Frank Clarke's Chaconias - a fin de siecle gift

Frank Clarke is an alumnus of the brief golden age generation of UWI St. Augustine that spanned the late 1960s and early 1970s. Some of the other personalities were better known, being more frenetic, public, or charismatic (or not afraid to wine in public). But in the background there was always the level-headed, intellectual Frank, well known for his apparent balance. Frank, of course, may have been as multi-faceted as any other, but his often self-effacing manner, seemed to blunt his aggression and make him seem the reasonable one.

Over the years Frank went about improving his qualifications, building his career, and being the contributor to society that he had always been prefaced to be. Surprisingly, he recently announced the publication of his book of poems.

On his retirement (that time seemed to have crept up on us) he decided to publish a selection of his work that would encapsulate his search and journey for truth, beauty and love, which he symbolized in Chaconias, enigmatically subtitled, Poems (Verse & Worse?).

The sixty-five poems are grouped into six categories: reflections, depictions, perceptions, Profiles, Wordplay and Compositions (i.e. musical compositions).

The launching of his work, a gift to his friends, neighbours and colleagues, was 'staged' at the new 'in-the-round' theatre at the UWI School of Continuing studies auditorium at Gordon Street, St. Augustine. It was presented as an 'Oratorio', 'In Search of the Wild Chaconia'. All the words and music were written by Frank Clarke.

The narrator was 'played' by Winston Maynard. Other cast members included Gem Ible-Lewis, Augustus Ramrekhersingh, Albert la Veau, Lawrie Goldstraw, John Cupid, Relator, Shortpants, Denise Dickson (Dance) and The Young Musicians conducted by Sheldon Morales, who arranged and played the music.

The programme itself followed the pattern of the Oratorio, with Prologue, Entrance, Part I - The Journey, Part II - The Discovery, Reprise, Exit and Epilogue. The poems were selected from different sections of the book to fulfil their part in the plot.

The unique design of the setting supported the ambience that transformed this event into an epiphany. It was an unusual presentation of poetry, in which all was the voice of the poet, while he and his wife, Diana, were inconspicuously almost invisible. Except to thank all at the end.

Like a high priest on the high altar of poetry, Winston Maynard, doyen of radio announcers and producers, from his elevation, intoned Frank Clarke's words and connectives, which linked the sections and advanced them. Competent, clear readings were articulated by the readers, classmates/friends/neighbours/colleagues, of Clarke.

Perhaps the highlight of the event may have been the performance of Clarke's 'compositions' as arranged by Sheldon Morales and rendered by The Young Musicians. This ensemble added an ethereal dimension to the evening, as the youthful voices, especially the opening soloist, who seemed fit for a famous boys' choir, regaled our ears and almost made us forget that the lyrics and basic melody were Frank's.

Another aspect of the evening that was particularly well received was the 'performance' of the calypsonians, Shortpants and Relator. They literally changed the tone of the evening, for this humour loving, fete loving, picong loving society, and its culturally weighted approach to entertainment, including literary entertainment. This could have the effect of restricting variety, eclecticism, and experimentation. Yet with all the warm response we had to remember that they were performing Frank's pieces. All power to him and his versatility.

Frank's dry wit and humour, which veered, for me to the intellectual side, was given some range here, especially in the 'fluctuation' piece, which came out in one of those interminable jokes with which our e-friends inundate us from time to time. But at the time I thought it was vintage and unexpected Frank. The response from the audience was spontaneous.

In my quarter-century of attending, participating in, organizing and promoting poetry events, there has never been anything like Frank Clarke's launching. The meticulous Clarke has attempted to anticipate all eventualities: the dance for movement, the video and slide projection for multimedia effect, music for its enhancement, and the voices - all managed by the invisible organizer. All managed well.

It must have irked him that the event didn't start exactly in time because of eventualities out of his control. He may have a little more agitation when he checks the book again to find that a few, very, very few typos escaped his gavilan's gaze. However, this gift to friends is much more than that. It is as well a gift to poetry aspirants and poetry presenters/promoters, and a fitting marker to the aesthetics as this century winds down.

As the guests enjoying the varied refreshments afterwards must have said, Kudos and congratulations to Frank Clarke.

Anson Gonzalez
Diego Martin
December 1999

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