Revolutions of generosity will sustain us.
This is true of any community, and feels especially true of artists working across all media: those who trade daily in unknowable risk, who face down familial censure and public scorn, those who are never far from peril or vertigo, but who do the work because they must. In John Robert Lee‘s “Letter after Dionne Brand”, the poet uses the 15th century Spanish “glosa”, a form that begins by quoting a beloved quatrain of another poem. It then builds itself on that basis, incorporating each line of the quatrain as the last line of every new stanza. If it sounds complex, Lee’s use smooths it with love, polishes it with care. Many poems are salutary, seeking the approval of other writers. Few step into such an unabashed, glowing appreciation for their subject’s verse, and inextricably, their fellow poet’s life.
Lee meanders us with a dulcet-toned precision through the creative inroads Brand conjures for him, with her reading: “ossuaries, yes, of failed states and their politricks / babies broken on beaches, Mediterranean / drowned in overladen caravels / our islands’ doomed alleys mocking / my sodden eyelashes and the like —“. We see here how comfortably, with the careful efforts of devotion, the poet settles his lines against Brand’s, not cannibalizing her language nor curtailing it, but seeking — and finding — a companionship in verse.
Make no mistake: this is a poem of overjoy, of incantatory wonderment. It speaks, obviously, to Lee’s generosity, but eclipsing even this, his hewing of form and meaning to meet the glosa’s ebullient, reflective needs. How much we gain, when we openly chant each other up the pew-lines of our affinity, in this way, and in others. How much we multiply our hearts’ reserves, by throwing open the gates.
Read “Letter after Dionne Brand” here.
John Robert Lee’s Collected Poems 1975-2015 was published by Peepal Tree Press in 2017.
This is the twenty-eighth installment of Puncheon and Vetiver, a Caribbean Poetry Codex created to address vacancies of attention, focus and close reading for/of work written by living Caribbean poets, resident in the region and diaspora. During April, which is recognized as ‘National’ Poetry Month, each installment will dialogue with a single Caribbean poem, available to read online. NaPoWriMo encourages the writing of a poem for each day of April. In answering, parallel discourse, Puncheon and Vetiver seeks to honour the verse we Caribbean people make, to herald its visibility, to read our poems, and read them, and say ‘more’.