Lasana Philbert was born in Trinidad and grew up in the United States but sees himself as a global citizen. Curious about the world, he travels often, cherishes the many treasures he finds in foreign cultures and delivers the account of his discoveries through free verse poetry. In his latest collection, Introverted Thoughts, Lasana enjoins his readers to see life beyond its perennial mundanity. Together, we discuss his journey and his work.
“I discovered Toni Morrison by accident.”
Lasana was in the Bronx, New York when he found Song of Solomon in a pile of discarded books. The 1977 novel which forays into the world of magical realism as we follow the life of its hero, Milkman set onto a journey of self-discovery, is nothing short of a revelation. It is a guiding light which influences Lasana’s view of the world as much as his writing.
“I had never read anything like Song of Solomon; it’s etched in my mind still. I love everything about Toni Morrison’s work, the way she expresses herself as a writer. Everything that I do stems from my reading of her books.”
By the time Lasana had this life-altering literary experience, the author might have already known that writing was what he was born to do. Very early on, Lasana fell in love with the process that is creative writing – a craft he started to hone at the young age of eight.
“My journey started in primary school where I discovered that I had a passion for writing, which was really the result of me not being as good at maths. It pushed me to focus more on my strengths. We did a lot of creative or essay writing in school and I realised it was my strongest suit.”
But it would take some time before Lasana seriously considered writing as a possible career. Indeed he is a busy entrepreneur with an unpredictable schedule. It wasn’t until 2018 that he published his first body of work Thoughts from an Isolated Soul.
Thoughts from an Isolated Soul was not always meant for public consumption, but encouraging words from Lasana’s editor as well as the overwhelming feedback from friends and family achieved to convince him that his work could resonate with an audience beyond the confines of his inner circle. And so, he did his share of research before taking the self-publishing route, a springboard and guarantor of creative freedom for many an author.
“I chose self publishing because I think that traditional publishing houses are too restrictive. They would ask me to move this here, take this out, to make the book stand out… and for me that’s a no. When I create something I want it to be exactly the way I created it. It’s like telling a painter how to put paint on a canvas and for me it was a big problem.”
Creative freedom is not the only trade-off for self-published writers. It is also a way to regain financial control from powerhouses who often dole out meagre advances and payouts to creators who stand in their mercy from publishing fees to marketing through to promotion.
“Traditional publishing houses will restrict your finances to basically an advance and if your book doesn’t sell you don’t really make anything. The only issue that I see with self-publishing is that yes, you’re going to have to fund your own marketing campaign, but the opportunities it brings are just endless.”
And so, Lasana is back on the road with Introverted Thoughts, a collection of poems almost conceived as a wake-up call. Touching on politics, religion and the everyday experiences of human life, he calls upon his readers to fight back against the dread and apathy of an existence ensnared by capitalism.
“If I have one message, it is to find your purpose and live accordingly. Don’t just live life, going to your 9 to 5, coming home, cooking, spending time with your family. There is more to life than ‘chasing the bag’, chasing the material aspect of things. With my work, I want to divert people’s attention to the metaphysical aspects of life.”
Standing out of Introverted Thoughts is Footnotes that the poet holds close to his heart.
“Footnotes is about legacy. I was thinking about my own life when I wrote this poem. Will people remember me as they do Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison? Even they, sometimes, are excluded from the important conversations we have as a collective. I was looking at my own work from the perspective of what will happen to all the things that I wrote after I die.”
For Lasana, writing is the unobstructed expression of his life experiences. There are no rules, no constraints – his words are born of his interactions with the world.
“I travel a lot. I travel around different countries, meet different people, soak up the culture, and then I return home. I find myself a quiet place and sit in complete silence. It is when I interpret and recount those interactions.”
But inspiration can strike anywhere, any time. The Trinidadian landscape is one that has a profound impact on the writer. The mountains, the trees, the birds are as many elements of his homeland that can push Lasana in a deep, meditative reflection before committing his words to paper. Yet, when asked about the state of his relation with Trinidad, the author pulls back somewhat.
“I see myself as a global citizen and so I cannot say that I am a representative of Trinidadian culture. I grew up in the United States but I won’t say that I am American either. I acknowledge my roots and present myself as a Trinidadian writer but I don’t think I can say I represent the culture. However Trinidad is one of the most prolific Caribbean countries on the literary scene with organisations like the Bocas Lit Fest which promotes Trinidadian and Caribbean writers although, as an introvert, I tend to shy away from these.”
Since publishing his first poetry book, Lasana has started to expand his circle of Caribbean writers, namely from Guadeloupe, Saint Martin, Guyana and Jamaica. He also regularly converses with readers online; both fantastic ways to hold up a mirror to himself whilst getting valuable feedback on his work as he prepares to publish his fourth – and largest – opus yet.
“I get a sense of accomplishment when people tell how my work has impacted their lives. That’s what actually pushes me as a writer.”
In the image of Milkman who by the end of Song of Solomon is ready to make a transformative leap of faith, Lasana, embarked on his own journey of self discovery, has maybe already taken flight.
Where to find Introverted Thoughts:
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