Walcott in New York

Caryl Phillips at the NYRB:

Portrait of author Derek Walcott, 1978. (Photo by Anthony Barboza/Getty Images)

Early Caribbean poetry often paid homage to English landscape. While staring at Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, or gazing upon a river in the lush tropical heartland of Dominica, one might evoke the Lake District or the lazy meandering of the River Avon. Walcott wanted to do things differently and move beyond mere imitation. His task was fundamental: he would have to first name, and then describe, the uniqueness of the flora and fauna of the Caribbean. Furthermore, in the atmosphere of rising nationalism that was blowing through the region, he would have to be careful not to allow his awareness of social and racial injustice to disrupt his vision and cause his work to be sullied by either anger or ideology. The youthful Walcott knew he had much to learn, but he was determined to stay focused on what he later referred to, in the poem “A Letter from Brooklyn,” as “my sacred duty to the word.”

more here.