By Lakhram Bhagirat
There is something unexplainable about the way she speaks, the way she delivers, the way she shares her experiences. I question whether it is the power in her voice, or the ability of her words to soothe the searing pain of open wounds or the way the words just linger after speaking to our souls.
For the past two years, her face has been gracing social media sites with her words spreading like wildfire. The name Renata Burnette is synonymous with modern-day Spoken Word Poetry in Guyana. The 22-year-old trailblazer is nothing short of inspiring as she speaks her truth which quite often is something a lot of people run from.
Renata, a Communications major at the University of Guyana, never had in mind that her words would have made such an impact on society. Her journey has been, and continues to be, a learning experience for her as she aims for greater heights.
After completing her secondary education at the Brickdam High School, Renata decided that she wanted to do CAPE Law and gained admission at the St Joseph High School. As usual, there were days when no teachers were available to teach and during that time students were urged to study or work on their own, but Renata and her classmates used that time for grounding sessions.
They would trade advice and have heated discussions along with karaoke among other things. With the majority of students being female, it meant the discussions were almost always centred around relationships. It was during that time she experienced her first heartbreak and to add salt to the wounds the person she was dating almost instantaneously got into another serious relationship.
“I felt as though I really couldn’t say how I felt and I started writing and then the words were coming consistently and then it started to make sense. It wasn’t necessarily a rhyme scheme, but it started to make sense because that was exactly how I felt. A day in class when we didn’t have any lessons or any teacher, I told my friends ‘yo I write this thing, Y’all want to listen to it and obviously why not’…they did.”
“The first piece I wrote was called “Thank you for hurting me”, because it was like a healing process. It was like you hurt me, I was upset, I was angry, but now I see that you really weren’t meant for me, so thank you for showing me that, but you know, of course, in a way that caused me a lot of pain,” she explained.
After hearing what she was capable of, Renata’s friends fell immediately in love with her talent and in an effort to encourage her, they told her to aim high. They encouraged her to shoot for the stars and said that they would be right there supporting her every step of the way. To date, whenever she performs or hosts an event, they are always there in her cheering section, pushing her to achieve every bit of success possible.
Renata grew up in a family home at Better Hope on the East Coast of Demerara with her mother and sister. There were other relatives in the house as well. With her sister away at a school that required her to stay on campus and her mother a Sergeant in the Guyana Defence Force, Renata had a lot of free time since she was alone in the lower flat of their home most of the time.
That alone time was spent with her numerous male cousins having a grand time. While growing up, despite being very good at Literature and English Language in school, Renata never felt an immediate connection to poetry. It may have been a work in progress, but she never connected the dots until she actually started to dip her feet in the poetry world.
Back in high school, while attending mandatory Mathematics lessons, her friend Crystal would be constantly writing several long lines which were not mathematical formulas. Upon inspection of Crystal’s work, Renata thought it was “very sad and painful and deep, but that is how she felt and that was her comfort and I didn’t take heed to it until I started and it was very nice to know that somebody was interested in something I never heard about.”
She also draws inspiration from several poets and artists whose work speak of their stories.
Renata’s work is heavily influenced by her personal experiences since she does not write without feeling what she is writing.
“I always describe myself as a self-sacrifice when it comes to my poetry. I could never write anything that I don’t feel or experience myself, hence I don’t recite other people’s pieces, you know. I have never recited anybody’s pieces. I have never really written anything that I have never experienced myself and to me, that’s how my poetry is because everything for me is personal because that is how I feel.”
“Writing about the absence of my father, writing about how my mother saw men, writing about my family, writing about relationships, writing about societal issues and how they are affecting me and the people around me are all the things I felt personally. Things that made me angry, made me sad, made me feel scared and not in control and those were the easiest to write. Putting them down, it was hard because I hardly ever speak of these things because that’s where poetry works for me whereby that was my escape to let all of that out and then recite it in the hope of somebody would benefit from it,” she said.
In Guyana, the common view is that a lot of emphasis is not being placed on the development of the creative sector. Renata shares this sentiment since she is of the view that we have failed to create a space where people can come and bask in their own art. She said that the Ministry of Social Cohesion should be placing more emphasis on the holistic development of the creative sector and not just when it sees an opportunity for benefit.