Saturday, April 30, 2011

Derek Walcott's White Egrets

Finally, completed Walcott’s, White Egrets. Last year it was difficult to get past the first few poems where the egrets were overburdened as metaphors. I couldn’t get past these poems last year and almost didn’t this time. The persona is often in Italy, visiting Leopardi’s home; in love and out; in Spain; in Amsterdam; in his studio painting; in the warmth of a familiar island; in a nursing home meeting a love of a more youthful time he felt would never grow old, both now in wheelchairs facing each other and the ravages of old age on their bodies; in New York overlooking the Hudson, "No words/for the Artic liner moving down the Hudson, for the mange/ of old snow moulting from roofs. No poems. No birds"--beautful lines; And there are, of course, the egrets, overburdened as metaphors, and "the bleached regrets/ of an old man's memoirs..." There is a cluster of fine poems (21, 22, 23, and 24 and 39). There appears to be some “influence” from Leopardi in 30 and from Tagore in 38. One love poem to Roberta (who crops up in quite a few poems) in his Italian poems was lovely, but on the whole this was a very disappointing collection. There was a preponderance of literary/writing metaphors and figures of speech that would be fine read as individual poems in journals etc., but together in a collection, too many, too much—as though he had run out of lived/life experiences for metaphors. There were also many lines that could have been edited (but how does one edit Walcott!), lines which an earlier Walcott would not have published: “the boring suffering of love that tires” or “…which death will be taking/from my hand on this chequered tablecloth in this good place.” It was difficult to believe that Walcott would write such lines, especially this last line, at this stage of his life.

It was good to see that he did not include the mongoose poem on Naipaul, which he read in Jamaica in 2008—it was a terrible piece that bordered on racism. And yet he could not resist a poem on Naipaul, “Here’s what that bastard calls ‘the emptiness’” he begins another very poor piece on Naipaul and another very bad lapse. For those who think that Walcott is never bitter, biting, and vicious, this piece on Naipaul and his 2008 mongoose piece show otherwise. It is unfortunate that he and Naipaul should still nurse this bitterness—but poets and writers thrive on this, and, perhaps, I am no different. My forthcoming collection, Lantana Strangling Ixora has three poems which examines this feud, examines “Nightfall on Walcock” and the racial/political conundrum of the Caribbean that has spawned this. While an editorial in the Stabroek News (Georgetown, Guyana) did call his 2008 “poem” on Naipaul, “uncharacteristically bad” I have yet to find an Afro-Caribbean critic, writer or academic who has taken Walcott to task for his continuing attacks on Naipaul. In another poem he writes, in an apparent reference to Naipaul, of departed friends he cherishes more than "the most overprized fiction." This adjusted may well be an apt description for much of the poetry in White Egrets. There is, also, overprized poetry.

Ultimately, a good poet stimulates another—granted, poor poetry does, too—and Walcott in this collection did this to me. But, perhaps, the few fine poems (such as 21, 22, 23, 24 and 39) balances all else in any collection.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Canadian Literature Review of In a Boston Night

Emily Wall reviews In a Boston Night in the currrent issue of Canadian Literature, Autumn 2010. "Persaud's poems are delicious on the tongue...he's one of those rare poets who gets the recipe of humanness exactly right"