George ‘Fish’ Alphonse told the STAR on Wednesday that he was very surprised when he opened up our weekend newspaper to see a poem by Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott dedicated to him.
“It was very humbling. I went over the words several times. I feel so blessed. Derek Walcott’s recognition means more than anything,” he said of the poem which was entitled ‘The War of Flowers.’ The poem was published in the same week the nation marked the celebration of the La Rose Festival (August 30). The other flower festival celebration, La Marguerite, will be marked on
Walcott’s poem, which was published exclusively in this newspaper, speaks of the “woundless wars” between the two flowers that amazes the award-winning local poet.
Writes Walcott: “They are, as none supposes/ together not apart;/ violet is the daisy, the rose is/ the banner of the heart. Would that our scarred earth could contain/ such a sweet violence/ these flowers fighting to remain/ not enemies, but friends.”
Alphonse is currently the Special Events Officer at the Cultural Development Foundation and is well known as a cultural activist.
He told the STAR: “The poem made me feel as if I was getting somewhere even though the country has not realized that as yet. At least there is someone who understands the importance of trying to preserve our flower festivals, so
that our culture remains vibrant. Someone who understands the battle of the flowers is not a brutal one. Anything I can do to ensure that people understand the culture of the flowers, the deep meaning, I will do. I was not even aware he [Walcott] was paying attention and it is humbling. This is the honourable Derek Walcott who knows culture and understands what it is about and what it should be doing and somewhere along the lines I guess he heard my calls on certain things as far as it relates to the festivals. I am honoured and humbled.”
Alphonse says the poem also had a deeper meaning to him.
“This piece was about the society at large, I think,” he said of his interpretation. “We could be at war but not wounding each other or trying to kill each other, whether it be with words or weapons. We are in an election year but elections is not a war, it is a
democratic process every five years. So when I hear some people speak as if they are at war it is troubling and cause for concern. But reading the poem with Derek Walcott saying that though two festivals like La Rose and La Marguerite are at war but they could live in harmony. There is so much to the poem. It is a wake up call to St Lucians.”
Alphonse explains that it has been difficult trying to keep the nuance of the island’s flower festivals alive, especially as they are now competing with carnival festivities that were moved from February to July some years ago.
“You cannot be putting all that money into one event, that is Carnival, and ignoring the other events on the island’s cultural calendar,” Alphonse said. “We are talking about holistic cultural development so by putting most of your resources towards one event, in a way you are suppressing the others. We only have a budget for the day of La Rose and La Marguerite. Where is the budget for the development of these festivals, organizing training and so on? And after Carnival in July it is difficult for people to transition into events like Emancipation, La Rose and La Marguerite. There needs to be time so these events get the attention they deserve.”
Alphonse hopes that Walcott’s poem about the festivals ignites the interest of the public, especially the younger generation.
“These festivals have helped to shape me into what I am today,” he said.
“It is about aspirations. At the celebrations you have people dressing up as doctors, policemen, nurses, it is about aspiring to be more. This is the subtext of the culture that people don’t understand. I think it is unfair that our young people of today are deprived of the right to know their culture and let it shape who they are. And I will continue to push to ensure that these festivals do not die. We need more groups in more communities around St Lucia to embrace this.”