~ Bringing back pride to St. Maarten culture ~
Teacher, poet and blogger, Rochelle Ward is an amazing woman who loves and is inspired by all things Caribbean, and she recites it to the world every chance she gets. An astounding representative of St. Maarten in the world of creative writing, she is a shepherd for future St. Maarten poets and creative writers. Here is an exclusive look into her life and inspirations.
Who is Rochelle Ward a.k.a. Faizah Tabasamu?
Me. Creative and deep, I'm a once-in-a-lifetime Caribbean woman. I wasn't here before now and I won't be here after my time has passed. Because of who I am, this can be a complicated question. I'll leave it at that because I am more than what I do and how I look.
Where were you born and where did you go to school?
I was born in Charlestown, Nevis. Methodist Agogic Centre and St. Maarten Academy gave me a solid foundation, after which I attended Pace University in New York and University of the West Indies in Trinidad a few years later.
Why do you go by two names?
I honestly didn't expect Faizah Tabasamu to catch on. Initially, after giving my sister an African name, I decided to get one too – one that would embody a sort of life mission. They say if you say something often enough, it becomes part of you, so I felt Faizah Tabasamu was suitable for me. Faizah means "she who is victorious" and Tabasamu means "beautiful smile" and I would like to take that outlook with me into my future. Please understand that I love my given name just fine – Rochelle means a small rock; also battle cry. That's already who I am. Faizah Tabasamu is who I will always strive to be.
How did you come to the decision to study English?
I had this mini fantasy going on: I wanted to become a forensic scientist, so I studied the sciences in high school. Midway into college, I realized that advance organic chemistry theory was not what I would leap out of bed for and it dawned on me that I love the idea of forensic science because of the crime and mystery thrillers I binged on as a teenager. I really was in love with a good story with its play on words and ability to conjure rich imagery. So, I switched to English and communications and was on the Dean's List ever after. I had found my skin, creating radio ads, writing scripts, producing a travel documentary, studying and discussing literary works. It was and still is beautiful.
Why did you choose to study in Trinidad & Tobago and not in the United States, England or Holland?
I had already devoted four years to studying in New York; and Trinidad was a sort of invitation. A Trinidadian guest of St. Martin Book Fair told me about the creative writing program at University of the West Indies. I met him in June 2007 and was in school by September the same year. It would have taken a bit more time to attend college in the States or England. Holland never appealed to me. And I wouldn't trade my Trinidadian experience for anything. Being the only St. Martiner (that I could find at the time), I had a ball when people tried to place my accent or tried to guess where I was from. It was awesome to be in an institute of higher education with so many Caribbean nationals; the collection of island dialects often had me grinning.
You are teaching at St. Maarten Academy. What was the route you took to get there?
While still in college, I interned at Avalon Publishing Group in New York and turned down a Modern Bride one before graduating. Job-wise on St. Martin, no one was interested in a video editor, TV writer or radio DJ. Getting a job at the bank was a 12-foot wall. Maybe I didn't have the connections. I taught at University of St. Martin for a number of years then a colleague told me she was leaving Academy and there were jobs opening up there. For some reason, all the other doors didn't open for me, but the one at Academy did.
What is your favourite style of poetry to write and read?
Free verse is my go-to type of poem to write. I don't discriminate poetry and therefore I read all styles, but I do prefer to and encourage people to actually experience the poem through performance. Poems are meant to be heard; that is when they come alive and, most times, in the way the poet intended it to. I adore spoken word.
Who is your inspiration in the poetry world?
I don't have one name. I am very picky when it comes to lyrics or words and may be inspired by one poem written by an artist I never follow up on, but I am inspired by both experts and novices who are honest, passionate and capable of leaving me with a brain freeze, so that five minutes later I remember to snap.
What is your favourite part of being a teacher?
I love partnering with students who are passionate and engaging learners in the classroom as well as in extra-curriculum activities. Unfortunately, they are rare, but when their own mini fires spark, I learn so much from them. Also, I would be lying if I didn't mention this... I love my vacation days; these allow me to pursue my hobbies. Give me a combination of these two, and that is my favourite part of doing what I do.
What are your hobbies?
In my spare and non-spare time, I manage two blogs, RochelleWard.com, which will soon transition into my author website and Saltfish and Lace, a St. Martin lifestyle blog. I love doing this because it requires a combination of talents, things I enjoy doing: writing, editing, design, photography and research. The same can be said of Don't Break the Comb. I provide a platform for women to discuss, deal with and celebrate natural hair.
What type of music/artists do you listen to?
Honestly, whatever is playing on some local station (mainly R&B and some hip-hop) and a 113-song worship playlist on YouTube.
Do you have any pet peeves?
I think like most people, I have a few. However, lately, I find it a bit annoying when drivers hold up traffic in both directions to have some long conversation that could happen on this thing called a cell phone.
What is your favourite quote?
To whom much is given, much is required.
What are your future plans concerning your writing?
God spare life, I'd like to publish a collection of poetry, complete my Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and publish a series of fiction works. And now that everyone knows, that will be a nice motivator to get them done.
Which well-known poet would you love to have a chance to discuss poetry with?
I would have enjoyed discussing poetry with Tishani Doshi, the keynote speaker of St. Martin Book Fair this past June. We were in close proximity many times but the chance just wasn't there.
What's your advice for young upcoming poets?
Be yourself. Develop your voice, themes and unique style. They are there. Sure, you can admire other dynamic wordsmiths and even memorize their work, get a taste of their creations; but always stay true to who you are, your roots, language and experiences. There are tons of unwritten poems in the graves and gardens of your life; examine the good and the bad and make it happen. Target the audience of your poem, learn the art of poetry and get exposure at open mic events. Get your work seen and heard. Best of all, have fun and protect your hard work.
Where can fans of your poetry and writing on St. Maarten find/purchase your work?
I've a few poems in Where I See the Sun: Contemporary Poetry in St. Martin, and that can be found on Amazon or Van Dorp. I have a few videos on YouTube and more of my writing appears on my blogs, rochelleward.com and Saltfish & Lace (saltfishandlace.com). Both are under construction but you can still check them out.
If you could invite any three poets, dead or alive, to a dinner party at your table, who would they be and what would you serve them?
I would invite three living poets to my dinner party: Loretta Collins Klobah, whose work I thoroughly enjoyed reviewing; Sarah Kay, a young American poet who recites her work so naturally it makes me want to find that fine line between her poetry and normal conversation; and, of course, Lasana Sekou, my mentor. Main course will include pastelón, a vegetarian fried plantain lasagna with a side of broccoli "meat" balls and flaky parmesan Johnny cakes. We'll have a tall glass of mint lemonade and homemade apple pie. I'll make all of it in my kitchen. Food should be as nourishing and thought-provoking as words.