Derek Walcott’s Dueling Legacies

6ce018c2ec5f2bba60db361745fab9ef0d552b26Ryu Spaeth at The New Republic:

It is telling that, when confronted with the work and the life, Walcott emphasizes the work, Rhys, the life. For Walcott, it sometimes seems as if all of life is what passes “through your pen’s eye,” as he wrote in the poem “Exile”—what is transformed into word and image. The artist is a vessel for life, which would otherwise drain away into the white abyss between words, and for that we revere him. But when I asked a colleague about Walcott last Friday, the day he died, she replied that Walcott was a “literary great” but “a bad person,” as if the two things were of equal weight. More damningly, she meant that they cancelled each other out. When I told my wife about this exchange, she said, “Good. I am tired of revering these men.”

They were both responding to multiple allegations of sexual harassment that erupted into the open in 2009, forcing Walcott to withdraw his candidacy to be the professor of poetry at Oxford. One former student at Harvard had accused Walcott of punishing her with a C grade for her poetry, which he called “formless, rhythmless, and incomplete,” after she refused to sleep with him. Another former student, Nicole Kelby, said he threatened to block the production of her play unless she acquiesced to sex. Kelby filed charges against him, charges that were rejected by both Walcott and Boston University. (One school official defended him by saying, “The way one teaches poets and playwrights and fiction writers is different than the way one teaches mathematics students.”)

more here.