West Bay poet Leonard Dilbert shares work ahead of Poetry Festival

As Cayman’s annual literary celebration, the Cayman Islands Poetry Festival, approaches this November, organizers hope to draw attention to the islands’ local poetry movement.

The four-day event, Nov. 16-19, will feature renowned international poets and academics, including Zoë Skoulding (U.K.), Wayde Compton (Canada), James Browning Kepple (U.S.), Yashika Graham (Jamaica), Fabio Castillo (Honduras), Jose Taboada (Cuba) and Julio Caesar Sanchez (Cuba).

Taking center stage, however, will be Cayman’s local writers who will facilitate community readings, open mic nights, workshops, school visits and cultural tours.

Promoting local writers

In anticipation of the festival, organizer Bridges has reached out to Caymanian poets to share and discuss their work, at the Cayman Compass studio.

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West Bay poet Leonard Dilbert visited the studio to reflect on Cayman’s writing scene and to share his 2003 poem, “The Disappeared,” from his collection, “Grown from this Ground.”

West Bay poet Leonard Dilbert shares his work at the Cayman Compass studio.

Cayman Compass: Tell us about your work as a writer.

Leonard Dilbert: I write mostly contemporary poetry, mostly what some people call free verse. It’s often topical.

I say I write love poetry all the time because in one way or the other, it’s meant to come back to some sort of lesson that is good for all of us somehow. Sometimes it’s much more intimate and other times it’s much more political, very much in-your-face political sometimes. That is a challenging way to write, because to not preach but at the same time be arresting is a bit of a difficult task, but interesting.

CC: What is it that draws you to poetry?

LD: It’s the only true way for me. I love to take photographs. I find that quite evocative, fun. I find it does a lot for my release. But it’s more of a Zen exercise in the sense that it frees my mind to do other things while I am looking through the camera. What those other things are is putting the language together in ways that I need to hear.

I do not think I could paint because I don’t have that discipline. I sing in the shower but I would not grace anyone else with that. I don’t play an instrument. But I am called. I have a profound sense of being called to do this work. So I try to write the best I can.

CC: How long have you been writing?

LD: I guess about 30 years. I started at the latter end of high school. While I was doing 11th, I found myself starting to do things because I could find not another way of satisfying myself that I was saying something I felt had to be said. I look back at it now and cringe at what I did, but you have to start somehow, somewhere, and hopefully you learn. I think I’ve learned some things. So I keep doing it and keep practicing. The term “practicing poet,” I think that means a lot. To practice and keep practicing.

CC: What’s it like being a poet in Cayman?

LD: Difficult. In some way it’s an indictment on me and everybody else who have not made more of it in the sense that the challenge in Cayman is to get up and do it. Opportunities are open to do anything you want to do. It’s just a matter of you taking the opportunity.

I think though that the arts, poetry being an example, requires something a bit more than that. Poetry requires a readership. It requires a listenership. You have to have some sense that what you are saying is being said to somebody who hears it and responds. You have to feed on the response. The response is difficult to find.

CC: Tell us about the poem you will be sharing with us, “The Disappeared.”

LD: Anybody who knows about the 70s in Chile and Argentina will have heard the term “los desaparecidos,” thousands and thousands of people who were fighting against the regimes at that point in time. In this case in Chile … [Augusto] Pinochet laid a coup against [Salvador] Allende to take back their interests. That flew in the face of a lot of the popular support that Allende had garnered to be elected in the first place. The people who protested, the people who fought against it, the people who tried to organize against it disappeared.

I read an account that was compelling of a former officer of Pinochet’s who felt years later, he needed to confess his own involvement. The description he gave formed the basis of a lot of this language, the whole business of the helicopters and the way in which people were dealt with, step by step….

The poet who has had a huge influence on me, Pablo Neruda, was Chilean and one of that group that was very much on the Allende side of the equation. That had me viscerally connected to the whole thing …. You cannot really decide what you are going to write a poem about. It calls to you and says, “listen to this.”

To hear Mr. Dilbert read “The Disappeared,” visit our website,

The Disappeared

their bellies were opened
they were dumped into the sea

No, first
they were pushed
into the helicopter
then their bellies were opened

No, first they were drugged
then the helicopter
then the bellies opened

No, first torture
-they talked-
(they always talk)
-they would not talk-
(it did not matter)
to the helicopter


so they wouldn’t float
on the Pacific

But before that
the burning of the Moneda
with Allende inside
calling Viva!

When they shot him
he fell face down
arms spread

as if he would have held
the earth of Chile
into his belly
if he could have reached the ground.

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