Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Ja: Caribbean voice

Derek Walcott was giving his first reading in Kingston in several years. He chose to read from his newest work, The Prodigal in keeping with W.H Auden's warning to not "ruin a fine tenor voice with effects that bring down the house," he would later explain to the audience.
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Walcott himself pointed to the ambiguity of the audience response to his reading when he told the audience. "Sometimes I think the real reaction to poetry reading is stunned boredom." Walcott was speaking in the question and answer segment which followed his reading.
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When questioned about what 'concerns' now creep into his writing he noted, "I think my biggest concern is how irritating I find myself to be."
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Several of those who questioned him were themselves poets and so many of the questions surrounded the craft. Walcott explained that he believed it important to indulge in different genres of writing. "If you write verse only, all the time," he said, "you turn into a terrible person, because nobody will be able to ask you a simple question."

When the questions ran dry, Walcott was again requested to read for a third time. "I'll do what I said I wouldn't do and go for effects that bring down the house," he said relenting to the request. This time around he read from 'The Schooner Flight'.

In his introduction Professor Edward Baugh, the night's master of ceremony explained that Walcott was not merely one of the great Caribbean poets but one of the world's great poets. When Walcott read from 'The Schooner Flight' he showed why he was not merely one of the world's best poets but one of the Caribbean's. His words captured the essence of the Caribbean identity. "I'm just a red nigger who love the sea, / I had a sound colonial education, /I have Dutch, nigger and English in me, / and either I'm nobody, or I'm a nation."

This time around, the standing ovation left no room for quibbling. Walcott had brought the house down.

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