John Robert Lee, one of St Lucia’s foremost poets, has launched a new poetry collection.
Entitled Sighting and other poems of faith, it represents a selection of the poet’s poems of faith written over 35 years and includes work from earlier collections as well as new work. It is simultaneously published by Xlibris (USA) and Mahanaim Publishers (St. Lucia).
The selection of poems in Sighting and other poems of faith marks the ‘pilgrim’s progress’ in Lee’s evolution as a poet over three decades. In them he sees his life and experiences through the lens of the Christian faith. His poetry is rooted in the flesh-and-blood reality of his times, even as he looks beyond to the transcendent promises of his faith.
St. Lucia, Boston, the 2010 Copiapó mine accident and rescue, and the recent calamitous earthquake in Haiti are the scenes to which Lee turns his perceptive gaze. The poems are accessible to anyone who loves a craftsman that transforms language into startling and provocative images.
In 1993, at the launching of Lee’s poetry collection Translations, his St Lucian counterpart, Nobel laureate Derek Walcott said, “Robert Lee has been a scrupulous poet; that’s the biggest virtue 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 sense, preachy or self-advertising in terms of its morality. He is a fine poet.”
Commenting on Lee’s poetic prowess, St Lucian writer and newspaper columnist, Vlaidmir Lucien said, “Lee’s politics have always been entwined with the spiritual world where he finds shapes, archetypes that predict the various, repeating circlings of time, in and out of disaster and forced-ripe apocalypse.”
The majority of Robert Lee’s works have been produced and published in St. Lucia, and like some of his contemporaries, his work is among those issued by international publishers. In 2008, his elemental: selected poems was published by Peepal Tree Press in the UK.
In 2007 he published Canticles, a collection of poems illustrated with his photographs. Other publications include Artefacts (2000), Saint Lucian (1988) and Vocation (1975). He compiled and edited Roseau Valley and other poems for Brother George Odlum (2003) an anthology representing 50 years of Saint Lucian poetry and art.
In 2006, he co-edited with fellow poet and playwright, Kendel Hippolyte Saint Lucian Literature and Theatre: an Anthology of reviews, published by the Cultural Development Foundation. He recently completed a Bibliography of St. Lucian Creative Writing 1948-2012, to be released by the Cultural Development Foundation later this year. He writes an occasional blog at Mahanaimnotes.blogspot.com. He created MAHANAIM Publishing.
For his part, Lee credits the celebrated Caribbean poet and scholar, Edward Kamau Brathwaite with planting into his consciousness the seed that ultimately bloomed into Sighting and other poems of faith.” When Lee emailed Braithwaite one of his poems, Braithwaite responded: “Have not yet got into the poem you sent but the first look is v/impressive and Quite some length! Makes me want to ask you about yr religious Damascus, if i may put it that way. in writing somewhere? or perhaps you’ve nvr specifically shared it?”
“This excerpt from an email to me from Kamau Brathwaite is the genesis of my new publication ‘Sighting and other poems of faith,” says Lee.
He added: “That query in Kamau’s email got me thinking and I got a notepad and made some notes towards a prose ‘spiritual autobiography’, tracing my journey to a practising Christian faith.
“At some point, in all this rumination, the idea came to gather my poems dealing specifically with faith from my published collections and some new, unpublished work. It did not take long to put a manuscript together since most of my poems are on my computer.”
Lee tells more about his journey to publication in his blog Mahanaimnotes.blogspot.com. It’s well worth reading.
Robert Lee is a professional librarian, and has worked with the Castries Central Library and the Hunter J. Francois Library of the Sir Arthur Lewis Community College. He is presently the Information Manager of the Folk Research Centre.
In addition to being a poet, writer and columnist, Lee is a devout Christian, a Bible teacher, preacher and broadcaster.