Monday, May 8, 2017

After Dionne Brand: a glosa

(c) John Robert Lee 2016

after Dionne Brand: a glosa variation

“all I can offer you now though is my brooding hand,
my sodden eyelashes and the like,
these humble and particular things I know,
my eyes pinned to your face.” – Dionne Brand (Inventory)

I must tell you how moved I was
astonished, perhaps like the wind’s castanets in palms
outside my window, like the shak-shak of shells

under the interfering proddings of surf —
how you drew me close, yes, to brimming
over your so-unexpected full-veined

lines that were the archetypal echo
humming under my breath
and, indeed, here you were Brand —

all I can offer you now though is my brooding hand,

parsing your notations, perusing your inventory
of our blasted days, Aleppo now
and then Nice and yesterday Orlando

tomorrow Laventille again, Trench Town recurrent
Richmond Hill impossible to forget —
ossuaries, yes, of failed states and their politricks

babies broken on beaches, Mediterranean
drowned in overladen caravels
our islands’ doomed alleys mocking

my sodden eyelashes and the like —

exhausting, these post-modern certainties
no truth, no meaning, no author
no beauty I suppose in the old songs of remembering

upon drum, string and bones
dimpled laugh of the old woman who loves you
long arms of the dancer from San Fernando

sacramental light rimming the ends of sunsets
languid cruising of scissor-tailed seabirds
through our horizons, reading a fine poet from Toronto —

these humble and particular things I know,

add thresholds of jalousied doorways I crossed
pursuing mystery love, drawn even then by the echo
quivering on metronomes of evening softnesses

to find faith waiting in lines of dread-locked canticles
pointing couplets of dark sayings
terrible chapters of mighty prophecies —

anyway, like some minor April epiphany
am downtown Port of Spain, corner Hart & Abercromby
and you reading, tenderly, at Bocas

my eyes pinned to your face

Song & Symphony

My long ekphrastic poem, Song & Symphony, responding to the art of St. Lucian artist Shallon Fadlien, has been published at Connotation Press: An Online Artifact.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Collected Poems 1975-2015 - John Robert Lee

Cover art by Gary Butte (St. Lucia).

Peepal Tree announces Collected Poems of John Robert Lee
Peepal Tree Press (UK) has announced on its website the forthcoming publication of John Robert Lee’s Collected Poems 1975-2015. The book will be published on April 3rd 2017.
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 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.”
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) and City Remembrances (2016). In 2014, he co-edited Sent Lisi: poems and art of Saint Lucia, with Kendel Hippolyte, Jane King and Vladimir Lucien. In December 2016, he will be issuing Song and Symphony, a cycle of poems written in response to the art of St. Lucian painter Shallon Fadlien.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

City Remembrances: Poems

My new chapbook, City Remembrances: poems, 42 pgs, illustrated, limited edition of 200 copies, is forthcoming. Sells at $30 EC, $10 US. Under my publishing imprint, Mahanaim Publishing. Designed by Raphael "Rinvelle" Philip. His art work is included. Printed by The Document Centre, St. Lucia. On sale in St. Lucia at the Folk Research Centre.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

New Year Poem

New Year Poem

“The Sea of Faith
Was once, too at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar…” – Matthew Arnold (Dover Beach)

I suppose it’s ultimately personal
this building of a life —
ground, wall-block, hardwood, clamped metal

roof, about a well-planted
corner-stone of certain faith —
when the earth-plot shakes to doubt,

batter in fear against cyclones,
some plump rat rots under the boards with the stench

of horrible news (you get the point) —
         faith surges like a triumphant vanguard
         of galloping waves off Gros Islet

        to spread its bounteous, cleansing surf
        all along the garbage-littered shore.

(c) John Robert Lee

Photo: © Sea at Gros Islet. J.R.Lee

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Untitled - work in progress.

John Robert Lee
We step to eternity from now
the instant at our feet
the present intersection
of irrevocable hours —

what heart’s door slams shut?
what terrible holy turns inside out?
what mirror fixes this corrupt?
what unbeing dislocates the shrieking ghost?

Ah, but blessèd saint,
clocks stilled and maps scrolled —

what high gates dissolve?
what holy tender comes?
what grace returns what grace?
what glory now unfolds within this earth?

“They all lie in wait for blood;
Every man hunts his brother with a net.” – Micah7:2

It’s generosity that’s not there.
They don’t give, they distrust the open hand.
Their own worth is hidden from them.
Those bodies breed monster hearts.
They don’t know their own beauty.
They don’t trust love.
They don’t love.
They don’t.

Camilo and me
cavorting in the shadows’

of their framed portraits
of Camilo and me, at
the surf-breaking end

of Ocean Spray, like
kindred spirits of shadows
of clouds on reef pools.

C.S. Lewis on The Hobbit

C. S. Lewis Reviews The Hobbit, 1937

November 19, 2013 | by
A world for children: J. R. R. Tolkien,
The Hobbit: or There and Back Again
(London: Allen and Unwin, 1937)
The publishers claim that The Hobbit, though very unlike Alice, resembles it in being the work of a professor at play. A more important truth is that both belong to a very small class of books which have nothing in common save that each admits us to a world of its own—a world that seems to have been going on long before we stumbled into it but which, once found by the right reader, becomes indispensable to him. Its place is with Alice, Flatland, Phantastes, The Wind in the Willows. [1]
To define the world of The Hobbit is, of course, impossible, because it is new. You cannot anticipate it before you go there, as you cannot forget it once you have gone. The author’s admirable illustrations and maps of Mirkwood and Goblingate and Esgaroth give one an inkling—and so do the names of the dwarf and dragon that catch our eyes as we first ruffle the pages. But there are dwarfs and dwarfs, and no common recipe for children’s stories will give you creatures so rooted in their own soil and history as those of Professor Tolkien—who obviously knows much more about them than he needs for this tale. Still less will the common recipe prepare us for the curious shift from the matter-of-fact beginnings of his story (“hobbits are small people, smaller than dwarfs—and they have no beards—but very much larger than Lilliputians”) [2] to the saga-like tone of the later chapters (“It is in my mind to ask what share of their inheritance you would have paid to our kindred had you found the hoard unguarded and us slain”). [3] You must read for yourself to find out how inevitable the change is and how it keeps pace with the hero’s journey. Though all is marvellous, nothing is arbitrary: all the inhabitants of Wilderland seem to have the same unquestionable right to their existence as those of our own world, though the fortunate child who meets them will have no notion—and his unlearned elders not much more—of the deep sources in our blood and tradition from which they spring.
For it must be understood that this is a children’s book only in the sense that the first of many readings can be undertaken in the nursery. Alice is read gravely by children and with laughter by grown ups; The Hobbit, on the other hand, will be funnier to its youngest readers, and only years later, at a tenth or a twentieth reading, will they begin to realise what deft scholarship and profound reflection have gone to make everything in it so ripe, so friendly, and in its own way so true. Prediction is dangerous: but The Hobbit may well prove a classic.
Review published in the Times Literary Supplement (2 October 1937), 714.

1. Flatland (1884) is by Edwin A. Abbott, Phantastes by George MacDonald (1858).
2. The Hobbit: or There and Back Again (1937), chapter 1.
3. Ibid., chapter 15.
Image and Imagination: Essays and Reviews, by C. S. Lewis, edited by Walter Hooper. Copyright © 2013 C. S. Lewis Pte Ltd. Reprinted with the permission of Cambridge University Press.
This article originally appeared in the Times Literary Supplement. Click here to read it on the TLS site.