Sounding Grounds is poet, screenwriter and actor Vladimir Lucien’s debut collection. Originally from St. Lucia, Lucien has been previously published in various journals including The Caribbean Review of Books, Wasafiri and Small Axe. His work has also been included in the poetry anthology Beyond Sangre Grande (edited by Cyril Dabydeen), and he has worked as a screenwriter on the short documentary Merikins (2013). Lucien’s poetry reflects the fragmented culture left behind by French and English colonisation, delving as it does into issues of identity, faith, politics and ancestry.
A self-reflective and carefully assembled collection, Sounding Grounds is shaped by various tensions that together construct an intricate picture of the poet’s sense of family and culture. These tensions appear in various elements of St Lucian daily life; consider, for example the strained relationship between the Christian faith and Obeah which is portrayed consistently throughout the collection. Such prominent duality in cultural identity, not only in religious matters, but also in the language of the St. Lucian people, is accentuated by the collection’s two-part structure. The first section“Interior”, which consists of thirty-two poems is slightly more focused on familial relationships, while the second section, “Coast”, is made up of fifteen poems in which Lucien deals with broader issues, such as the impact of tourism on his home island.
The majority of the poems in Sounding Ground are written in free verse and Lucien uses the natural rhythms of creole speech skilfully, in combination with an understated yet effective use of internal rhyme to give his work its own special musical quality. This quality is highlighted by his ample use of the French patois of the St. Lucian speech which adds considerable authenticity. To aid the reader, Lucien includes a glossary of dialectal words at the back of his book, and although this addition proves useful, the page numbers listed there are not always correct, a discrepancy that can be momentarily disconcerting.
His use of alliteration, sibilance and assonance is also expertly yet unostentatiously scattered throughout his work to varying effect. A playful example of this can be found in “Reduit Beach” when the sibilance in his lines,
sellin’ seashell chains by the seashell shore,
listenin’ to the loud whispers
recalls the well-known children’s tongue twister.
Although the majority of his poems are not separated into stanzas, Lucien deliberately takes advantage of the physical appearance of his words, often experimenting with his layout. In “A Picture”, he increases the letter spacing in the final word, “‘W h a’ p p e n?’” to add force to the image of a person’s:
[…] nose spread out
on his face […]
More impressive yet is the way in which, with the change in layout at the centre of his poem “The Last Sign of the Cross”, Lucien captures the movement of the gesture associated with the words used in his poem’s shape:
baptized in the name of
of the son
who is seated at the right hand.
Thanks to his rich variety of tone and voice, Lucien maintains his reader’s attention throughout Sounding Grounds, and is able to tackle many significant themes without alienating his readership. As well as communicating a sense of intimacy, his literary portraits of family members work well, linking in to the greater themes of community and ancestry, and successfully portraying both the importance of familial roots and the tension between tradition and modernity. As a debut collection, Sounding Grounds is an insightful and engaging book which demands repeated readings, especially if one wishes to fully appreciate its many nuances and strong imagery.