While it may not ever rival the Pitons or Pigeon Island as a top tourist draw, St. Lucia’s poetry is a rich part of the island’s cultural heritage. Poet John Robert Lee proudly carries on that lauded literary tradition, which first found international acclaim in the works of Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott.
In addition to his own three collections of poetry—the latest, Pierrot, was published in 2020—and contributions to international anthologies and periodicals, Lee has edited several anthologies showcasing the depth and breadth of St. Lucian talent in art, poetry, theater and literature.
“It’s important for me to now help people learn who the other writers are on St. Lucia,” he says.
It’s a mission he has pursued just as avidly in his other roles over the years: as a teacher, librarian, occasional TV interviewer, and the longtime host of the popular radio show Free and Easy Time.
He also was heavily involved in the Msgr. Patrick Anthony Folk Research Center, which is rebuilding after a fire in 2018.
“The focus of the center is to help St. Lucians know their own culture,” he says. The center created Creole Heritage Month, which annually packs the October calendar with celebrations of music, dance, food and other cultural touchstones.
Why do you think poetry is so prominent on St. Lucia? We are a French Creole culture in many ways. I think the mix of English and French has given us a particular something that not only all of our writers and poets have picked up, but it’s in our music, our dances and our language.
What draws you to poetry? It is the literary art that aims at precision. Every word counts in poetry. Poetry offers a way to distill experience, but it also must be correct. So for some of my poems, I do a lot of research. If I’m describing my garden, I want to be correct in naming the flowers.
John Robert Lee’s Top St. Lucia Spots
JN Marie’s (Castries): Great local food in a welcoming atmosphere. Many St. Lucian personalities, politicians, artists and entertainers are regular patrons.
Island Mix (Rodney Bay): A pleasant, quiet spot right on the water. They have good food, a little shop that features local arts and crafts, and sometimes host music and poetry readings.
Jambe de Bois (Pigeon Island): It’s in one of my poems. One of my favorite spots to go for a quiet time and to eat their baguettes.