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.