Peepal Tree Press (UK), the Cultural Development Foundation and Mahanaim Publishing will host the launch of John Robert Lee’s Collected Poems 1975-2015. This takes place at the CDF Conference Room on Wednesday May 24th at 7.30 pm.
In 2008, Peepal Tree had published Lee’s “elemental: new and selected poems.” Peepal is the leading publisher of Caribbean literature. Several St. Lucian writers are on their list, including Garth St. Omer, Kendel Hippolyte, Jane King, Vladimir Lucien, Adrian Augier and Earl Long.
Peepal says: “John Robert Lee’s Collected Poems tell both of a continuing journey and a subtly changing voice but also of an underlying, consistent attempt to hold together in one space the things that matter. This is seeking first the kingdom of God; maintaining the community of men and women who incarnate that kingdom and make life meaningful; the beauties of St Lucia’s natural world and its rich traditions of folk-culture; and the challenges and demands of poetry.
Whilst sometimes Lee’s poems involve a quiet self-communing, more often they are conversations with God and with those people who are close to him. At points they rise to being canticles of praise that express the experience of, or the yearning for, the transcendent, through the imagery of the visible world. And whilst the poems connect to the wider world of travel and world affairs, their touchstone is always St Lucia. Like the late Derek Walcott, like Kendel Hippolyte, Jane King and now Vladimir Lucien, John Robert Lee’s poems demonstrate how possible it is to find an enriching, puzzlingly complex and intellectually stimulating world in a small island society.
The journey the poems tell is from the young man enthused with the energy of the radical decolonizing spirit of the 1970s, the years of deepening of Christian faith to the present of maturity and the acceptance of loss as well as gain, and the stamina needed for the continuing struggle for St Lucia to emerge from its colonial past and be ever more itself. In the later poems there are more glimpses of the private man who recognises that “My heart holds rooms I’ve never entered/ doors concealed, secret entrances.” And whilst over the forty years of the poems one hears always a personal, signal voice, over time the poems increasingly invest in the Kwéyòl language of the St Lucian folk as well as the voice of the English literary masters and, latterly, display a growing interest in the relationship between poetry and the visual arts.”
The dedication page carries an “In Memoriam” to the late Derek Walcott who died in March. Lee has always claimed Derek Walcott as a major influence and literary mentor, and several of his poems are dedicated to the Nobel Laureate. In 1993, Walcott had said of his younger contemporary, “Robert Lee has been a scrupulous poet, that’s the biggest virtue that he has, and it’s not a common virtue in poets, to be scrupulous and modest in the best sense, not to over-extend the range of the truth of his emotions, not to go for the grandiose. He is a Christian poet obviously. You don’t get in the poetry anything that is, in a sense, preachy or self-advertising in terms of its morality. He is a fine poet.”
Recent publications by Lee, released under his own Mahanaim Publishers imprint, include Sighting and other poems of faith (2013), Bibliography of St. Lucian Creative Writing (2013), After Gary Butte (2015), City Remembrances (2016) and Song and Symphony (2017), a collaboration with St. Lucian artist Shallon Fadlien. In 2014, he co-edited Sent Lisi: poems and art of Saint Lucia, with Kendel Hippolyte, Jane King and Vladimir Lucien. Sent Lisi commemorated the 70th birthday of MacDonald Dixon.
Lee’s work appears regularly in international anthologies and in several on-line magazines. As well as poetry, he writes short stories, reviews and general articles on literature.
At the book launch, several other St. Lucian poets will read their work. These include Alcess Ismael, George Goddard, McDonald Dixon, Adrian Augier, Vladimir Lucien and Kendel Hippolyte. Shirley Ann Cyril-Mayers, Augustin ‘Charlie’ Julian and Augustin Papius will provide musical interludes. A small exhibition of the work of Gary Butte (whose art adorns the cover of the Collected Poems) will also be on display. Lee will read from his new publication.
The author will sign copies at the end of the readings.