Award-winning poet shares his work

Bermuda’s Royal Gazette has published an interview with Kendel Hippolyte, the St Lucian poet who has been on the Island holding workshops and helping to judge submissions for a new Bermuda book of poetry. Hipollyte gave a reading of his work last night at the Bermuda National Gallery.

Kendel Hippolyte, from St. Lucia, is the writer-in-residence for the Department of Community and Cultural Affairs, and has been in Bermuda holding writing workshops, and also to judge submissions for the upcoming ‘Bermuda Anthology of Poetry’ which should be published later this year. “The quality of the poems I have seen for the anthology is variable,” Mr. Hippolyte said. “In terms of the craft some are really very sophisticated. Some of them they knock you out. Some of them are really good.”

He said some images recurred so much that they became a little trite, such as longtails. “I had to ask what a loquot was,” said Mr. Hippolyte. “That came up a lot. Maybe we have them in St. Lucia and call them something else.”

Mr. Hippolyte is the author of five books of poetry, the latest being ‘Night Vision’ published by TriQuarterly Books.

He has won a number of awards locally and abroad including a prestigious James A. Michener Writing Fellowship from the James A. Michener Centre for Writers.

His poetry has appeared in various journals such as ‘The Greenfield Review’, ‘The Massachusetts Review’ and in anthologies like ‘Caribbean Poetry Now’, ‘Voiceprint’, ‘West Indian Poetry’ and others.

He was born in Castries, St. Lucia and recently retired from teaching drama and literature at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College

“I retired two years ago to devote myself more time to my writing,” he said. “I am a playwright as well. Sometimes that takes up more of my time than poetry.”

He is interested in community drama which helps the community to explore certain issues.

While in Bermuda, he taught a three-week workshop to some of Bermuda’s top poets. He also taught a one-off poetry workshop with students at Berkeley Institute.

He said his main thrust with his students has always been to emphasise craft when it came to poetry writing.

“Craft is the number one thing for me in poetry,” he said.

He said craft was about being able to intelligibly communicate your idea to an audience you could not necessarily see.

He writes poems on a number of different levels including poems about relationships, political poetry, and also about the nature of poetry and art itself.

“What I think of the final circle of poems, which I think are the most important to me, are poems of search,” he said. “They are about answering the question ‘who am I’.”

Mr. Hippolyte always carries a pen and paper around with him, in case inspiration should strike.

“I jot things down and follow up on things as they go,” he said. “I don’t think poets feel things any more deeper than other people. That is not what I believe. I think a poet is a poet not because of what you are saying but because of the craft you use to say it. Otherwise you would be a philosopher or a politician or other things.”

He said in the 1970s, many black poets felt as though they were betraying themselves by following an artform started in Europe.

“It was the time of black power and black nationalism,” he said. “Forms of art and poetry that came from Europe you wouldn’t deal with that. You scorned it. You felt like you were betraying yourself. Over time, I decided that was all bull. Craft is craft is craft. Every language comes with its own history and baggage.”

As a poet, his writing ranges across the continuum of language from Standard English to the varieties of Caribbean English and he has also written poems in Kweyol, his national language.

He works in traditional forms like the sonnet and villanelle as well as in so-called free verse and in forms influenced by rap and reggae.

“I like working in traditional forms, but I like working in modern forms as well, like rap and reggae. Free verse has its own kind of dynamics.”

His advice to up and coming poets was to read and experience all different kinds of poetry.

“It is the same advice that you give to musicians,” he said. “You don’t become a good musician by listening to one kind of music.”

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