Kendel Hippolyte’s collection, night vision, wanders through themes of nature, place, history and critiques of human conditions and also of capitalism. He writes in a dramatic style, betraying his background in theatre; his poems creates a vastness and interconnectedness, even when they are so clearly afixed to a certain place and time, and by a written by a poet who is so specifically Caribbean.
Despite night vision being a relatively short collection, Hippolyte truly flexes his literary prowess and linguistic skills. He infuses his poetry with many different forms– monologues, sonnets, free verse, as well as blues and rap. Written in both standard and also in a Caribbean Creole, he revels in his hybrid, code-switching background. As a writer, Hippolyte exploits beautifully the poetic largesse of both forms of language and literature and this collection is an important addition to both literary traditions. In fact, Hippolyte’s interest in the poetic medium and the difficult challenge of using words to say precisely what he needs to say is the subject of many of his poems, for example, in the second half of this collection – in “Afterword”, in “Contra Diction” and in his occupation with the use of “stray” and “wild” in “The Wild Horses of the Ozarks”. These poems show a man who has thought long and hard about language and its usage, and also his own position and his responsibility to it.
night vision also walks a tightrope between the past and its horrors, and the present with its own unique struggles. Hippolyte writes about both with an aching sympathy and a deep-felt understanding that is at once personal but also transcends the personal to encompass his whole community, a community in which he himself is deeply rooted. The physical and geographical place pops up as a character or as a setting in many of the poems. The urban lifestyle and social conditions reflect in one other, whether this is in the device of a second poem of the collection, like “City” where the city and self are interchangeable, or in the imagery of government buildings as oppressive temples for a capitalist deity in “Temples of Gov”.
Finally, as you weave your way through this compilation, you also find that it is a search for the self. In between the pieces that tackle themes of struggle, of history, of language, and the present, there are poems like “42 Chisel Street”, “Mamoyi” and “Sane Blues” which seems to be Hippolyte navigating a self that doesn’t always feel anchored, but one that he wants to anchor. This is further exemplified by his use of a lower-case ‘i’ which stands out throughout his poetry. This self is constructed and explored through the backdrop of ‘place’ and its circumstance as well as its tradition, and is acutely aware of a writerly responsibility to create an authentic portrayal.
I would recommend night vision to anyone, whether you are an avid reader of poetry or not. The collection is fairly short, but the poems do not get stale even after repeated returns. His work is poignant, providing new eyes to see the world, weaving both the old and new, rap and sonnet. Hippolyte’s writing is accessible, whether you know much of the Caribbean background of the work or if you don’t, proving the universal draw of this poet and his absolute mastery with language. This collection is a gem, and this brief foray into his work has me itching to read more.