According to his recent obituary in The New York Times*, Derek Walcott told the Paris Review in 1985, “I grew up in a place in which if you learned poetry, you shouted it out. Boys would scream it out and perform it and do it and flourish it. If you wanted to approximate that thunder or that power of speech, it couldn’t be done by a little modest voice in which you muttered something to someone else.”
The place he grew up, Castries, Saint Lucia, in the West Indies, frequently served as Walcott’s muse throughout his prolific body of work. According to his biography on ProQuest’s Literature Online (LION) database, he described St. Lucia to the New Yorker as '”a very green, misty island, which always has a low cloud hanging over the mountaintops', so that 'when you come down by plane, you break through the mist, and it's as if you were entering some kind of prehistoric Eden'.”
“The strong visual element in Walcott's poetry was fostered in part by his boyhood practice of painting landscapes of a countryside where 'the thick green hills boiled all day with their broad-leaved, volcanic vegetation',” the LION biography continues, “However, as he pointed out to James Atlas in an interview for the New York Times Magazine in 1982, he does not think that he has ever adequately 'conveyed the elation' he felt 'over the bounty, the beauty of being in a place like St Lucia'.
Abundant resources exist to enable researchers to explore many of Walcott’s works inspired by his elation over such bounty and beauty in the ways the poet intended for them to be consumed – screamed out, performed and flourished.
Researchers using ProQuest’s Literature Online database are treated to an exquisite treasure in hearing Walcott read some of his best-known poems out loud.
Walcott’s voice is dramatic and musical, and just wizened enough that when he says “The ancient war/ between obsession and responsibility/will never finish…” from his 1976 poem “Sea Grapes,” you know he knows what he is talking about. Spoken by the poet, the words are imbued with an urgent intimacy that isn’t as immediate when they appear as text on paper (or a screen).
“Sea Grapes” is counted by critic David Mason as one of Walcott’s best short poems, in his article “The Fame of Derek Walcott” (available in full text on the LION database). This work resumes a theme that runs throughout many of Walcott’s other poems, as the poet “wonders whether he has been a good husband and father, finding exile in divorce as much as geography,” Mason points out, “But here [in this particular poem] the private life is made universal through Homeric myth.”
In his review, Mason also laments a subtle change in the poem’s first line, resulting in a new version that “sounds less impressive but might be truer.”
By providing audio versions of this and other works, the LION creates a dynamic, comprehensive research experience for literature scholars, inspiring deepened insights into the poet, his work, and analysis of his work, all in one place.
For researchers seeking Walcott’s biographical information, related scholarly articles and literary criticism, as well full-text versions of his poetry, prose and plays, LION, is an all-inclusive database with an award-winning platform that ensures simplified discovery of relevant information.
The patois of his native St. Lucia is also a trademark of Walcott’s work and this colorful Caribbean creole is brightest in his dramatic works, such as Beef, No Chicken. A review of the two-act play in the New York Amsterdam News (October 25, 1986; available from ProQuest Black Historical Newspapers), said Walcott “has the gift of language usage. The ability to illuminate, indeed drag out, kicking and screaming into the sunlight, the most ridiculous, intense and amusing menagerie of characters.”
“It should be noted,” the article continued, “that Trinidadians have a whimsical quality, and are fond of language as opposed to the more stoic musical groups of the Black diaspora ...It behooves the general audience and non-Caribbean Black audiences to avail themselves of this intelligent, sensitive and amusing aspect of our total culture.”
The LION database offers researchers one way to avail themselves of this aspect with a full text version of Beef, No Chicken, supplemented with relevant critical articles. Additionally, literature, drama and anthropology scholars can also benefit by watching clips of a recorded performance of Walcott’s play in Alexander Street’s Caribbean Studies in Video collection.
This collection also includes video recorded performances of some of Walcott’s other well-known short dramatic works, including Last Carnival and Marie Laveaux.
Just six years after lauding his play, on October 17, 1992, New York Amsterdam News reported – along with newspapers all around the world – that Walcott was the recipient of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature.
“In its official statement the Swedish Academy of Letters in Stockholm described Walcott’s literary achievements as being ‘a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment,’” according to the publication.
The Caribbean Studies in Video collection from Alexander Street includes a number of interviews with Walcott, including a three-part video recording of his press interview upon winning the Nobel Prize. This conference illuminates Walcott’s commitment to Trinidadian arts and culture, and the wit and warmth of his personality.
When asked if he thought it was pejorative to be classified as an “island poet,” he responded “Sure, yeah, I am island poet. But so was Shakespeare.”
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Explore the oral and visual history of the culture, society, and identity of the Caribbean people, by the Caribbean people, with Caribbean Studies in Video: The Banyan Archive. This collection features more than 1,100 hours of music, dance, interviews, cultural programming, and more that has been housed in the Banyan Archives in Trinidad & Tobago for over forty years.
*Available from ProQuest Newspapers.
Grimes, W. (2017, Mar 18). Derek walcott, lyrical voice and nobel laureate of the caribbean, dies. New York Times.