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'poetically the most rewarding'

Written by Laurence Breiner for Journal of West Indian Literature on Friday, November 2, 2018

Some poems are hilarious, some are sexy, some make you hungry, but Lee’s is poetically the most rewarding I know in the consistently understated style at which he excels. Lee thinks about memory and other distances, about the emotions that well up in us when we observe those close to us at a little physical distance, going about their business and not particularly conscious of our presence.

[...]

What his poetry captures and dignifies is the aura that gathers around individual objects, moments, people. He is a religious poet, but his religiosity is not of propositions restated or illustrated, but of events witnessed and held in regard. It is a sacramental vision – the recognition of something sacred in the individual objects that call our attention in turn sanctifies us.

[...]

This collection communicates beautifully how, as a poet, John Robert Lee has always seemed possessed of a remarkably characteristic gaze, at once distant and immediate. It is the gaze of a man who often sits on a verandah overlooking a familiar valley. Relaxed, he takes in the wisps of smoke, the figure climbing a trail into the hills, the inflections of passing weather, shouted greetings, the noises of men working, the suppressed giggling of unseen streams, like children trying not to give away their hiding places in a game. He looks out over a span of miles, but it is all his, it is all who he is.

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This is a review of Collected Poems 1975-2015

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