Derek Walcott’s poetry had grandeur, an exuberance of language – Los Angeles Times

I discovered Derek Walcott in graduate school after a professor of Caribbean literature recommended “The Prodigal.” I read it slowly, over the course of several weeks, taking in a section or a stanza at a time. His poetry demanded a certain kind of work from me, and I resented that.

But one afternoon, in order to humorously illustrate how many metaphors he could pack into one line, I read a Walcott poem aloud to a group of friends. Halfway through, I stopped to admit that OK, it sounded good. And later, I had to admit that yes, it was good. That Walcott, a more-than amateur painter and well-regarded theater director, had an exquisite ear for sound and eye for image.

The more I worked on listening and looking at Walcott’s poetry, the more love I found for a poet I once resented. His lack of humility, something I’d originally misinterpreted as arrogance, became a form of resistance. I found his language choices unexpected and the images he presented familiar, but made new through his language.

With his passing, we lose a poet of grandeur. He was not without his controversies, and no one would call him modest (least of all himself). But Walcott brought an intensity of conviction, writing through a post-colonial lens, even as he incorporated 19th and early 20th century classically European style with the aesthetics of the Caribbean.

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