“In 2013, I was invited to pen a poetic response to a tragic event in Bahamian history: the May 10th, 1980 sinking of the Royal Defense Force HMBS Flamingo by Cuban fighter jets and the subsequent death of four of its crew. The event shook Bahamians to their cores, for they realized that they had to fully step into their hard-earned status as an independent nation (from 1973) and diplomatically stand up for themselves. However, for all of its major historical and cultural implications, the event is almost never acknowledged in the public memory or taught in schools, which is why this project is so monumental. I struggled with how to respond to something I was not yet alive to witness. How could I use my own language to address this? As a starting point, I began to read old newspaper stories to see how the event unfolded in real time. A variety of voices came forth through these periodicals, and on these pages a war of its own took shape. My lack of knowledge on the subject prompted my creative response: I began to cut out the words and phrases I found and assemble them into new interpretations of the event. The resulting poems offer an alternate reality of sorts, addressing what happens when memories are distorted by time and ignorance. I then took these clippings and started to embed them in handmade paper, finding this act of cutting them out of one paper and placing them into another was appropriate to acknowledge the idea of context when we address history or tragedy.
The sixteen pieces that emerged, “Paper Wars”, examine the chaos of the event, their messy immediacy, through the very nature of the paper itself: colors and textures splashed together and opacities bringing words and images in and out of focus. In a second set, I used the clippings in collage and letterpress. The sixteen resulting pieces, “Ink Treaties”, imply careful reflection and precision through the nature of printing itself: simple printed symbols or carved linoleum designs with accompanying phrases supplement collaged poems on handmade papers. All thirty-two handmade paper pieces were exhibited in “Swan Song of The Flamingo” at The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas from November 2013 to March 2014. Additionally, I made all twelve poems into a limited-edition chapbook published by my small press, Poinciana Paper Press, called “Cutting Teeth/Clipping Feathers”, which also featured poetry by Obediah Michael Smith responding to the event.”
Sonia Farmer is the founder of Poinciana Paper Press, a small fine press that produces hand-bound limited-edition chapbooks of Caribbean writing, based out of The Bahamas. Her poetry has won the 2011 Small Axe Literary Competition in Poetry and has also appeared in various publications including Poui, The Caribbean Writer, and The WomanSpeak Journal. Her hand-made books and paper have appeared in several exhibitions in The National Art Gallery of The Bahamas. She presently works as an archivist and communications coordinator with The Current art team at Baha Mar. She holds a BFA in Writing from Pratt institute.