained true to its mission of offering a well-produced literary festival, with diverse readings and an earthy, relaxing atmosphere for lovers of the word.