Victor D. Questel established himself as one of the finest new Caribbean poets in the 1970s with three collections, all published in his native Trinidad: Score (1972) published jointly with his friend Anson Gonzalez, Near Mourning Ground (1979) and his posthumous Hard Stares (1982). Sadly, Victor Questel died too young at 33 in 1982 – and who knows how his writing would have further developed. What is evident is that his poetry developed rapidly in the ten years between first and last publications, and that he left many fine poems that continue to speak to the present. The poems in this collection move from the orality and bitter punning of Prelude (his section of Score) that deal with the fall-out from the Black Power revolution of 1970; to his sceptical investigations of faith, particularly the family resonances of Spiritual Baptist ritual in Near Mourning Ground, and the severe and stoical poems of Hard Stares that look at himself, domesticity and political corruption. Questel, as Gordon Rohlehr’s exceptional tribute and close reading of the poems shows, was an unsparing observer of his own and his region’s failings. His world is frequently a dark one, but the poems are intense with life and bracingly free from sentimentality or self-pity. His scepticism centred most rigorously on himself as a poet, and drove him to the continuing refinement of the language and forms of his verse.
Gordon Rohlehr was Questel’s tutor at the University of the West Indies (St Augustine), mentor and friend. His afterword is a record of the man, the development of the poetry and the times. But it is so much more. For the non-Trinidadian reader, or reader of a later generation, Rohlehr provides a rich account of an era in Trinidad when hope and despair were inseparable. Questel’s poetry speaks for itself, but the afterword has much to say about the why of the poems. It is also a piece of writing that stands in its own right as a moving record of an intellectual relationship in which, though Rohlehr never speaks about himself, he reveals so much about the subtleties and richness of his own mind and his own scrupulous weighing of the balance between hope and despair.