More than almost any other contemporary poet, Derek Walcott might seem to be fulfilling T. S. Eliot’s program for poetry. He has distinguished himself in all of what Eliot described as the “three voices of poetry”: the lyric, the narrative or epic, and the dramatic. Since at least his 1984 book “Midsummer,” Walcott has been publishing what might be described as concatenated lyrics, individual poems numbered consecutively and intended to form a conceptual whole. His long 1990 poem “Omeros” would be called canonical were that word not so problematic these days. And, like Eliot, Walcott is also a playwright. Through his long connection with the Trinidad Theater Workshop, he has amassed an impressive body of dramatic works, both in prose and in that tricky form called verse drama. But the kinship with Eliot, for Walcott, extends beyond genre. In his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919), Eliot opined that “the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates.” Walcott has deliberately avoided the confessional path pioneered by his early friend and supporter Robert Lowell, choosing instead a post-Romantic voice, closely allied with landscape, in which the particulars of a life are incidental to a larger poetic vision, one in which the self is not the overt subject.
more from Karl Kirchwey at the NYT here.