About Mark McWatt
Mark McWatt was born in Georgetown, Guyana, and attended schools all over the country, including mission schools in interior districts, as his father was a District officer in the colonial government of the time. He studied English at the University of Toronto and at Leeds University, where he completed a PhD in 1975, and went on to accept an appointment as Assistant Lecturer at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies, Barbados, in 1976. He remained at Cave Hill, becoming Professor of West Indian Literature in 1999, also teaching modern fiction, poetry and creative writing. He retired in 2007 and is now Professor Emeritus. In 1986 he founded the Journal of West Indian Literature.
McWatt has published three collections of poetry, Interiors (1989), The Language of Eldorado (1994) and The Journey to Le Repentir (2009), the second and third of which were awarded the Guyana Prize for Literature. His first work of fiction, Suspended Sentences (2005), was the winner of a Commonwealth Writers' Prize in 2006, as well as the Casa de las Américas Prize for best book of Caribbean Literature in English or Creole. He is co-editor (with Stewart Brown) of The Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse (2005).
McWatt has said his poetry was inspired firstly by the Guyana landscape, and it seems no accident that his first poetry collection was titled Interiors – emphasising as it does his work’s central interplay between an emotional or psychological ‘interior,’ with impressionistic descriptions of the Guyanese landscape. McWatt’s nuanced, careful and melodious language builds layered and detailed surroundings for each poem, which seem to at once alter and respond to interior states. This imagistic richness is especially evident in his poem, ‘Beyond Punta Playa’, in which his visual inventiveness becomes almost hallucinatory, with a river’s ‘perception of glass / shattered by anchors from the sun’ and ‘white birds at daybreak / making and unmaking the sea’. At such moments McWatt’s language is able to directly register the effects of the outer upon the inner: ‘the casting of thought in stones’.
The five poems here encompass McWatt’s intuitive and original readings of the natural world, as well as some other concerns, including a vampire of Caribbean folklore (‘Ol’ Higue’), and a playful account of marriage and domesticity (‘A Man in the House’), and form a perfect introduction to his poetry, which is admired far beyond the landscapes it is so deeply connected to.
This recording was in the media centre at the Cave Hill campus of the UWI in Barbados, on 2nd October 2013
Mark McWatt's favourite poetry sayings
“I will fly to thee
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards
But on the viewless wings of poesy…” – Keats
“I am two fools, I know,
For loving and for saying so
In whining poetry” – Donne
“Poetry is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality…” – T.S. Eliot