21 Days/21 Poems: A Poem I Wished I Could Have Written

8          Fight With the Crew

It had one bitch on board, like he had me mark--
that was the cook, some Vincentian arse
with a skin like a gommier tree, red peeling bark,
and wash-out blue eyes; he wouldn’t give me a ease,
like he feel he was white. Had an exercise book,
the same one here, that I was using to write
my poetry, so one day this man snatch it
from my hand, and start throwing it left and right
to the rest of the crew, bawling out, “Catch it,”
and start mincing me like I was some hen
because of the poems. Some case is for fist,
some case is for tholing pin, some is for knife--
this one was for knife. Well, I beg him first,
but he keep reading, “O my children, my wife,”
and playing he crying, to make the crew laugh;
it move like a flying fish, the silver knife
that catch him right in the plump of his calf,
and he fainst so slowly, and he turn more white
than he thought he was. I suppose among men
you need that sort of thing. It ain’t right
but that’s how it is. There wasn’t much pain,
just plenty blood, and Vincie and me best friend,
but none of them go fuck with my poetry again.

An excerpt from "The Schooner Flight" by Derek Walcott. The Star-Apple Kingdom. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979.


I swear, Walcott makes writing verse look so easy. In "The Schooner Flight" Shabine's language ranges from "I blow out the light/ by the dreamless face of Maria Concepcion" to "none of them go fuck with my poetry again" And the poem is a primer on various types of rhyme, which are not forced, but seem credible enough to be spoken by a "red nigger who love the sea"  and who "had a sound colonial education."

The scope of the poem was wide enough to confront contemporary issues (political corruption, racism) by showing their links to the past in the personal experiences of Shabine and stirred in me what Seamus Heaney calls "the envy test." But it was Shabine's love for Maria Concepcion, surely a metonym for poetry, art--all things Caribbeanly wonderful--and his heart-wrenching grief at her loss that made the poem, not merely an aesthetic exercise, but something real and deeply felt.

"The Schooner Flight" is a masterful performance by a poet whose oeuvre shows a deep love for the Caribbean--its language, landscape and light.







Derek Walcott was born in 1930 in the town of Castries in Saint Lucia, one of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles. The experience of growing up on the isolated volcanic island, an ex-British colony, has had a strong influence on Walcott's life and work. Both his grandmothers were said to have been the descendants of slaves. His father, a Bohemian watercolourist, died when Derek and his twin brother, Roderick, were only a few years old. His mother ran the town's Methodist school. After studying at St. Mary's College in his native island and at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Walcott moved in 1953 to Trinidad, where he has worked as theatre and art critic. At the age of 18, he made his debut with 25 Poems, but his breakthrough came with the collection of poems, In a Green Night (1962). In 1959, he founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop which produced many of his early plays.

Walcott has been an assiduous traveller to other countries but has always, not least in his efforts to create an indigenous drama, felt himself deeply-rooted in Caribbean society with its cultural fusion of African, Asiatic and European elements. For many years, he has divided his time between Trinidad, where he has his home as a writer, and Boston University, where he teaches literature and creative writing.

From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1991-1995, Editor Sture Allén, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1997


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