American Literature of the Sea and Great Lakes

LIEBERMAN, LAURENCE [JAMES] (1935- ). Four years at the College of the Virgin Islands in the 1960s were critical years for poet Laurence Lieberman, for it was then that he discovered the Caribbean.* Since those formative years, from his home in the Midwest, Lieberman has systematically traveled to nearly every Caribbean island for extended periods, and he is now widely known for his unique narrative poetry recounting those numerous travel adventures. In all his poems, Lieberman epitomizes the stateside traveler in the Caribbean, a sort of exuberant “everytourist,” and his poetry is filled with emphatic italics and exclamatory statements.

The Unblinding (1968), his first collection, includes poems written when Lieberman lived in St. Thomas and explored the underwater world. In “The Transvestite” he writes of his desire to transform himself into a sea creature to connect more intimately to the water. In “The Drowning,” he likens the sea to a lover. The numerous fish a snorkeler in the Caribbean might encounter are described in colorful detail in “The Coral Reef.” “Hands and the Fisherman’s Wife” is a moving love poem written from the point of view of the fisherman’s wife as she awaits her husband’s return. In other poems he writes of the mystery of porcupine puffer fish and tarpon.

In The Osprey Suicides (1973), the poet continues his underwater adventures. “Lobsters in the Brain Coral” is a tense record of his pursuit of a twenty-pound “langouste” with a sling spear. He imagines he is part of a dance as the water controls his movements in “The Diving Ballet.”

Eros at the World Kite Pageant: Poems 1979-1982 (1983) contains poems about the Caribbean and also about the poet’s trip to Japan, including “Ago Bay: The Regatta in the Skies.” Here Lieberman appreciates clouds shaped as sailboats in a picturesque cove in Japan. This volume, however, marks a change for Lieberman; henceforth, he focuses more on the individuals and incidents of his Caribbean travels and less on landscape or seascape. In the many volumes of poetry that have followed—his most recent being a collection named for the previously mentioned poem, The Regatta in the Skies: Selected Long Poems (2000)—Lieberman describes his activities at festivals, monuments, and intriguing points of interest on nearly all the Caribbean islands. [See also SEA IMAGERY IN MODERN AND CONTEMPORARY POETRY]

Erika J. Waters