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John Robert Lee

John Robert Lee

John Robert Lee


Born:   6th May, 1948, Castries, St. Lucia

A St Lucian writer. He has published several collections of poems, most recently Canticles (2007) and Elemental (2008), and he writes regularly on literature, theatre, and Caribbean social life for various newspapers and periodicals. A professional librarian, he is currently information manager at the St Lucia Folk Research Centre.

John Robert Lee graduated from the University of the West Indies with a First Class Degree. He also studied a number of post-graduate courses in Librarianship. He is a St. Lucian writer who has published several collections of poetry. His short stories and poems can be found in many journals and international anthologies. These include Facing the sea (1986), The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse (1986), The Faber Book of Contemporary Caribbean Short Stories (1990), The Heinemann Book of Caribbean Poetry (1992) and The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse (2005). He continues to present radio and television interviews, focusing on persons – local, regional and international – involved in the arts and culture.
John Robert Lee’s latest publication is elemental: new and selected poems published by the Peepal Tree Press in Leeds, the United Kingdom, in 2008. In 2007 he published Canticles, a collection of poems illustrated with the author’s 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. The book is illustrated with art by leading St. Lucian painters of several generations including Harold Simmons, Dunstan St. Omer, Llewellyn Xavier, Virginia Henry and Corine George.
In 2006, he co-edited with Kendel Hippolyte Saint Lucian Literature and Theatre: an anthology of reviews, which is recognized as a significant contribution to the documentation of the history of Saint Lucian writing and drama.
In 1993, at the launching of a poetry collection by Lee entitled Translations, Nobel laureate Derek Walcott said of his younger contemporary, “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.”

John Robert Lee


He has a cool, quiet seemingly conservative demeanor until perhaps you have the fortune (or misfortune) to attend a poetry reading. There you are likely to find John Robert Lee exploding with fury at the problems faced by the artistic community or hear him decry the lack of support for the Arts. On the average day however he is just as most of his students describe him – the poet, teacher, librarian, preacher.

John Robert Lee was born on May 6th 1948 in Castries. Although,as a child he had always been an avid reader and lover of arts, he credits Me Donald Dixon for inspiring him to write poetry seriously. Upon leaving secondary school, Lee went to work at the Royal Bank of Canada where he met McDonald Dixon (a veteran in the arts and an active member of the now defunct Arts Guild) who nurtured his interest in poetry. Later Lee pursued a degree in English and French Literature at the University of the West Indies. At present Lee has seven poetry collection to his credit, “Vocation and other poems” (1975) Dread Season (1978) The Prodigal (1983) Possessions (1984) and the Saint Lucian: Selected Poems (1988) Clearing Ground (1991). In August 1993, Lee published his latest collection “Translations” in a special tribute to Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott.

Lee’s poetry at its very best chronicles the personal development of the writer his journey to truth, as well as the developments in a rapidly changing society. Kenneth Ramahand in a review of heels first collection, “Vocation” in 1975 said “At its best Vocation is both the personal Odyssey of a sensitive and searching young man and a history of a generation of West Indians in the aftermath of a failed Federation, failed independence … ” Lee recalls the period 1968-80 as a particularly crucial time for the Caribbean. Moreover, he notes that the growth of many Caribbean Artists was bound up with this socio-political climate. He affirms the view that Art that should never be divoced from the concerns of the wider society.

“I don’t believe in art for art’s sake. As Lamming said the artist is a worker in the community. The voice of the people.”

Lee describes his later poetry “as a sort of Caribbean Pilgrim’s Progress” in which he explores his journey in christianity. Far from using his poetry as a medium for polemic art to convert the masses. Lee’s goal is to capture “the simple faith of a simple man”.

In October Lee formerly dedicated ”Translation” to Derek Walcott in tribute to his literary accomplishments. Lee explained this gesture as a student paying back a debt to the teacher and as a token of appreciation from the artistic community in St. Lucia. Lee says that Walcott taught him the beauty the beauty of metaphor, the use of technique and the ability to express the Caribbean reality. Lee says in admiration,

“When I drive round the country I think of Walcott constantly. He paints this country with words. When Walcott writes about a plaintain or dasheen leaf or a fern clinging to a rock for some reason I see things differently. He has painted in words my own country”.

Lee says that ”Translations” is a collection of his best pieces to date. “Translations” contains some of the earlier pieces such as Dread Season, Prodigal from earlier collections and the newer pieces such as Mango, Gramophone, Translations. Lee considers these his most experimental poems. Translations is written in fourteen live stanzas with the .meter dictated by the speaking breath, creating varying line lengths. Lee is probably most excited about the new autobiographical poems such as Mango.

Why “Translations”?

Translations is the title poem in the collection. In the poem “Ground”, Lee alludes to the biblical notion of translation-the translation of the saints the idea that some christians will not see dates. Lee says that Translations also alludes to the idea of translating creole folk songs and stories to English as demonstrated in “Songs”.

A self-confessed home body. When Lee isn’t working he simply enjoys spending time with his family, going to the beach and perhaps writing poetry. But Lee says plainly that he does see his craft as the ………..As a christian, poet he looks beyond the poem to the psalm!

Source: Hunter J. Francois Library, Morne Fortune, Castries, St. Lucia

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