“The right poem finds us exactly when it needs to.” – Atticus
Emerging poet and visual artist Xan-Xi Bethel-Sweeting might agree. A writer since the age of 12, the right words always seemed to form themselves, exactly when needed, to get her through the hard times.
The call went out last fall to submit works to the first ever poetry competition hosted by the Department of English Studies at the University of The Bahamas (UB) under the theme “SANKOFA” – meaning, “go back and fetch it”. To Bethel-Sweeting, this West African philosophy appeared to offer works honouring the land of Haiti, bringing light to the intimate connection it has with its sister Caribbean country, The Bahamas.
“The concept of SANKOFA speaks to our need to return to source, to remember our past, and our history, so that we may understand ourselves,” Bethel-Sweeting said. “And in doing so, we would be able to create a rich and prosperous NOW, and plan for an abundant future.”
The competition was created and named in recognition of Dr. Tiffany Austin, former lecturer at UB and a world-renowned scholar and poet who died last year. The Blue Flamingo Literary Festival, birthed out of the Department of English Studies, did a memorable thing in immortalizing her legacy through this competition.
Bethel-Sweeting added: “Applicants were asked to submit up to three poems that spoke to ‘SANKOFA’. The works I submitted were a suite of poems written for, and in solidarity with, Haiti. The story I told about Haiti, its troubles, triumphs and of The Bahamas’ connection to Haiti, was an intimate one… and they liked it! The jurors understood it and felt that it was important enough to say, ‘Yes, this is good, this is art, this is purpose.’”
At UB, Bethel-Sweeting is a double major in art education and English studies. Although she has been writing and performing for a number of years, she had always stayed away from competitions that subjected her work to much scrutiny because of typical “artist fear”.
“My poetry and art has always been something very personal and sacred, and I felt (and still feel) that art doesn’t need to be measured against itself. Each artist brings a different perspective of their own experiences, and their own peculiar ways of expressing that. It’s not like maths, or science, where it is either right or wrong…but, to be honest, I saw the flyer for the competition, and I said to myself, ‘Self, why not? Maybe I’d win. Maybe someone will actually care about what I have to say,’” she expressed.
Over the years, her poetry has morphed itself to take on the realities of her current situations. She shared, “Once, when I was in love, that’s all I wrote about. But now, my work is maturing. I write about my experiences; I write about what I see, as it is. I write about the stories of people that oftentimes don’t get to tell their own stories.” And for the most part, her work has demonstrated itself as something meaningful and memorable for each season and period of her life.
Now, Bethel-Sweeting celebrates in her achievements of winning the inaugural competition and prepares herself for the fruition of goals of the future. First up, the premiere of her solo exhibition: a mixed media installation of poetry, paintings, sculptures and photography, set to take place at the Doongalik Studios in July of this year. It will be entitled “SELF: Portrait” and will explore human divinity. With this exhibit, she hopes to challenge invisibility, “since oftentimes we see people, we see ourselves, but we don’t truly see the perfect and awesome wonder that we truly are”.
After that, she will be working on the publication of her first literary project. She is writing all types of poems: haikus and sonnets, about her everyday thoughts, observations and experiences. She is excited for this body of work to release itself and unfold the very making of her being.
Xan-Xi Bethel-Sweeting was a selected participating artist at the National Art Gallery of The Bahamas’ (NAGB) National Exhibition “NE9:The Fruit & the Seed”. The NAGB joins in recognition of Bethel-Sweeting’s accomplishments as an emerging poet and visual artist and looks forward to the great things to come.