You talk of Nature as “the complete being”. You also say that you write of everything that touches you. This idea of completeness or universalism is something that I feel in your work, but I find it very hard to define outside the context of your poems. Do you think that only art can express the power of nature or God as you see it? How else can it be expressed?
I can understand why you have difficulty in understanding my interpretation of universalism outside the context of my poems and perhaps you would need to know me a little better, like Robert (John Robert Lee) does. I take creativity deep into my other work. I did it in banking, trade negotiations, and when I act or direct a play, which is seldom nowadays.
In your essay on “The Collective Epic”, you suggest that a musical mix of Gregorian chant and Creole prosody can conceal an “unset stage”, which becomes a dough to be kneaded, then undulating hills, and finally a poem waiting to stain the page. As well as being a poet, you write novels, and short stories. You are an artist, a theatre director and actor, and a playwright. I’m interested in how you think these different aesthetic disciplines inform each other. Where are the overlaps, where do you think the differences lie, and what can we make of these differences?
The Gregorian chant and Creole prosody forms the backbone of early Saint Lucian folk music. The slaves heard these chants coming from the church especially on Sundays, and made parodies with lyrics in their creole tongue, accompanied by the drum. I look on all the disciplines you’ve mentioned as parts towards a whole. They do overlap – poems, plays, novels and short stories do spill into each other, but through the rewrite process they are confined to their individual compartments. However, the greatest difficulty has been my painting, photography and poetry. These definitely merge until one sees the poem in the pictures. It is like taking a photograph of my mind. But I am no Renaissance Man and have come to grips with my human foibles. I now concentrate mainly on my writing and have converted the other talents to hobbies. After all, there is a limit to what a 70-year-old frame can take.
What do you think the distinctiveness of Caribbean writing is, not just compared to “English Literature” from Britain, but maybe also compared to writing from Asia or Africa?
One of the most distinctive features of Caribbean writing is its luminescence. Just as the tropic sun dazzles and reflects on everything, counterbalanced by shade and shadow and a night that is alive with the cacophony of insects. We can experience all this in the colour of speech, when our five senses are invoked. We have been assisted by a unique collection of influences: English, French, Spanish, Dutch and Portuguese (European); the Tribes of West Africa and the Guinean coast, Congo and Angola (African); Kalinago, Ciboney (Amerindian); the Indian and Chinese indentured workers (Asian). There is a ‘magic realism’ that seeps into the work as if all the ghosts of these long-since-forgotten ancestors contrive to be present at a rebirth of a new generation in another century. We use the tongues of our former colonizers but we have removed the cold and infused their languages with a warmth that only we as Caribbean people can express.
We have not experienced in our generation the indignities, the human degradation and the suffering that our brothers and sisters in Asia and Africa have had to endure in recent memory and our writings are devoid of the depths of anguish, remorse and even regret. The Grenada Revolution and the Earthquake in Haiti are among the closest examples of loss and suffering that inspire work on the levels of some of the other writers I have read, especially from South Africa, Nigeria and China.
You’ve pointed out the atrocities carried out in recent years. Do you see your art as working to remedy the problems caused by humans’ lust for power and greed? What do you see as the prospects for the future, and what role does art have to play?
Like water, Art must find its level. It cannot be all things to all men. However, it should provide the balance, where men of reason may bask in its shadow and, without resorting to violence, find peaceful means as a balm to soothe a troubled world.