,/ br>Young St. Lucian author and poet Stephen Dantes has been making a splash with his evocative, strongly personal and emotionally textured work. An award winning author in his native country, Stephen has spoken in the past of the importance of his St Lucian heritage to his work. His beautiful island homeland not only provides a setting for much of his work, but it often sets the very tone and atmosphere, the emotional backdrop of his writings. With this in mind we thought the next time you are thinking of taking one of our luxury package holidays to St. Lucia, you might like to consider taking along one of Stephen’s books for the journey!
Committed to bringing you a great range of cultural goings on and the best in local background knowledge for our popular destinations, the Kenwood Travel blog team thought it would be a great idea to share a few words with Stephen on behalf of our readers. Graciously he managed to make time between penning his latest projects to answer a few of our questions. Here is what he had to say:
Poet, performer, author, graphic artist, website designer, teacher, father and am I right in thinking that you are still under 30 years of age? That is a lot to take on, and you’ve achieved a lot in your short career, what is it that gives you the energy to pursue so many avenues? How do you find the time?
Yes you are right. I recently turned 29. And it indeed has been a challenge to take on all these facets of me over the years. My motivation for pursuing has always been intrinsic. My desire to nurture whatever few talents God has given me has been my driving force to be good, if not great, at whatever task that I challenge myself with. Time to do it? There was never really any time. I only capitalized on every extra second that I could. Sometimes, my daughter and her mom had the pleasure of seeing me, but not enjoying my company.
Do you feel that there is one particular creative direction or practice that is your main calling or do you seek to balance your work in various areas? How do you achieve this?
I believe that poetry and prose may be my ultimate calling, hence, my reason for resigning from teaching in 2010, and also my escape when I gave up on the other skills that I possess. Performing poetry is dear to me. There is a feeling that cannot be explained; that feeling when you get a standing ovation for a poem you recited from your heart. It just makes you invincible.
You have spoken about a desire to reach out to the youth, you also have a young daughter, does this fact give you a different perspective, or even urgency, in your desire to speak to the younger generation?
I believe that it was my experience as a teacher that convicted me to reach out to the youth. I know how I want to raise my daughter and I try to instil the values that means much. But I have been around kids who only see the broken side of homes, some see their parents sell drugs for living, others see the domestic violence, and the list goes on and on. Many confided in me, and it was that closeness to them – like a father of hundreds – that has me trying to speak to them in and through my writings.
With the responsibilities of parenthood, this must mean that you have to take your work more seriously in a way, how to you balance the desire to creatively express yourself in whatever direction feels right at the time, with the desire to produce material that will make ends meet for the sake of supporting a family? Poetry is not the most commercial of genres, is this a consideration that enters your head when writing?
When poetry didn’t make the bills, and teaching left a void, web designing picked up the slack. And even after I resigned from teaching in November 2010, bills were paid with the other avenues. My performances have brought in some income, but like you rightly said, poets and painters are considered starving artists. I believe that is what led me to release my first novel. There is by far a wider market and it is more profitable. And the best thing about tackling prose is that I can still incorporate my poetry in there. Notwithstanding, when I write poetry, I take everything into consideration.
You have spoken of your own family background as being very important to your work, is this something that you have consciously drawn upon as a source of inspiration, or do you think that it finds its way into your work regardless?
I can’t separate myself from who I am. My experiences (with family) have shaped and empowered me with my trend of thought. That is what allows me to push forward and create. My family is like school; it prepares and equips you for the world but the direction you take depends on the desires that move you. In the end, school with always be the foundation, whether it is paid or public school, or you being home schooled or self-taught.
How do you find your inspiration elsewhere?
Now that my writing style is different, everything inspires me, natural or man-made. The sun, the moon, the beach, a beer bottle, a book, a tear, a broken heart, my iPhone… everything
The idea that poetry is somehow a distant or refined pursuit that many young people – and indeed not just young people – might shy away from as ‘not for them’ is a common one in the UK, I don’t know what the situation is like in St. Lucia – is this perception of poetry something that is an issue for you? How do you approach it? What is the state of the poetry scene, and writing in general in St. Lucia today?
St. Lucia has two Nobel laureates, and one – Derek Walcott – who is still alive, holds the award for literature and recently won the Pulitzer price. I will say that we have a great number of young people who love and are adopting the poetry art form. And though some are a bit confused with traditional poetry and modern day spoken-word type poetry, they show great interest.
I have come to accept and appreciate both forms and my writing exudes the influence of both eras.
How does St. Lucia as a place feature and impact upon your work?
St. Lucia is home. The island is simply beautiful. My first novel, Is it Love?, was set in St. Lucia. One of my best poems is called Fair Helen (available on my website www.stephendantes.net) and talks about my obsession with St. Lucia. So not only do I get inspired to write in St. Lucia, the most beautiful island in the Caribbean, but I also write about it.
In your opinion what makes a piece of writing a good poem? Indeed what makes a piece of writing a poem at all? And do you subscribe to Baudelaire’s evocation – “always be poetic, even in prose” or is there a clear distinction for you?
A good poem is that one where a reader you have never met in your life says to you after reading it; I love this piece. I guess the answer to what makes a poem lies in the heads of poets who have grown to understand the art form. I am still growing. I’m not too familiar with Baudelaire since he’s French (I think), but yes I do subscribe to that ideology. You will realize that my novel is extremely poetic.
What are your plans for the future, what direction do you see your work progressing?
I can say that within the next year, I will be a millionaire. However, I choose not to because I know that at this point in my life, I am rethinking if I want that million dollars at all or if I just want to remain as a voice for the youth. I have four books in the works for 2012, but I cannot say if and when they will be published. In short, I really don’t know. I will only try my best not to put the pen down.