Vermont Arts Council

I am a Vermont Artist: Toussaint St. Negritude

Toussaint ends his email messages with the phrase “Power to the Poets.” He could also include power to the jazz musicians, the hat designers, and the tiny house builders. In other words, he’s a multi-talented, multi-dimensional artist. He was also the poet laureate of Belfast (Maine, that is). Toussaint said it was challenging to confine his story to three hundred words, but he offered a glimpse into what it means to be a Vermont artist.
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?

Far from the telltale promises and hallowed parameters of city life, Vermont is the home my artistry has sought for years, long before I moved here. I love being myself here, in the mountains, in the woods, in the hardy wilderness of creative survival, and consequently in the relative absence of modern materialism. Vermont fits me, fits my poetry, fits my music, fits my hat-making, and most dearly, Vermont fits my spirit. Living in Vermont has radically enabled my creativity to blossom enormously, both personally and profoundly as an ever-broadening means of community. In the last year, such fertile ground has allowed me to create a wonderful avant-garde jazz and poetry band, Jaguar Stereo, featuring the great Burlington bassist Gahlord Dewald and myself on bass clarinet and my own poetry.

What is something about your art that has changed over time?
As an Afrofuturist gay African American poet, composer, and jazz bass clarinetist, my work has long been informed by an entire galaxy of liberation, encompassing the natural freedoms of all forms of creative expression. One particular way my work has further evolved since living here in Vermont, has been through the exploration of the spirituality of nature, especially through the spirituality of mountains. Throughout all journeys, however found or challenged, I find mountains to be an enormous expanse of spiritual guidance. I am currently writing a book of poems honoring the mountains of the Northeast Kingdom.

Jaguar Stereo performing at Goddard College. Photo by Ama Hannan.

What is your vision for the next several years?

I am especially excited for this next period in my life. As I soon prepare for my sixtieth birthday, after a life of straddling the task of being an artist and also being employed, often leaving my creativity on some perilous side shelf, now through the building of my own self-sustaining tiny home in the mountains, beginning this summer, I am thrilled to soon commit the rest of my life to being an artist full time, writing and publishing new works of poetry, while recording and regularly performing throughout the region. Itʼs truly amazing, how Vermont has brought me to being myself full-time.
Visit Toussaint’s website.
Follow Toussaint on Instagram @toussaintstnegritude.
Read a 2018 interview with Toussaint in the Michigan Quarterly Review

The “I am a Vermont Artist” series explores how artists’ creative expressions reflect their experiences of ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, or age. Covering all artistic disciplines, and a range of backgrounds—from New Americans to the state’s first residents—we hope to amplify voices that deepen our understanding of what it means to be a Vermont artist.

Visit the series archive.