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Looking at the 2015 Bocas Shortlist: Sounding Ground

By Shivanee Ramlochan, 2015 NGC Bocas Lit Fest Blogger

Published by Peepal Tree Press in 2014.

Published by Peepal Tree Press in 2014.

“Now, you concoct your own geography:
to roads that should have shrivelled
into primitive paths of red dirt,
that should’ve stained your shoes,
led you to the squat satisfaction
of some zinc-roofed hut. 
You should’ve felt the loneliness
of all the night’s windowsills, the fleeting
interest of a small rain — signs and tunnels
that disallow your height.”

-from “Tjenbwa: Devil’s Bridge, Morne Lezard”

Winner of the 2015 OCM Bocas Prize for Poetry, Vladimir Lucien’s first book of poems is a careful succession of exultances. Each of the inquiries this St. Lucian writer enforces on the page have earned their foundations, in a host of keen and sensitive considerations. Multiple layers are at work simultaneously, hearkening to conscious and symbolic acts of autobiography, of magics both fair and foul, of myth-making and map-meandering, and of islands with more in them than can be easily translated. On the subject of translations, Lucien offers no in-text, explanatory soothings to the reader whose ear is unattuned to the cadences and linguistic currencies of his island’s French patois speech. This is vital to the outstanding forays that his poems make: that they do not apologize for their better, bitter, blessed natures, instead lit from within by language that roots and surprises.

Vladimir Lucien reads from Sounding Ground at the book's official launch, during the 2014 NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Photo © Marlon James.

Vladimir Lucien reads from Sounding Ground at the book’s official launch, during the 2014 NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Photo © Marlon James.

In an ARC Magazine interview with Lea Haynes, Lucien expresses creative indebtedness to the richness of his formative years, while simultaneously showing that the active process of poem-crafting signifies a life never shot of formation:

“…I depend so heavily on my childhood in my writing. So many allusions. Like the sight of egrets on the backs of cows that for me is so terrifyingly evocative. Like the shapes and sizes of navels. I still believe in a kind of amateur physiognomy and essences […] The imagination is the rhythm behind how we see.”

Echoes of Lucien’s response resound in the footfalls of wayward adventurers, too late returning home, and in the attentions paid in several poems to the journeys of boys bristling uncomfortably and assuredly into their adulthood. States of play, frequently salted with the menaces of a society that eats its own innocence, war and frolic with states of ruin — and the whole achieves an assiduous unity in Lucien’s skill with linkages. Across so many of these poems, bridges are drawn, connecting St. Lucia to Trinidad, inasmuch as they connect St. Lucia to its own hinterlands of tjenbwa, of the clutching kòkma, of worlds in which “answers dangle over you like fruit, daring you to climb the dark bark of the tree if you want the truth.”

With these and other affirmations, Sounding Ground makes a brilliant mas’, both investigative and nostalgic, poised over forebearers’ tombs of memory, while striking the earth to discover what sacred newness lies beneath.