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.