Kendel Hippolyte is a well-known contributor to the community of arts in Saint Lucia and poetry is the most popular of his talents. Like other Saint Lucians involved in the arts, he has explored other forms and is recognised as a playwright and director. In 2013 Hippolyte won the OCM Bocas prize for Caribbean Literature for his collection “Fault Lines”. He has also received awards locally such as the Saint Lucia Medal of Merit. Derek Walcott has invited Kendel Hippolyte to work with him on a number of projects, which says a lot about the Nobel laureate’s opinion of his colleague.
Hippolyte’s poetry always targets the changing environment of the Caribbean and foreign additions to its culture. Like many Saint Lucians and, by extension, Caribbean writers, Hippolyte uses his words as a mouthpiece for the masses. He utilises puns, a plethora of alliterations, rhyme and swear words to make his poetry deep but enjoyable. Some of his verse is dark but it effectively portrays the message. Most importantly he describes what it’s really like to live in Saint Lucia; using creole words and familiar phrases, especially the curses, he identifies our island.
In this particular collection, “Night Vision”, Hippolyte poses development against culture, technology against interaction and money against humanity. He digs into our past to find memories both pleasant and horrific, as well as mysteries unsolved, and social issues of which we refuse to acknowledge the cause.
Hippolyte begins “Night Vision” with the issue of the government relocating Conway village. It wonderfully describes how the “bureau” built angled structures (the CDC buildings)which did not exactly eradicate poverty but instead removed the depth of character of Conway. This poem, “Not Made with Hands”, is my favourite and I think Hippolyte made a wonderful choice by presenting it as the first in the collection.
In the rest of “Night Vision” he touches on various issues using poems of different lengths and even uses different shapes in their physical layout on the page. Hippolyte addresses Castries becoming populated with shops and restaurants. He describes the coldness that has grown in his people over the years in the name of tourism or financial success.
Popular characters such as “Jack Sprat”, “Little Boy Blue”, “The Piper” and “Tommy Tucker” are recreated by Hippolyte to illustrate the needs of which third world country citizens are sometimes deprived. He even clarifies that Columbus only had one voyage and describes what his hopes and greed may have been like.One poem that latched itself onto me is “The Head of Mary Rackliffe” where Hippolyte personifies the head of a victim who suffered an unfair, violent death. He bleakly carries the reader through the places Mary Rackliffe would have wanted to be and what she would have wanted to say to her beloved who beheaded her. The incident happened in 1989 but it resonates for me of the dead girls whom I have met and known: Christal St. Omer and Chereece Benoit. Imagining their heads in place of Rackliffe’s made me more horrifically aware of Hippolyte’s concept.
“Night Vision” is a myriad of interesting facts, historical incidents and descriptions that only Kendel Hippolyte could have made so effortlessly literary. This collection is a must read for any Saint Lucian, near or far, old or young.
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