After Many Years, A New but Nastier Round of V. S. Naipaul vs. Derek Walcott

20080602feud Daniel Trilling reports on Derek Walcott’s salvos against V. S. Naipaul, in The New Statesman:

The setting of the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica was idyllic, the content less so. On the second day, the Nobel Prize-winning Caribbean poet Derek Walcott premiered a stinging attack in verse on his contemporary (and fellow Nobel laureate), the Trinidadian-born novelist V S Naipaul.

“I’m going to be nasty,” announced Walcott at the end of an enthusiastically received reading session, and proceeded to read “The Mongoose”, a long, vituperative poem which opened with the couplet: “I have been bitten. I must avoid infection/Or else I’ll be as dead as Naipaul’s fiction.”

The poem launches a savagely humorous demolition of Naipaul’s later novels Half a Life and Magic Seeds: “The plots are forced, the prose sedate and silly/The anti-hero is a prick named Willie.” Further on, Walcott expresses disbelief that this latter-day Naipaul can be the same author as the one who wrote the masterpiece A House for Mr Biswas.

The motivation for this attack seems to be a mix of the personal and the political. Walcott criticises newspaper editors for indulging Naipaul’s controversial public persona.

Here is an extract from Walcott’s poem, “The Mongoose”:

So the old mongoose, still making good money
Is a burnt out comic, predictable, unfunny
The joy of supplements, his minstrel act
Delighting editors endorsing facts
Over fiction, tearing colleagues and betters
To pieces in the name of English letters
The feathers fly, the snow comes drifting down
The mongoose keeps its class act as a clown
It can do cartwheels of exaggeration
Mostly it snivels, proud of being Asian
Of being attached to nothing, race or nation
It would be just as if a corpse took pride in its decay