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'a collection to be savored'

Written by Richard Price for New West Indian Guide on Friday, September 18, 2020

Pierrot (Leeds: Peepal Tree Press 2019, paper £9.99) is the ninth collection by the much-anthologized St. Lucian poet, journalist, and librarian John Robert Lees. As we wrote in “Bookshelf 2017” (about his Collected Poems 1975-2015), his work displays “Walcottian cadences, mature, stately, controlled.” Pierrot, the carnival figure, emerges as “clown prince, celebratory idiot,” critic of “mamaguy kaiso politricks,” and “beloved masquerader … signature of death’s humanity.” There are evocations of Lucian places—Pigeon Island, Balata, Becune Point—, homages to friends, artists, and poets (the passing of his friend Derek Walcott is accompanied by “the mourning bassoon of wood doves”), and he often decries the changes he witnesses (“This town [Castries] posing as a city for tourist boats / taller than Morne Pavée”). But with irony and humor he also tries, as in his poem on the possibility of a politically united St. Martin/Sint Maarten, to “bridge the points between archived nostalgia and relentless vague desire” or, with reference to police brutality in the USA and race prejudice in general, emits plaintive cries for justice: “Who made me a stranger in my world? / Who determined I was a minority?” Reflecting on reaching the age of 70, the loss of so many friends, and the state of the world, he ends by writing starkly “I wish I could say … that everything go be okay.” This is a collection to be savored.

This is a review of Pierrot

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