Walcott, Derek (Alton)

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WALCOTT, Derek (Alton)

Nationality: British. Born: Castries, St. Lucia, West Indies, 23 January 1930. Education: St. Mary's College, Castries, 1941–47; University College of the West Indies, Mona, Jamaica, 1950–54, B.A.1953. Family: Married 1) Fay Moyston in 1954 (divorced 1959), one son; 2) Margaret Ruth Maillard in 1962 (divorced), two daughters; 3) Norline Metivier in 1982 (divorced). Career: Teacher, St. Mary's College, Castries, 1947–50 and 1954, Grenada Boy's Secondary School, St. George's, 1953–54, and Jamaica College, Kingston, 1955; feature writer, Public Opinion, Kingston, 1956–57; feature writer, 1960–62, and drama critic, 1963–68, Trinidad Guardian, Port-of-Spain. Co-founder, St. Lucia Arts Guild, 1950, and Basement Theatre, Port-of-Spain; founding director, Little Carib Theatre Workshop (later Trinidad Theatre Workshop), 1959–76. Assistant professor of creative writing, 1981, and since 1985 visiting professor, Boston University. Visiting professor, Columbia University, New York, 1981, and Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1982,1987. Awards: Rockefeller grant, 1957, 1966, and fellowship, 1958; Arts Advisory Council of Jamaica prize, 1960; Guinness award, 1961; Ingram Merrill Foundation grant, 1962; Borestone Mountain award, 1964, 1977; Royal Society of Literature Heinemann award, 1966, 1983; Cholmondeley award, 1969; Audrey Wood fellowship, 1969; Eugene O'Neill Foundation fellowship, 1969; Gold Hummingbird Medal (Trinidad), 1969; Obie award, for drama, 1971; Jock Campbell award (New Statesman), 1974; Guggenheim award, 1977; American Poetry Review award, 1979; Welsh Arts Council International Writers prize, 1980; MacArthur fellowship, 1981; Los Angeles Times prize, 1986; Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry, 1988; Nobel prize for literature, 1992. D.Litt.: University of the West Indies, Mona, 1973. Fellow, Royal Society of Literature, 1966. O.B.E. (Officer, Order of the British Empire), 1972. Member: Honorary member, American Academy, 1979. Agent: Bridget Aschenberg, International Famous Agency, 1301 Avenue of The Americas, New York, New York 10019, U.S.A. Address: 165 Duke of Edinburgh Avenue, Diego Martin, Trinidad and Tobago.



25 Poems. Port-of-Spain, Guardian Commercial Printery, 1948.

Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos. Bridgetown, Barbados Advocate, 1949.

Poems. Kingston, Jamaica, City Printery, 1951.

In a Green Night: Poems 1948–1960. London, Cape, 1962.

Selected Poems. New York, Farrar Straus, 1964.

The Castaway and Other Poems. London, Cape, 1965.

The Gulf and Other Poems. London, Cape, 1969; as The Gulf, New York, Farrar Straus, 1970.

Another Life. New York, Farrar Straus, and London, Cape, 1973.

Sea Grapes. London, Cape, and New York, Farrar Straus, 1976.

The Star-Apple Kingdom. New York, Farrar Straus, 1979; London, Cape, 1980.

Selected Poetry, edited by Wayne Brown. London, Heinemann, 1981.

The Fortunate Traveller. New York, Farrar Straus, 1981; London, Faber, 1982.

The Caribbean Poetry of Derek Walcott and the Art of Romare Bearden. New York, Limited Editions Club, 1983.

Midsummer. New York, Farrar Straus, and London, Faber, 1984.

Collected Poems 1948–1984. New York, Farrar Straus, and London, Faber, 1986.

The Arkansas Testament. New York, Farrar Straus, 1987; London, Faber, 1988.

Omeros. New York, Farrar Straus, 1989.

Collected Poems. London, Faber, 1990.

Poems 1965–1980. London, Cape, 1992.

Derek Walcott: Selected Poems. Harlow, Longman, 1993.

The Bounty. London, Faber, and New York, Farrar Straus, 1997.


Cry for a Leader (produced St. Lucia, 1950).

Senza Alcun Sospetto (broadcast 1950; as Paolo and Francesca, produced St. Lucia, 1951?).

Henri Christophe: A Chronicle (also director: produced Castries, 1950; London, 1952). Bridgetown, Barbados Advocate, 1950.

Robin and Andrea, published in Bim (Christ Church, Barbados),December 1950.

Three Assassins (produced St. Lucia, 1951?).

The Price of Mercy (produced St. Lucia, 1951?).

Harry Dernier (as Dernier, broadcast 1952; as Harry Dernier, also director: produced Mona, 1952). Bridgetown, Barbados Advocate, 1952.

The Sea at Dauphin (produced Trinidad, 1954; London, 1960; New York, 1978). Mona, University College of the West Indies Extra-Mural Department, 1954; in Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays, 1970.

Crossroads (produced Jamaica, 1954).

The Charlatan (also director: produced Mona, 1954?; revised version, music by Fred Hope and Rupert Dennison, produced Port-of-Spain, 1973; revised version, music by Galt MacDermot, produced Los Angeles, 1974; revised version produced Port-of-Spain, 1977).

The Wine of the Country (also director: produced Mona, 1956).

The Golden Lions (also director: produced Mona, 1956).

Ione: A Play with Music (produced Kingston, 1957). Mona, University College of the West Indies Extra-Mural Department, 1957.

Ti-Jean and His Brothers (produced Castries, 1957; revised version, also director: produced Port-of-Spain, 1958; Hanover, New Hampshire, 1971; also director: produced New York, 1972; London, 1986). Included in Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays,1970.

Drums and Colours (produced Port-of-Spain, 1958). Published inCaribbean Quarterly (Mona), vol. 7, nos. I and 2, 1961.

Malcochon; or, The Six in the Rain (produced Castries, 1959; as Six in the Rain, produced London, 1960; as Malcochon, produced New York, 1969). Included in Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays, 1970.

Jourmard; or, A Comedy till the Last Minute (produced St. Lucia, 1959; New York, 1962).

Batai (carnival show; also director: produced Port-of-Spain, 1965).

Dream on Monkey Mountain (also director: produced Toronto, 1967;Waterford, Connecticut, 1969; New York, 1970). Included in Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays, 1970.

Franklin: A Tale of the Islands (produced Georgetown, Guyana, 1969; revised version, also director: produced Port-of-Spain, 1973)

In a Fine Castle (also director: produced Mona, 1970; Los Angeles, 1972). Excerpt, as Conscience of a Revolutionary, published in Express (Port-of-Spain), 24 October 1971.

Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (includes Ti-Jean and His Brothers, Malcochon, The Sea at Dauphin, and the essay "What the Twilight Says"). New York, Farrar Straus, 1970; London, Cape, 1972.

The Joker of Seville, music by Galt MacDermot, adaptation of the play by Tirso de Molina (produced Port-of-Spain, 1974). With O Babylon!, New York, Farrar Straus, 1978; London, Cape, 1979.

O Babylon!, music by Galt MacDermot (also director: produced Port-of-Spain, 1976; London, 1988). With The Joker of Seville, New York, Farrar Straus, 1978; London, Cape, 1979.

Remembrance (also director: produced St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, 1977; New York, 1979; London, 1980). With Pantomime, New York, Farrar Straus, 1980.

The Snow Queen (television play), excerpt published in People (Portof-Spain), April 1977.

Pantomime (produced Port-of-Spain, 1978; London, 1979; Washington, D.C., 1981; New York, 1986). With Remembrance, New York, Farrar Straus, 1980.

Marie Laveau, music by Galt MacDermot (also director: produced St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, 1979). Excerpts published in Trinidad and Tobago Review (Tunapuna), Christmas 1979.

The Isle Is Full of Noises (produced Hartford, Connecticut, 1982).

Beef, No Chicken (produced New Haven, Connecticut, 1982; London, 1989). Included in Three Plays, 1986.

Three Plays (includes The Last Carnival; Beef, No Chicken; A Branch of the Blue Nile). New York, Farrar Straus, 1986.

The Odyssey: A Stage Version. New York, Farrar Straus, 1993.

The Capeman: A Musical, with Paul Simon (produced New York, 1997). New York, Farrar Straus, 1998.

Radio Plays: Senza Alcun Sospetto, 1950; Dernier, 1952.


The Poet in the Theatre. London, Poetry Book Society, 1990.

The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory: The Nobel Lecture. London, Faber, 1993.

Homage to Robert Frost, with Joseph Brodsky and Seamus Heaney. New York, Farrar Straus, 1996.

What the Twilight Says: Essays. London, Faber, and New York, Farrar Straus, 1998.

Tiepolo's Hound. New York, Farrar Straus, 2000.


Bibliography: Derek Walcott: An Annotated Bibliography of His Works by Irma E. Goldstraw, New York, Garland, 1984.

Critical Studies: Derek Walcott: Memory As Vision by Edward Baugh, London, Longman, 1978; Derek Walcott: Poet of the Islands by Ned Thomas, Cardiff, Welsh Arts Council, 1980; Derek Walcott by Robert D. Hamner, Boston, Twayne, 1981; Derek Walcott by Harold Bloom, New York, Chelsea House, 1988; The Art of Derek Walcott, edited by Stewart Brown, Bridgend, Glamorgan, Seren, 1989; Derek Walcott's Poetry: American Mimicry by Rei Terrada, Boston, Northeastern University Press, 1992; Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott, edited by Robert Hamner, Colorado Springs, Colorado, Three Continents Press, 1993; Derek Walcott and West Indian Drama by Bruce King, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1995; "Derek Walcott and Alejo Carpentier: Nature, History, and the Caribbean Writer" by David Mikics, in Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, edited by Lois Parkinson Zamora and Wendy B. Faris, Durham, North Carolina, Duke University Press, 1995; "Value Judgments on Art and the Question of Macho Attitudes: The Case of Derek Walcott" by Elaine Savory, in Postcolonial Literatures: Achebe, Ngugi, Desai, Walcott, edited by Michael Parker and Roger Starkey, New York, St. Martin's Press, 1995; Caliban Takes Up His Pen: The Epic Poetry of Kamau Brathwaite, Derek Walcott, and Andrew Salkey (dissertation) by Michelle Diane Derose, University of Iowa, 1996; "Derek Walcott's Poetics of Cultural Identity" by Steven P. Sondrup, in Dedalus (Lisbon, Portugal), 6, 1996; "Caliban or Crusoe? Straddling the Paradigms of 'Post'-Colonial Identity: Derek Walcott and Jean Arasanayagam" by Neloufer de Mel, in Nationalism vs. Internationalism: (Inter)National Dimensions of Literatures in English, edited by Wolfgang Zach and Ken L. Goodwin, Tubingen, Germany, Stauffenburg, 1996; Epic of the Dispossessed: Derek Walcott's 'Omeros' by Robert D. Hamner, Columbia, University of Missouri Press, 1997; Derek Walcott issue of South Atlantic Quarterly (Durham, North Carolina), 96(2), spring 1997; "Derek Walcott and the Value of Poetry" by J. Roger Kurtz, in Rendezvous, 31(2), spring 1997; Taking Everything In: Poetic Personal and Poetic Voice in the Poems of Derek Walcott (dissertation) by Anne L. Knee, Ohio State University, 1998; "On the (False) Idea of Exile: Derek Walcott and Grace Nichols" by Aleid Fokkema, in (Un)Writing Empire, edited by Theo D'haen, Amsterdam, Rodopi, 1998; Novelty in Verse: Bakhtin and the Multivocal Epics of Pound, H.D., and Walcott (dissertation) by Mara Noelle Scanlon, University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1998; Beating a Restless Drum: The Poetics of Kamau Brathwaite and Derek Walcott by June Bobb, Trenton, New Jersey, Africa World Press, 1998; Derek Walcott by John Thieme, Manchester, England, Manchester University Press, 1999.

Theatrical Activities: Director: many of his own plays.

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Derek Walcott's main concern has been to understand what he is and how he has been made by his family, his community, his life, and his choice of vocation as a poet. His poetry is often autobiographical, but other central concerns are the existence of evil, especially in the form of political tyranny and racial hatred, and his relationship to time, death, and God. Alongside poems about family, friends, loves, and a generation attempting to be artists are poems concerned with his estrangement—as a brown, English-speaking, Anglicized, Methodist-raised Protestant (with two English grandparents)—from the black, patois-speaking, French Catholic culture of Saint Lucia in the West Indies. For Walcott European art, particularly poetry, is a means to redeem the inarticulate and unformed society into which he was born, creating the self in the process of writing about the problems of being a Caribbean poet. But to become an artist and an English-language poet working in the tradition of European art and poetry, while it is his vocation and overriding purpose in life, by its very nature further distances him from the local community and life he would celebrate. He is also consciously in the tradition of Whitman, Neruda, Saint-John Perse, and others who asked what New World poetry might be. Many of Walcott's early poems attempt to see both sides of his racial heritage. Walcott's volumes after The Castaway note his increasing alienation from the actual society of Saint Lucia while presenting him as part of Caribbean history, whether representative of a group of artists, a generation discovering West Indianness, or the alienated, nonconforming "red" (colored) among blacks and whites. He often later returns to the same story, adding disillusionment, divorces, exile, nostalgia, and a larger body of acquaintances and places, commenting on the continuing injustices of a world in which the powerful enslave and suppress the weak.

Each of Walcott's books of poems has a title suggestive of some inner unity, and they appear to grow one from another. The Gulf includes poems representative of the gulf between North America and the Caribbean, the exile and the native, the poet and the masses, and Walcott's youthful hopes and his middle age. The feeling of being part of a community of Caribbean writers who, having to leave the region in order to survive, became estranged from the lands they write about is forcefully expressed in "Homecoming: Anse La Raye": "but never guessed you'd come / to know there are homecomings without home." Partly a Caribbean "Portrait of the Brown Artist as a Young Man," Another Life mythologizes a generation of artists who discovered the West Indies, opposed the philistines, and through creativity, sex, and love lived fully and memorably. As well as a virtuoso display in its range of verse forms, the poem is a magnificent tribute to an era when three friends of different social backgrounds could share the excitement of discovering themselves and culture. He complains that independence has not improved the position of the common worker or the artist, and he encloses "in this circle of hell" the ministers of culture "who explain to the peasant why he is African."

Walcott's highly complex, incantatory style changed in the mid-1970s, for a time becoming surprisingly taut and angry, with metaphor compressed into what appears to be plain speech. As he wrote in Sea Grapes more directly about local political issues and learned to trust his voice, the language of the verse also was transformed, coming closer to dialect and pidgin. His poems from Sea Grapes onward imply that he was forced from the Caribbean he loves because of his opposition to the black nationalist demand for a folk culture and the militant left's identification with the urban, proletarian masses. He views the former as reactionary, an attempt to create an artificial national culture, and he criticizes black power advocates and Marxists for importing foreign ideologies into the Caribbean and for glorifying illiteracy.

Walcott's writing has always been committed to a liberal humanism. "The Schooner Flight," an extended poem in eleven parts from The Star-Apple Kingdom, projects autobiography onto a story of "a rusty head sailor with sea-green eyes / that they nickname Shabine, the patois for / any red nigger," who travels throughout the Caribbean to escape both local black power politicians and his women. The poem laments the short-lived West Indian Federation (1958–62), with its concept of a Caribbean union that the politicians destroyed to raise themselves to local power. "Forest of Europe" sees analogies between oppression in America, the Caribbean, and Russia. Walcott's claim is that tyranny and oppression are common to human history—as witnessed by slavery, the destruction of American Indians, and the Nazi extermination of European Jewry—and that true poets speak against such regimes. The poets are united in telling the truth about oppression and celebrating the survival of the human spirit. Poets are a brotherhood, learning from one another their craft, their truths, and how to survive. Many poems are addressed to writers and create an international community.

The Fortunate Traveller includes a poetic meditation on differences between "North and South." While the globe cracks "like a begging bowl," the North destroys its surplus grain. Seeing parallels between the diasporas of Jews and blacks, Walcott plays with the notion that he might be part Jew, and he notes that even now in small-town Virginia the cashier avoids a black man's hand. It is an irony of his later work that the "red man" fleeing black dominance should, in the United States, find himself regarded as black. Several poems refer to and imitate American poetry and art as an alien culture, about which Walcott has feelings of ambivalence. In Midsummer, a powerful linked sequence of fifty-four poems in long Virgilian lines, Walcott returns to the tropics and compares his memories to what he has become: "And this is the lot of all wanderers, this is their fate, / that the more they wander, the more the world grows wide"; "You were distressed by your habitat, you shall not find peace / till you and your origins reconcile"; and "The midsummer sea, the hot pitchroad, this grass, these shacks that made me."

The contrasting influences of Caribbean and European culture have in the later poems become two worlds, at times two poetic manners, dictions, and personalities. They are two separate lives expressed formally in the two halves, "Here" and "Elsewhere," of The Arkansas Testament. The poems written in Saint Lucia use a wide variety of language as Walcott muses on his past, how loved landmarks of his nostalgia have changed and how he has failed to be the poet of his "home" and people. Now he is at home nowhere. The poems show Walcott using rhyme, tight form, and a public manner to create a thinking, less lyrical voice concerned with the relationship of politics, religion, and society. Injustice, racism, and imperialism exist as far apart in time and place as the Roman Empire, Hitler's Germany, Russia, and the United States. In Arkansas for a reading, he contrasts the American contribution to democracy to the haunted, historically shaped racial vision of its blacks, in which every white is a probable enemy. How can he be an American poet in a society that still celebrates the Confederate states and in which blacks still suffer such injustice? Oppression and injustice "will never end," for "the original sin is in our seed."

There have always been creative tensions in Walcott's work between the local and the universal, between varieties of English, and between the spoken word and literary form. This was originally expressed in the obvious polarities of race, color, place, culture, and heritage. There has been, however, a vision of the Caribbean as the inheritor of all of the world's major cultures, past and present, which exist side by side rather than in conflict. In this view the Caribbean makes a palette of experiences and models available to the artist considering the history, arts, and people of the region. Epitaph for the Young and the sonnet sequence "Tales of the Islands" (in Selected Poems and In a Green Night) are less imitations than ways of indicating that the classical past was similar to and remains contemporary with the Caribbean, just as Another Life shows the discovery of modern culture by a generation of Saint Lucians as similar to the outburst of modern art in late nineteenth-century Europe. Whereas others have tried to resist or reject what they consider imperialist, colonialist, or alien, Walcott has incorporated into his poetry most of what is available to him, thus enriching rather than limiting what it is to be a Caribbean poet.

Omeros is less an imitation Homeric epic than a long, fragmented modern poem unified by various stories, themes, and images and a self-conscious structure. The method is itself a statement about Caribbean art, history, and culture in which Walcott appears within a mixture of lyricism, autobiography, fiction, story, drama, comment, and satire. The best known internationally of Walcott's works, it is also one of the more difficult, for the focus unexpectedly shifts, the narrator changes, and the stories it tells unpredictably interweave, disappear, and return. It is about Saint Lucia (the Helen of the West Indies), its history, people, and landscape, about black Saint Lucians who have Homeric names and whose lives bear some resemblance to their archetypes, about the Afro-Caribbean dream of Africa, about the English who fought for and settled on the island, about the twilight and passing of the British Empire, about local politics, and about Walcott's own life and the nature of writing. The twelve-syllable rhymed lines move in and out of meter and proselike cadences within three-line stanzas in a variety of complex ways so as to mix the heightening of lyric poetry with the more relaxed tension of narrative. Although its stories span several continents and many periods of time and use a wide variety of kinds of English, Omeros is a further, grander development of Walcott's notion of using European art to give classical status to West Indian subject matter. The work also reflects Walcott's increasing concern with homecoming. Life is seen as an epic, an adventurous journey into the world, and an exile, and as in works such as his play The Odyssey there is a celebration of return, of coming home.

The Bounty celebrates life while lamenting that it ends in death. The bounty includes all gifts from God: the natural world and its creatures; the beauty of Saint Lucia and Trinidad; being a writer, the gift of poetry; even the ship Bounty, which brought breadfruit from the Pacific to the Caribbean. The poems are filled with unexpected analogies, the making of analogies being part of the bounty of all creation, as can be seen by the ant that will eventually help turn the dead into bread. "The Bounty," a sequence of seven poems that form an elegy commemorating the poet's mother, comprises the first part of the volume. The second part, with thirty-seven poems, includes elegies to Joseph Brodsky and other friends who have died. At times Walcott seems in purgatory, with life in Boston being an exile from the paradise of Saint Lucia. With the building of a house in Saint Lucia, he has seemingly concluded his odyssey after years of wandering, but there are also confessions of continuing restlessness and desire.

Walcott's book Tiepolo's Hound consists of a long poem accompanied by twenty-six full-color reproductions of his own paintings. A verse biography of Camille Pissarro, who was born and raised in Saint Thomas but who moved to France to have a career as a painter and who became one of the best known of the impressionists, "Tiepolo's Hound" is also about the relationship of memory to art, the life of the artist, exile, the nature of modern art, and the relationship of Caribbean and other New World arts to Europe and to other cultures. That Pissarro's family were Jews who had fled to France from the Inquisition and then later fled an outburst of French anti-Semitism to settle in Saint Thomas illustrates Walcott's claim that the Caribbean is a mosaic of peoples, arts, and cultures, outcast from their origins, and that the region's cultural heritage includes the French along with the African. Walcott's concern is with the dog in a painting, which for him becomes a symbol of making great art from the ordinary world and which throughout the poem is echoed by and contrasted to actual dogs. Eventually the poet comes across a sick, starving mongrel in the Caribbean that he realizes should be the object of his love rather than the white hound (or muse) of the painting. Like many of Walcott's poems, "Tiepolo's Hound" moves from being a biography of Pissarro to focus on Walcott, concluding with his travels to Spain, Italy, and France and the new friends he has made. Walcott imagines Pissarro as, like himself, someone who discovers that his talents are in an art for which there is little local interest and with which he could not support himself. "Tiepolo's Hound" shows how the past crystallizes into images that become more and more distant from their origins and that take on a life of their own.

—Bruce King

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