Darkbright Songs

Kendel Hippolyte, Fault Lines (London: Peepal Tree, 2012); 78 pages; ISBN: 9781845231941 (paperback).

• February 2014

Fault Lines, published by Peepal Tree Press in 2012, is the sixth collection of poetry written by the accomplished St. Lucian poet, dramatist, and director Kendel Hippolyte. Hippolyte has long dedicated his writing to the changing spaces, places, and faces of the Caribbean, and Fault Lines is no exception. This collection is an electrically charged mix of powerful words in which Hippolyte brings to the fore the themes of progress and the impact of the tourist industry on small islands (particularly St. Lucia). In addition, he places emphasis on the writer’s role as an advocator of change, a force that can triumph over adversity, and actively engage readers in critical social issues.

These aforementioned themes are immediately thrust into the spotlight and are evident very early in Hippolyte’s collection. Take “The Village,” for example, in which the poet-persona declares in the opening stanza, “The village that the minivan was travelling to was vanishing / as we drove. Somewhere in ourselves we knew that. / It might have even been the reason finally for the driver speeding” (11). Hippolyte’s poetry nearly always has this sense of immediacy, drawing the reader into the present scenario with those first few lines, grabbing our attention, saying, “Listen up!” In “Village,” Hippolyte cleverly combines the external (the view of the diminishing village) with the internal (the knowing, the human sense of impending loss). And we as readers feel that overbearing emotion, the anxiety and angst that comes with the feeling of the inevitable, which in this case is the destruction of a local village because of so-called progress. Hippolyte drums the point in even more by bombarding the senses with key signifiers. Roadwork is combined with heat and dust to create a dirty mix, a pathway to progress. What is more, all that is natural is suffocated or blotted out:

 

The dust! It was phantasmagorical how it could suddenly blot
bits of the landscape out, trees wavering briefly and receding
into a grey haze of vehicles-men-vegetation merged in an undistinguishing
slow-motion flurry. (11)

Progress, then, is destructive. Vehicles, men, and the surrounding vegetation are all lumped together; the sense of the human self is lost and landscape loses its power and identity altogether. Hippolyte uses this tightly structured poem to voice his concerns about the future of small island spaces like St. Lucia and this misguided obsession with progress in the form of development.

Similar concerns dominate Fault Lines. Indeed, the collection is representative of Hippolyte’s role as a writer that fully engages with the Caribbean as a changing space, under threat and vulnerable. Just a little later on in the volume, for example, Hippolyte addresses the theme of tourism. Naturally, this subject has become of increasing concern to the writer, especially given the rise in visitors to St. Lucia and the developments (hotels, shopping centers, port infrastructure, etc.) that have emerged as a result of this. In “Paradise,” Hippolyte gives us an insight into tourism by specifically focusing on the cruise industry. St. Lucia is one of the stops on Caribbean cruise routes; gigantic ships anchor at Port Castries, dominating the seascape, and streams of tourists flood down towards the market like lines of ants, usually for just a few short hours before departing again. In Hippolyte’s poetic account, the tourists do not even leave the cruise ship; instead, they stand and watch from “behind the super-duper plexi-glass windows of the upper deck” on a ship named Paradise. Rather tellingly, the tourists’ view of the island is distorted by the ship’s windows, which flash “like mirrors in the Caribbean light.” Perhaps even more important, the hills and houses are dwarfed in the reflection of the visitors’ “super-duper” sunglasses. This view is not a true representation of the island; this is not the real St. Lucia.  The poet’s reiteration of the term “super-duper,” which describes both the ship’s windows and the tourists’ sunglasses, reinforces this sense of the unreal. Here everything is super-duper; even the cruise ship is called Paradise. But there is a serious undertone to this poem. Hippolyte is somewhat resigned when he declares, “Every time the tourist ship name Paradise come dock in the harbour / you does realize we never going to make it.” At the end of the poem, the ship slides off again, “puffing smoke and flashing winking mirrors. / Paradise—going elsewhere, / gone” (13).  Hippolyte uses short stunted lines to connote the briefness of the cruise ship’s visit to the island, and readers are left with a sense of its imminent return.

Moving beyond the issues of progress and development, Hippolyte’s Fault Lines also engages with the poet’s own role and the ability to use words to advocate change. Writing about language and poetry is something that Hippolyte has done before in preceding collections. See, for example, “lately, the words” in the poet’s self-published 1986 collection Bearings, in which the poet-persona declares, “I am afraid these words may poison you.” In “Water-Woman-Poem,” the writer questions his own poetry writing, stating, “Whether this is a poem about love / or poetry or landscape, i do not know.” In Night Vision, Hippolyte declares, “The words themselves—they vanish, stones into a pond. / It is their ripplings after which disquiet the surface and are seen.”1 In Fault Lines, Hippolyte’s descriptions about language and writing are perhaps some of the hardest hitting. In “Writing,” the writer “slits his wrist” and “the ink drips out.” But customary to Hippolyte’s writing, there is an important message at work here, as indicated by the closing lines:

 

Something
beyond the marks the ink makes on the sheet
will stain deeper than black on white
will stay, will say, will write
himself indelible into meaning. (56)

In “Bird,” Hippolyte hits the reader with a poem about the hunter and the hunted:

 

A poem has left its traces
in a thicket of a wild dark region of the mind,
the tip of a branch quivering still
from where the poem, alighting a moment, lifted away
suddenly, hearing a poet poaching (50).

The poet hunts out the poem in the dark crevices of the mind and the poem listens silently. Hippolyte gives power to the poem itself; poetry has a mind of its own. Toward the end of the poem, we are left with a rather beautiful image of the bird that sings: “the bird / will somehow print its cries on air, will sing / its darkbright songs towards you from parted leaves” (50). Like the poet in “Bird,” Hippolyte isn’t afraid to creep through the dark forest, foraging through the mind, seeking out and illuminating the pathways, singing darkbright songs, highlighting the issues that are so very relevant to the contemporary Caribbean.

 

Leanne Haynes is the editorial manager for Arc Magazine (www.arcthemagazine.com). She has a PhD from the University of Essex, which was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. Her forthcoming book, which focuses on St. Lucia’s rich literary history, has been accepted for publication by Peter Lang Publishers.  

 

 


Kendel Hippolyte, “lately, the words,” in Bearings (self published, 1986), 33; “Water-Woman-Poem,” in Birthright (London: Peepal Tree, 1997), 90; “Afterword,” in Night Vision (Evanston, IL: TriQuarterly Books, 2005), 49.