July 1, 2009

Introduction to Derek Walcott @ CABA: Carole Boyce Davies

Carole BCarole Boyce Daviesoyce Davies was born in Trinidad. She was recruited to build the African-New World Studies Program at FIU, she served as its director for three successful three-year appointments, which moved the program to international recognition. Boyce-Davies has degrees from the University of Maryland (BA, 1972); Howard University (M.A., 1974) and (University of Ibadan, Nigeria (Ph.D., 1978). In September 2008, she will join the staff at Cornell University. Dr. Davies is Director of Florida Africana Studies Consortium (FLASC).


Derek Walcott began his Nobel presentation, “The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory,” in Felicity a village in Trinidad on the edge of the Caroni plain. In it he paints a picture of the Epic dramatization of Ramleela, the epic dramatization of the Hindu epic the Ramayana, in a landscape on which was superimposed Indian festival culture : “a field strung with different-coloured flags,” and set against “Low blue mountains on the horizon, bright grass, clouds that would gather colour before the light went.”

Here he plays well with “Felicity” with all its resonances and with all its history in Anglo Saxon coloniality, but not without engagement with its African and Indian Diaspora memory, actors, mythologies. He sees the landscape as peopled by a series of actors, acting out a variety of fragments of various epics but above all re-creation and the joy in this process that marks the Caribbean. This is what Walcott celebrates.

Thus for him, “Visual surprise is natural in the Caribbean; it comes with the landscape, and faced with its beauty, the sigh of History dissolves.” Like Zora Neale Hurston, he feels: “We make too much of that long groan which underlines the past.” Thus Felicity becomes his metaphor of a new Caribbean creation. Derek Walcott revels in this new creation. For him, “It is such a love that reassembles our African and Asiatic fragments,” “...This gathering of broken pieces is the care and pain of the Antilles, and if the pieces are disparate, ill-fitting, they contain more pain than their original sculpture, those icons and sacred vessels taken for granted in their ancestral places. Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories, our shards of vocabulary, our archipelago becoming a synonym for pieces broken off from the original continent.”

Our Caribbean Nobelist then is absolutely at home in the Caribbean, able to navigate a Trinidad with ease, as a St. Lucia. He sees in that epic recognition of the “sea as history” the meaning of the Caribbean but also its ongoing new histories

But he is well aware of the pain of these new creations as “Sadly, to sell itself, the Caribbean encourages the delights of mindlessness, of brilliant vacuity, as a place to flee not only winter but that seriousness that comes only out of culture with four seasons. So how can there be a people there, in the true sense of the word?” Still, the Caribbean is a place as created by all its active minds from CLR James to Selvon, St. Jean Perse of Guadeloupe and Cesaire of Martinique and Jean Rhys of Dominica.

He offers a powerful line: “Caribbean genius is condemned to contradict itself.”

Still the poet is lucky to have this opportunity to celebrate and mark a culture in the making. ”There is a force of exultation, a celebration of luck, when a writer finds himself a witness to the early morning of a culture that is defining itself, branch by branch, leaf by leaf, in that self-defining dawn, which is why, especially at the edge of the sea, it is good to make a ritual of the sunrise.”

So, “The sea sighs with the drowned from the Middle Passage, the butchery of its aborigines, Carib and Aruac and Taino, bleeds in the scarlet of the immortelle, and even the actions of surf on sand cannot erase the African memory, or the lances of cane as a green prison where indentured Asians, the ancestors of Felicity, are still serving time.”

In the present though we still remain caught between the constructed world of the "tourist brochures” where “ the Caribbean is a blue pool into which the republic dangles the extended foot of Florida as inflated rubber islands bob and drinks with umbrellas float towards her on a raft. This is how the islands from the shame of necessity sell themselves”

And a classic and quotable line: “All of the Antilles, every island, is an effort of memory”


Derek Walcott was born in 1930 in the town of Castries in Saint Lucia. 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 traveler to other countries but has always felt himself deeply-rooted in Caribbean society with its cultural fusion of African, Asiatic and European elements.

Yes, Derek Walcott is our Caribbean Nobelist. Winning the Nobel Prize in 1992, and becoming the first Caribbean writer framed in what some of us call “the discourse of the prize” in which we have to fold our identities into their determination of what constitutes enough for the prize.

So let me read some of what it takes to win the Nobel Prize for literature for those of you who think it easy or who are aspiring for the same (available and culled from the official Nobel laureate website).

25 Poems. – Port-of-Spain : Guardian Commercial Printery, 1948

Epitaph for the Young. Xll Cantos. – Bridgetown : Barbados Advocate, 1949

Poems. – Kingston, Jamaica : City Printery, 1951

In a Green Night. Poems 1948–60. – London : Cape, 1962

Selected Poems. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1964

The Castaway and Other Poems. – London : Cape, 1965

The Gulf and Other Poems. – London : Cape, 1969

Another Life. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux ; London : Cape, 1973

Sea Grapes. – London : Cape ; New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1976

The Star-Apple Kingdom. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979

Selected Poetry. Ed. by Wayne Brown. – London : Heinemann, 1981

The Fortunate Traveller. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1981

The Caribbean Poetry of Derek Walcott, and the Art of Romare Bearden. – New York : Limited Editions Club, 1983

Midsummer. – New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1984

Collected Poems 1948-1984. New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1986

The Arkansas Testament. – New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1987

Omeros. – New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990

The Bounty. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1997

Tiepolo's Hound. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2000

The Prodigal. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2004

Selected Poems / edited by Edward Baugh. – New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007


Harry Dernier. – Bridgetown : Barbados Advocate, 1952

Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1970

The Joker of Seville & O Babylon!. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1978

Remembrance & Pantomime : Two Plays. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1980

Three Plays. – New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986

The Odyssey : a Stage Version. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1993

The Haitian Trilogy. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2002. Content : Henri Christophe ; The Haitian earth ; Drums and colours

Walker and The Ghost Dance. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2002


The Antilles : Fragments of Epic Memory : the Nobel lecture. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1993

What the Twilight Says : Essays. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1998


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