Vladimir Lucien understands, unflinchingly, the truth of which the late American artist Robert Henri spoke: learning to look for the spirit line that runs through everything. Poetry — that mysterious, precise art of word- and world-shaping — maintains at least one ghostly foot in realms that are decidedly non-concrete. Lucien’s work dedicates itself to mining this elusive, ethereal terrain.
Born in 1988 in St Lucia, Lucien encountered his first artistic resonances on the stage, not the page, starring in several theatrical productions at St Mary’s College, his secondary school in Castries. In the third year of his undergraduate degree, reading literature and theatre arts at the St Augustine campus of the University of the West Indies in Trinidad, Lucien was galvanised by the work of Kamau Brathwaite, the Barbadian poet. Brathwaite, Lucien reflects, signalled “what it meant to be a culturally engaged poet,” someone whose work inhabited creative social space while simultaneously claiming the role of the independent, thinking artist. This was the kind of word-work that interested Lucien, and it interests him still. His poems — which have been published in journals like tongues of the ocean and BIM, and the anthology Beyond Sangre Grande, edited by Cyril Dabydeen — are deftly, gracefully composed: there is poise in the phrasing. Lucien’s sage diction and innovative visual cues prompt us to consider our landscapes and loved ones through new, grateful eyes.
Asked about his influences, Lucien readily provides a list as motley as it is venerable, ranging from W.H. Auden to Derek Walcott to Linton Kwesi Johnson. As a poet straddling two Caribbean islands, Lucien speaks fervently of his socio-spiritual grounding in St Lucia. He is no less enthusiastic when he describes Trinidad as the place where he began composing verse seriously, where his poetic maturity is taking root. Still based in Trinidad, he is at work on completing both a first collection of poems for publication and a master’s degree in cultural studies.
“There’s a way with West Indian historiography”, Lucien muses. “It can have you going exclusively into your past for heroes, and for victims.” This acutely promising young poet is concerned with interrogating Caribbean stock figures, probing even the oldest, most fiercely held stereotypes, chipping at granite to see what new verses flourish and endure beneath this introspection.
Learn to bear the beams of love — William Blake
We never knew the cousins whose death
my mother came to announce, the cousins
she said that asked for us all the time who
couldn’t pronounce our “educated” names:
Gladeemeh, Pahblo, Enkooma
We just knew that mummy liked to look
for relatives, to find blood where there was
only water. Deep inside Monchy, where they came from,
was only mango trees and bush that whispered
like city children when country bookies
got up in school to talk prupper Ingleesh.
Monchy, where my mother grew up, where she would
be put on a table, with her golden skin like a
trophy reading English and Education in that
cousin-&-cousin-make-dozen world of close blood.
She would return from those funerals in dark clothes alone
and shaken with a leaflet dropping delicately from her hand,
shrugging off another relative for us as she took off her bra,
shedding her breasts, loosening her heart until the next
cousin came, through her, to our house like a guest
wiping irretrievable earth from their feet.
— Vladimir Lucien