Derek Alton Walcott was born on January 23, 1930, in Castries, St Lucia. His intricately metaphorical poetry captured the physical beauty of the Caribbean, the harsh legacy of colonialism and the complexities of living and writing in two cultural worlds. The beloved Nobel laureate died Friday at his home near Gros Islet on the island of his birth.
There was nothing shy about his poetic voice – publishing his first poem at the age of 14. In all its sensuous immediacy and historical complexity, it demanded to be heard. Walcott quickly won recognition as one of the finest poets writing in English and as an enormously ambitious artist – ambitious for himself, his art and his people.
“In him, West Indian culture has found its great poet.”
Mr. Walcott went on to publish more than 20 volumes of poetry and almost as many plays, many of which were produced in the United States and throughout the Caribbean, often with the author as director. He founded a repertory company, the Little Carib Theatre Workshop, which in the late 1960s became the Trinidad Theatre Workshop. The lyric strain in Walcott’s poetry never disappeared, but he increasingly took on complex narrative projects and expanded his vision of the Caribbean to accommodate an epic treatment of the themes that had always engaged him. His deeply influential life included a quarter century career of teaching at Boston University and later in England.
Here is a bit about the impact of his poetry, his presence and his passion on fellow Caribbean artists:
From Ruddy Roye, a Jamaican street photographer whose work often focuses on t he “raw and gritty lives,” of the forgotten — especially those of home:
In his poetry, Walcott was able to unlock feelings of shame that we felt about being descendants of slaves. His writings were able to inspire the best in many, especially his fellow artists who reached for the spaces to sculpt our own personalities. Caribbean people enjoy feeling like they are from the Caribbean. And Walcott’s poetry made us feel like we belonged — that we were not shaped by the hands of our colonizers but architects of our own stories. The culture that Derek Walcott helped to foster in the Caribbean (one of pride, rooted in the voices of our ancestors) is something that continues to inform my photography. I look at how black images have been defined in the past and hope that my work continues to redefine how we, the “other” here and around the globe, see black folks.
From Patrick Sylvain, a Haitian-American poet, essayist and instructor of Haitian Language and Culture at Brown University, who also writes about landscape:
His piercing gaze reminded me of my grandfather. Despite the controversies that often surrounded him, I knew him as a beautiful, kind, reservedly funny soul, and also as someone who cared deeply about the Caribbean. Derek Walcott has encouraged me to embrace my hybridized, trans-national Caribbean self and to understand that aesthetic has no geographical boundary.
From Ishion Hutchinson, a Jamaican poet and essayist, who also examines the Caribbean’s colonial history:
Every single one of my encounters with him all mean something deeply personal to me. Each average moment was magical and I feel talking about it reduces what I cherish and cannot voice about his presence. Derek’s works proves and sustains what Hemingway calls “grace under pressure,” which I take to mean a duty to poetry, a faith in its craft without compromise in spite of failure or success. I am in awe of that devotion.