A Summing Up
Derek Walcott is more than a ‘poet of exile . . . of place.’
Jun 28, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 39 • By PETER LOPATIN
In the 12-poem sequence “In Italy,” the Ligurian coast is the occasion for this meditation on memory and absolution:
In a 2002 interview with Glyn Maxwell, Walcott made these remarks about the state of contemporary poetry:
In contrast to what seems to me to be the perversely willful obscurity of much of contemporary poetry—rendered all too often in language so sparsely minimalist as to suggest that the authors are allergic to words—Walcott revels in the expressive possibilities that English offers the astute poet, and in the language’s capacity for both rich metaphorical expression and historical and artistic allusion. Although he is acutely aware of British colonial history and its attendant dislocations and injustices—a legacy often thematized in his poetry—Walcott has no inclination whatever to throw off the poetic conventions of the colonizers’ language. Rather, he wisely appropriates those conventions to his own uses, freely plundering the metaphorical and prosodic resources that the English language offers, all to the great benefit of his readers.
I share Walcott’s concern over the future of poetry, but it is evident that his own gifts as a poet have not withered but grown. And if—as the white egrets teach—“the perpetual ideal is astonishment,” then the sense of astonishment that pervades White Egrets offers lovers of fine poetry reason for hope.
Peter Lopatin teaches at the University of Connecticut at Stamford.
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