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About this poet

Kendel Hippolyte was born in Castries, St. Lucia, in 1952. In the 1970s he studied and lived in Jamaica, receiving a BA from the University of the West Indies in 1976.

Hippolyte is the author of several books of poetry, including Fault Lines (Peepal Tree Press, 2012), Night Vision (Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2005), and Birthright (Peepal Tree Press, 1997). Of his work, Kwame Dawes writes, “One gets the sense of a writer working in a laboratory patiently, waiting for the right image to come, and then placing it there only when it comes.”

Hippolyte, who is also a playwright and a director, is known for writing in Standard English, the varieties of Caribbean English, and in Kewyol, his nation language. He is the editor of Confluence: Nine St. Lucian Poets (The Source, 1988) and the author of several plays, including The Drum-Maker in 1976 and Triptych in 2000. With his wife, the poet Jane King, he founded the Lighthouse Theatre Company in St. Lucia in 1984.

In 2000, Hippolyte received the St. Lucia Medal of Merit for his service in the arts. He is also the recipient of the Bridget Jones Travel Award and Minvielle & Chastanet Fine Arts Awards in both literature and directing, among other honors and awards.

Hippolyte taught theater arts and literature at Sir Arthur Lewis Community College from 1992 to 2007. He lives in St. Lucia.


Selected Bibliography

Fault Lines (Peepal Tree Press, 2012)
Night Vision (Triquarterly Books/Northwestern University Press, 2005)
Birthright (Peepal Tree Press, 1997)
The Labyrinth (The Source, 1993)
Island in the Sun – Side Two (V.W.I. Extra Mural Department, 1980)

Value

            (from Home Economics—for Wendell Berry)

In those days all shops were called Ma This or Mister That.
One shop my mother used to send me to was called Ma Branch.
i’d go, playing with my shadow all the way,
trying to outrun it on the Methodist church wall,
dodging it away from other feet—or suddenly stopping it,
chanting my list meanwhile so i would not forget:
1/2 lb. saltfish, 1/4 bottle oil, 4p. keg butter, 1 blue soap, 2 cough drops
over and over till i reached the shop.

Of the two ladies selling, i liked the tall, dark, gleaming one
whose face i later recognised in Benin sculpture.
She would set the things down one by one:
gold, blue, lemon, dark-white speckled shapes, smells, rustlings of paper
until i had a heap of pirate’s treasure on the wooden counter.
Then she would slip the pencil from her hair,
tear off a piece of shop paper, make a rope ladder of figures
and i would watch the pencil climb, drop, climb, drop.

Ma Branch didn’t sell; she sat down, buxom and comfortable as a barrel
amidst a larger treasure heap of bags and boxes, packages, cans,
not missing a thing, collecting money, talking with customers.
Some women came with notebooks and no money — regulars:
“Ma Branch, on Friday when the man get pay....”
and sometimes a child, whose mother couldn’t write,
would speak up, too loudly: “Ma Branch, my mother say...”

Ma Branch had a miraculous set of balances in her head
in which she weighed each separate request
unhurriedly. No one ever took her for granted. Yet
i never saw her do otherwise eventually
than bob her head, to one side, to a shop lady
then nod, once, the other side, to an expectant customer.
By some commonly held scale of values, now so strange,
she gave all of them credit.
Fascinated, i’d hand over my money, wait for change
then race back past the church wall, followed by my shadow.

Years afterward, when seeking the darker shadow brought me home,
i heard that she had died.
There is a super-market on that spot now — it’s larger, well-arranged.
But it can’t fill the space she occupied.

From Birthright. Copyright © 1997 by Kendel Hippolyte. Used with the permission of Peepal Tree Press.

From Birthright. Copyright © 1997 by Kendel Hippolyte. Used with the permission of Peepal Tree Press.

Kendel Hippolyte

Kendel Hippolyte

Kendel Hippolyte was born in Castries, St. Lucia, in 1952. He is the author of several books of poetry, including Fault Lines (Peepal Tree Press, 2012).

by this poet

poem

If you really see the Caribbean archipelago, you will see yourself,
the vivid scattered islands stirring to awakening in a sea of reverie and nightmare,
the goldening light lifting green foliage out of darkness into its illumination

poem

Towards the end he got the d.t.’s. He would see
a smiling girl in a white first communion dress
waving at him. He’d smile back, point her out to me
and i stopped arguing because she, more than i, could bless
even a little, those last days when my presence
only made heavier a weight of guilt

poem

(for my son, Daniel)

The child is sleeping,
folded in among the brown boughs of my arms,
and a promise, formed beyond language, drawn upward
like sap through a pith, stirs through me.
In its slow course, i feel a vow so deep
it does not reach the flower and fade of word