Associate 2000-01

Laurence J Lieberman


Professor Lieberman joined the UIUC faculty in 1968. He has been editor of the Illinois Poetry Series since its inception in 1971. He is also an advisory editor to "The Caribbean Writer" magazine. He plans to write a book-length sequence of poems exploring the work of Caribbean fold artists and crafts-people. His project will focus on a wide diversity of genres: painting, sculpture, tapestries, mask-crafts, and rare forms of music-making and dance, ranging from the more prominent cultures of Trinidad and the Dominican Republic to low– profile islands like Cariaccou and Montserrat. His involvement with the people of the Caribbean began in 1964, when he joined the first faculty of the College of the Virgin Islands in St. Thomas, helping to inaugurate the university in its formative years. He spent four years at that post, prior to his move to Urbana. His earliest efforts to write poems about Caribbean artists date back to 1980. Following his meeting with Derek Walcott in New York City early that year, he visited Walcott’s home island of St. Lucia and spent some weeks in the company of Dunstan St. Omer, the island’s leading artist and church muralist. He devoted a series of poems to St. Omer’s work, which provided his book, The Mural of Wakeful Sleep (Macmillan, 1985) with its central vision. The title sequence for that book was awarded American Poetry Review’s Jerome Shestack Award. He also visited the Dominican Republic in the early eighties, which generated the title sequence of his book, Eros at the World Kite Pageant (Macmillan, 1983); his first poems exploring the folk arts of the Hispanic Caribbean. His recently published book, The Regatta in the Skies: Selected Long Poems (Georgia, 1999), leads off with a series of new pieces dealing with artists and their works. His forays into the arts genre have led to poems of increasing complexity and ambitiousness of scale, such as “Cactus Bride: The Rain Birth of Onima”, examining the life and work of Winfred Dania, the deaf painter of Bonaire, who has completed a magnificent series of 33 canvases illustrating the chief historic myths of his culture. “Cactus Bride” addresses itself to just one of Dania’s major canvases, and he plans to write a sequence of poems elucidating many of his other works. In the course of nearly twenty years of Caribbean travels, he has collected voluminous source materials on folk arts, and his closely detailed observations should provide a solid basis for the poems he now proposes to write.