Derek Walcott passes on
Another Caribbean great is called to the Great Beyond and again there was no fanfare.
"And what can we recall of a dead slave or two
Except that when we punctuate our island tale
They swing like sighs across the brutal
Sentences, and anger pauses
Till they pass away". This, above, was Dennis Scott in the poem titled simply "Epitaph", a poem that many CSEC students would be all too familiar with. This poet epitomizes what happens to, not just the slaves of that era, but the new slavery and mentality of those same slave descendants one would at least pause to acknowledge or pay homage to. But no, Sir Derek Walcott passed and only a one-minute mention on DBS regional news…
"And what can we tell of a dead slave or two…"
Derek Walcott, a St Lucian, died at the age of 87 at his home in Gros Islet. He was arguably the greatest literary mind and poet of the Caribbean and the world. The whole world acknowledged, sent tributes when he was summoned by a Greater Power on March 17th 2017 and in Dominica as in many parts of our region 'silence screamed'.
No one paid tribute, no minister, no one from academia or a cultural activist had anything to say about a man who received the 1990 Nobel Prize for Literature and at the pinnacle of his career he received scores of accolades in the USA , London, at numerous book and literary festivals and organizations worldwide.
Sir Walcott best work, at least most of his critics have agreed, lies in the verses of the epic piece OMEROS – a total of seven books consisting of 64 chapters in which the region, and of course his own St Lucian home, comes alive through the language, and imagery captured in formalized classical poetry, (the Queen's English) and even creole, the myths and beliefs of ordinary characters such as fishermen.
This is an extraordinary piece of work published in 1990 which propelled him as one of the greatest poets of our time and a Nobel laurate.
Thankfully I had the rare opportunity of being taught, albeit for a few hours, in a workshop setting sometime in the mid 90's at the University of Miami. Jeno Jacob and Gerald Latouché of Dominica who also received a creative writing fellowship to that University that year would fondly remember the wealth of knowledge gain through the tutorship of Professor Mervin Morris and guest lecturer Derek Walcott.
Like everyone else Sir Walcott was human and had his failings from a legal standpoint and I could tell you he is one who expressed in no uncertain terms his disgust for anything which was not classic. So performance poetry, or those which feature certain musical and rhythmic structures, he was quite dismissive and I dear say , quite blunt in his scathing remarks some years ago when he came to Dominica as the esteemed personality for the Literary and Book Festival piloted by another great Caribbean son, Alwin Bully.
Nonetheless, we must acknowledge and revere people; we educators and teachers of English A and English B, we owe it to our students- we should no allow Walcott's death to pass without one utterance or reflection in the classroom or otherwise.
How dare we study and read 'A lesson for this Sunday', 'le loupgarou', " A letter from Brooklyn', 'St Lucia's first communion' Phenomenal Woman, Still I Rise, The Road Not Taken, If You Forget Me, ... and the inexhaustible list just goes on.
Even Oprah Winfrey touted as the richest woman in America and one of the most illustrious in the world, took time off to reminisce an even recited " Love after Love" on one of her shows and revealed that this poem hung on her mantel piece and she wake up every morning to the inscribed words of Sir Derek Walcott. Love after Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
May his soul rest in peace.
DEREK WALCOTT 1930-20017.