One of the simple joys of my career is that, because I work with other freelance literary creators, we get to be novel in the ways we approach the same projects we’ve been engaged in for most of our work. As a teaching artist with The 2 Cents Movement, that means that our yearly nationwide secondary school tours get to be wildly varied projects, from the comical and narratively disjointed to the tragic and emotionally intense.
It also means that, even when someone’s come to us to say, “We’d like you to solve this problem for us,” we’re trusted to find those solutions in our own ways. So when the Ministry of Community Development, Culture, and The Arts came to 2 Cents asking for us to continue our work on the National Patriotism Month tour they’ve usually performed, we were more than eager to take them up on the project, but were even more eager to try something new.
National Patriotism Month is a fairly recent observance in Trinidad and Tobago, but to me it serves a radically necessary social purpose. Between the dates of Independence Day and Republic Day, the Ministry aims to promote national cultural and heritage milestones to the public in the hope of raising national morale and reinforcing a national commitment to our twin-island home. Its festivities most often include using the performing arts to remind us of our greatest historical moments and their importance, and how they not only formed the definition of our national identity but, in more ways than many of us know, shaped international history or served as some of its most radical unsung moments.
The assumptions people typically make of the past are really stiff and unappetizing. No matter what radical things you may know about in your national history, the act of revisiting it is often done dully and without much engagement. Imagine someone performing a poem about the fact that an old man you don’t know who has long since been dead did a cool thing that doesn’t immediately impact your life. Imagine being asked, being begged, to care about this thing so external to your experience that you can barely be inspired to connect long enough to remember the person’s name at all.
The team lead for this year’s patriotism tour, Arielle John, shared this feeling about that quandary. So did 2 Cents Artistic Director Derron Sandy, who has been doing the same tour as far back as 2016, and hoped for a way to help students attach even more eagerly to our historical narratives. How could we bridge both gaps—how to deliver this year’s theme of ‘Legacy Is Me’ in a way that inspires young people to value their own commitment to nation-building, and make these histories more engaging for young people—in one short, concise tour?
Being the one speculative poet on the team, I pitched the first thing that immediately came to mind:
what if… time travel?