southern sublime

Lucas_1-040617Julian Lucas at the New York Review of Books:

Derek Walcott has spent a lifetime learning how to see the Caribbean. The archipelago’s history is for him a tale of perspectives in parallax: of the eyes that have beheld the islands, and those with which the islands have beheld the world. The story begins with the willful blindness of colonialism, a misapprehension of the people and the natural environment. In his 1992 Nobel lecture, the poet decried “that consoling pity…[in] tinted engravings of Antillean forests, with their proper palm trees, ferns, and waterfalls”—the prelude to an aesthetic indictment charged with moral force: “A century looked at a landscape furious with vegetation in the wrong light and with the wrong eye.”

Across his work Walcott has sought a rectification of vision, a way of contending with those who, inverting the crime of Lot’s wife, sin by refusing to look. The tourist with postcards printed on the insides of his eyelids, the Afrocentrist whose motherland mirage rejects the Creole culture around him, the Naipauline exile who measures his home by the tape of another world—all are heretics in Walcott’s universe, which is governed by values similar to those enumerated in St. Lucia’s motto: “The land, the people, the light.” Another Life (1973), Walcott’s first long poem and the story of his birth as an artist, remembers the exuberance with which the poet and his friend “Gregorias” (the painter Dunstan St. Omer) devoted themselves to the St. Lucian landscape, swearing “that we would never leave the island/until we had put down, in paint, in words/…every neglected, self-pitying inlet.”

more here.