Image by Chris Felver

Derek Walcott

b. 1930


What's poetry, if it's worth its salt, / but a phrase men can pass from hand to mouth? Derek Walcott - from 'Forest of Europe'

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About Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott (b. 1930) was awarded the Nobel prize for Literature in 1992, two years after the publication of his most ambitious and celebrated work to date, Omeros, an epic poem which draws on the Homeric tradition and relocates it in the voices and lives of the people of the Caribbean. His own experience of living in two cultures has been a powerful influence on his work; he grew up on the relatively isolated island of Saint Lucia, moved to Trinidad in his twenties, and now spends much of his time in the USA, where he teaches literature and creative writing at Boston University. This duality has brought a richness to his writing: he has deep roots in his native culture and at the same time takes possession of his rightful place within the English-speaking literary tradition. As Sean O'Brien has said, "Walcott is faithful to his origins while speaking to the world".

Much of Walcott's work reaches out for an unattainable paradise or utopia which finds its physical parallel in the Caribbean of his childhood. Recurring themes of loss, survival and remembrance are present in 'Sea Canes', an attempt to resurrect the dead through memory, which can be strong and lasting enough to possess "the rational radiance of stone". The desire is to keep faith with reality, to reconstruct the past and its people "as they were, / with faults and all". 'Sea Grapes', the title poem of Walcott's 1976 collection, articulates personal pain and melancholy through an engagement with history and myth; the longing for home and the need for adventure are part of an "ancient war" which will be part of the human condition forever. 'Blues' is situated in a very different place: the America of Walcott's exile, a bewildering place where festival celebrations share the streets with a casual, recreational violence.

There is a resonance and musicality to Walcott's voice which embodies both the formal complexity and sophistication of the work and its intimacy. While he is best known for his poetry Walcott is also a prolific writer for the stage and for musical theatre, and perhaps it is these disciplines which bring to his reading a sense of drama and a skilful use of silence.

With over twenty collections spanning four decades, Walcott is a towering and influential presence in contemporary poetry. He is an honorary member of the American Academy and the Institute of Arts and Letters, and was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1988. His collection 'White Egrets' won the 2010 T. S. Eliot Prize.

This recording was made on the 5th June, 2007 at the Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Additional material and useful links

Caribbean Poetry Project

This pioneering collaboration between the Cambridge University Faculty of Education, the Centre for Commonwealth Education and the University of the West Indies aims to help teachers develop their...

http://caribbeanpoetry.educ.cam.ac.uk/

Selected bibliography

White Egrets, Faber and Faber, 2010.

Derek Walcott Reading from his Poems, The Poetry Archive...

Selected Poems, Faber and Faber 2009

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The Prodigal, Faber and Faber 2006

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Tiepolo's Hound, Faber and Faber 2001

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What the Twilight Says: Essays, Faber and Faber 1998

The Bounty, Faber and Faber 1997

Homage to Robert Frost: Essays on Poetry (with Joseph...

The Odyssey: A Stage Version, Faber and Faber 1993

Prizes

1969 Cholmondeley Award

Prize website

1988 Queens Gold Medal for Poetry

1990 Arts Council of Wales International Writers Prize

Prize website

1992 Nobel Prize for Literature

Prize website

T S Eliot Prize 2010

Prize website

Books & cds by Derek Walcott