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Poet shares life experiences

By Brendon Field
On March 5, 2014

Dr. Sean Forbes, professor of Creative Writing and Poetry read from "Providencia," his first collection of poems at the Co-op Bookstore Wednesday evening.
Forbes' poems combine anecdotes of growing up on the unforgiving streets of Queens, New York and tales of the small Caribbean island Providencia. They give a surreal vision about growing up as a homosexual boy of mixed race in a world of traditional values. Many of his pieces play with traditional poetic structures, including the pantoum and the haiku. One poem was formatted in 19 sequential haikus, telling the story of his adolescence in Queens. Including temptation to join the drug exchange and a close friend being arrested and imprisoned-"spark of a fried gun - in the cold night air. Damon holds - my trembling right hand."
Two figures featured heavily in Forbes' poetry are his grandparents, who raised him with his mother. His poem "The Burning" talks about how his grandmother would hear rumors in the crinkling of onionskin, so she would reduce it to ash on her stove. He explains that they told him many stories of mythology and folklore as a child, which he incorporates into his writing. "An Oracle Remembering Providencia's Creation" personifies the island as a man's head, which it resembles in shape, as it first emerges and settles above the ocean's surface-"white smoke puffing out of my open pores thousands of feet in the air as if to say: breathe in the burnt dust, sulfur and salt."
Forbes' connection to the island of Providencia also comes through his grandparents. His grandfather traveled there every other year to live with his mistress Forbes tells of a fantastical meeting with her at the age of 92 in his poem, "Truces." He didn't actually get to visit the island until 2009.
His poem "The Map to the Pirate's Treasure is Woven Into The Women's Hair" is a sprawling nine part tale beginning with him watching a girl's hair braided into cornrows shaped like a treasure map. It then goes on to tell of John Robinson, founder of the island's largest family, the map to whose grave was hidden in the braids of his sister's hair. The poem later discusses pirate Henry Morgan, and Forbes' writing is similar to piracy, in borrowing lines and images from other poems. It ends with Forbes' visit to Providencia, where he collapses after a flash vertigo.
In an introduction given by professor Penelope Pelizzon, she describes how Forbes' poetry breaks cultural, ethnic and gender barriers. He refuses to be closed by "convention and polite expectation," Pelizzon said. He makes use of the trickster figure, a character common in Native American folklore that is known for shape shifting and transgressing boundaries.
"I really like the form of Sean's poetry, the voice and the tone, it's almost melodic. It's a unique approach, and it's about a unique subject matter. I don't think there's anything quite like it. It's something that nourishes the soul,"Christiana Betts, graduate student of English said.
"A lot of it resonated, and I was really intrigued by his thoughts about reconciling, multiple identities, and how he as individual wears all that," Leislie Godo-Solo said.
Forbes began writing at the age of 19 at Queens College. He said "Providencia" took him 10 years to complete. His next collection of poems, two of which of he shared with his "Providencia" reading, will focus on a character born from his mother's rape and resented by his grandparents. He looks to incorporate Celtic and Norse mythology into the work.
Forbes earned his doctoral degree in English from UConn, where he is the Director of Creative Writing and head of the Poetic Journeys program.

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