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IKONS: New and Selected Poems – An Author’s Note


IN an Author’s Note to his new collection IKONS: new and selected poems, John Robert Lee writes a rationale to the publication of this book:

This collection of a limited edition of my IKONS: New and Selected poems, celebrates and marks three relatively significant events: my 75th birthday on May 6th 2023, the proposed establishment of a home for Saint Lucian artists of various kinds who have health needs, and the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Msgr Patrick Anthony Folk Research Centre. All funds from sale of these books will go to the homes managed by the family of late founder Augustus Justin. It is proposed that one of these homes will be converted into the home for needy artists.

My first book of poetry, Vocation and other poems was published in 1975 in Saint Lucia by Patricia Charles and the Extra Mural Department of the University of the West Indies which she headed. She would also publish first books by Kendel Hippolyte and Earl Long. The book was printed by Lithographic Press, owned and managed by Gus Justin. The Press was housed in the childhood home of Derek Walcott on Chaussée Road. That home was redesigned and reopened in 2016 as a repository of works and memorabilia of the Walcott family. With that first collection and my association with Gus, I remained interested in the promotion of local publishing, and produced several chapbooks of my own with Lithographic Press and other printers.

With the publication of Mc. Donald Dixon’s Pebbles in 1973, printed at the Government Printery, many writers and printers in the following decades contributed to the development of a modest but real local publishing environment. While Derek Walcott’s seminal 25 poems were first printed in Trinidad and a second printing in Barbados, the $200.00 financial contribution of his mother in 1948 to that printing, can arguably be pointed to as the inspiration for the local publishing that my generation pursued.

From 2008, my poetry has been published by Peepal Tree Press in Leeds, the foremost publisher of Caribbean, Black and Asian British writers today. My latest book with Peepal Tree, published in November 2023, is Belmont Portfolio: poems. Several Saint Lucian writers are published by Peepal under the editorial direction of Jeremy Poynting. Among these are Garth St. Omer (1931-2018), Earl Long, Kendel Hippolyte, Jane King, Adrian Augier, Vladimir Lucien.

At 75, it makes sense that I should celebrate that anniversary with another locally produced collection of poetry. IKONS is published under my imprint Mahanaim Publications with the Msgr. Patrick Anthony Folk Research Centre, with whom I have had a long association as member, editor, education director, librarian.

It also makes logical sense that this locally published book should contribute, in a modest way, to the funding needed to manage the establishment of a Home, now proposed as a hospice for needy Saint Lucian artists. Gus Justin, printer and philanthropist, would see the appropriateness of this and be pleased.

All this has wonderfully coincided in 2023 with the 50th anniversary of the Folk Research Centre. This institution, founded by Paba Anthony and his friends in the early seventies — a time of cultural, social and political ferment in the Caribbean and Saint Lucia, a period when the call was for indigenization of cultural and social forms to replace the colonial artefacts – has become an authentic Saint Lucian mentor to several generations. Many writers like myself and other artists including the painter Dunstan St. Omer, his friend Derek Walcott, musicians of traditional and contemporary styles, teachers and students, foreign researchers and many others, have found in the FRC a unique and invaluable resource for grounding themselves in the real kwéyòl Sent Lisi and all her historical and cultural complexities. I am pleased that this book of poems can be one of the celebratory markers of that significant celebration.

Thanks to Chair of FRC Embert Charles, who writes the introduction to this book. Gratitude also to Rhyesa Joseph the Executive Director and other staff of FRC, sponsors/patrons who have contributed to making this new selection of poems a reality. Thanks to the artists who have given permission for the use of their creative work.

The poems in Ikons are drawn from earlier Peepal Tree publications and new work.

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