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Nugent Finds Recipe for Winning Poetry

April 28, 2005 – Winston Nugent is once again a winner with his pen. After winning the University of the Virgin Islands Humanities Festival 2004 short story contest, he came back this year and won the 2005 Festival poetry contest with what he described as his "provision" poem, "Black Eye Peas."
Nugent was born in Jamaica and grew up on St. Croix. He was a recent semi-finalist in the International Open Poetry Contest for his poem, "9/11." He has published three books of poems: "Negus," "Blue Rain" and "On Our Island."
Nugent said he wrote the poem in less than five minutes and submitted it as part of his effort to promote Virgin Islands literature from a Caribbean perspective.
He said at first he did not expect to be a winner because he didn't think the poem was that good. However, after he was announced the winner, he took a second look at the poem and realized it was pretty good, clever and witty – a poem in the traditional sense of a narrative form, he said.
The poem was conceived as an authentic Caribbean recipe, Nugent said. By using unusual ingredients found on various West Indian islands, he fashioned the poem in a way to represent a generation of people living in a typical Caribbean village, facing an ordinary existence but one with the flavor, color, feel and taste of tradition.
He said he wanted to create a world using food as a metaphorical tool, like the best-selling novel from Mexico, "Like Water For Chocolate" — a fairy tale, soap opera romance, Mexican cookbook and home-remedy handbook all rolled into one.
Nugent said the one drawback he perceived when writing "Black Eye Peas" was that the new generation of readers in the Virgin Islands would not understand it, due to their lack of interest in studying Caribbean history, sociology, and tradition.
He added that people unfamiliar with the West Indies would not know some of the names of foods and fruits used in the poem. For example, if one never visited or lived in Jamaica, they would not know what a coco-plum looks like.
Nugent also talked about a dish he called "foo-foo." He said most young people would turn up their noses at the sound of the word, when in fact, foo-foo is nothing but three green and one firm ripe plantains pounded in a mortar and pestle, mixed with 2 tablespoons of butter and salt to taste.
As a writer, Nugent said it is his responsibility to fashion the Caribbean experience in such a way that it does not remain secular, and that requires finding a new language in which to speak. He has just completed a book of short stories entitled: "Many Rivers To Cross," soon to be published.
Here is the complete winning entry.
"Black Eye Peas"
Starapple women walking down caliche road
pepperpot sun-baked their coco-plum backs
their feet trampled coconut-cream dust
Men who love yams whistled at the parade
sweat dropped from their faces like foo-foo
as they waved sweet potato flags
Boys with sticks of sugar cane ran in circles
their faces like green corn dumplings
paint a picture of the harvesting of ground provision
Young girls stood still like garden cherries, gooseberries,
breadnuts, sugarapples—an all spice sprinkled over fat pork
sauteed in Jerk sauce
Old women seated making tamarind balls
giggled showing molasses gums
fanning pestering flies, only wished for days when
mortar and pestle was good to pound coffee beans
Old men gathered around a table laughed
their hands like toasted garlic bread trembled reaching
for a bowl of callaloo
they whispered in silence
their days sliced thinly like fried eggplant
The day is over, paw paw in syrup spiced the night
the evening breeze smelled like stewed black eye peas
time grows slowly like tannia on fenced walls
and the Caribbean rest like cooled banana cake.

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