Wild words: Trinidadian poet Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné

Shivanee Ramlochan introduces Trinidadian poet Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné and her “wild words”

Photograph courtesy Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné

Although Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné prefers to dwell in realms of possibility, rather than concrete certainty, the following is absolutely true about her talent: it speaks volumes. Her poems reveal an essential wilderness. Boodoo-Fortuné’s lines are primed for simplicity and brutality alike, holding half-drowned worlds of fishermen, of the promises stirring within buried bones, of mothers loving daughters, and all manner of unknowable, mysterious selves.

At the 2013 NGC Bocas Lit Fest in Port of Spain, Boodoo-Fortuné read several poems in the New Talent Showcase, including pieces from the submission that won her the 2012 Small Axe Literary Competition for poetry. In a post-reading discussion with Bocas Lit Fest programme director (and Caribbean Beat editor) Nicholas Laughlin, she suggested that many of the poems have “a shape-shifter’s heart.” Boodoo-Fortuné’s first book, an endeavour that’s been taking shape since 2010, has been earmarked for publication by Peepal Tree Press.

Born in 1986 in St Joseph, Trinidad, Boodoo-Fortuné does not, for the most part, credit the structured education system for the nascent growth of her life in words and drawings. Only during her undergraduate study of literatures in English at the University of the West Indies, St Augustine campus, she says, did she receive a galvanising affirmation of the importance of writing. This revelation came in the form of a creative writing course in poetry, taught by Casa de las Américas prize-winner Jennifer Rahim. “Dr Rahim believed strongly in my potential as a writer,” Boodoo-Fortuné reflects, “from the beginning.”

In 2009, she was awarded The Caribbean Writer’s Charlotte and Isidor Paiewonsky Prize for first-time publication. A 2010 alumna of the Cropper Foundation Residential Workshop for Caribbean Writers, Boodoo-Fortuné was also shortlisted for a Pushcart Prize that year. Her work has been published in a generous and diverse cross-section of print and online journals, including Poui, ARC, tongues of the ocean, Bim, and Anthurium.

And with her first solo exhibition as a visual artist, Boodoo-Fortuné’s work as a painter and illustrator has received burgeoning attention. Criatura opened in late June 2013 at the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago. Painting and writing, she says, are two wholly separate processes that speak to the heart of her aspirations as a creative practitioner, from opposite ends of the divide, “like separate hands reaching out to grasp the same truth.” Working towards one’s truths, according to Boodoo-Fortuné, is what’s primal and irrevocable, whether they emerge in ink on paper, or in pigment on canvas.

The Man Who

The man who lives in the house at the corner
has a face made of noise and paper.
His roof is thatched from dead skin
and the hollow bones of birds.
The man looks at you as though
he has already had the wet pulp
of your heart between his teeth.
The wild thing in you thrashes,
having smelled the rust of the cage.
Perhaps he has built you a room
lined with eggshells and hair,
a delicate death made of
smashed little prayers.
But he has no idea
of all the wars
in your morning,
all the knives tucked
into your curving smile.

— Danielle Boodoo-Fortuné