The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013

23COLE-master180Teju Cole at The New York Times:

“Writing poetry is an unnatural act,” Elizabeth Bishop once wrote. “It takes skill to make it seem natural.” The thought is kin to the one John Keats expressed in an 1818 letter to his friend John Taylor: “If Poetry comes not as naturally as the Leaves to a tree it had better not come at all.” Bishop and Keats both evoked a double sense of “natural”: that which is concerned with nature, with landscape, flora and fauna, and that which is unforced and fluent. In both senses, Derek Walcott is a natural poet.

Walcott, who turned 84 this year, began writing young. His first poem appeared in a local paper when he was 14, and his first volume, “25 Poems,” was self-published when he was 18. “Everyone wants a prodigy to fail,” Rita Dove wrote. “It makes our mediocrity more bearable.” Walcott did not fail. His early poems were expert, and even though they bore traces of his apprenticeship to the English tradition (in particular W. H. Auden and Dylan Thomas), they were to prove thematically characteristic. Right from the beginning, he was keen to use European poetic form to testify to the Caribbean experience. This commitment made him a part of the boom in 20th-century Caribbean literature, a gathering of talents that included Édouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, Aimé Césaire and Maryse Condé on the French-­speaking side; and Samuel Selvon, George Lamming and C. L. R. James from the English-speaking islands, as well as the Trinidad-born V. S. Naipaul, with whom Walcott was one of the Caribbean’s two Nobel Prize winners for literature.

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