Friday, 23 January 2015

Poet of the Periphery

In his review of Derek Walcott's new selected, David Mason takes the measure of a literary giant:
Walcott found it a blessing to have come from the cultural periphery, not from the imperial center. Not only was he given access to astonish­ing natural beauty, an island of abrupt green hills in a colorfully teeming sea, but several empires surrounded him in language, educat­ing him not only in classrooms but also in the streets, where English and French dialects were being remade. He told Hirsch, “I have felt from my boyhood that I had one function and that was somehow to articulate, not my own experience, but what I saw around me.” Of West Indian literature he said, “what we were deprived of was also our privilege. There was great joy in making a world that so far, up to then, had been undefined.”
Walcott fulfilled that "function" to an unprecedented degree:
Walcott’s facility proves that nobody owns poetry. It can come from anywhere, including tiny islands bereft of substantial museums or monuments. With his mixed African and European blood, his schooling in “the mighty line of Marlowe” and the pidgin of the streets, his painter’s eye for color and detail, his social conscience and theatricality, Walcott has been able to bring a fresh Renaissance complexity to Caribbean literature. My own anthology of his best poems would be shorter than this, but so what? The occasion is not one for niggling, but for noticing what is most substantial and rewarding in the work—what is likely to remain when the fame has withered away.

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