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Nobel Prize winning poet and dramatist from the West Indies, Derek Alton Walcott (born 1930) used a synthesis of Caribbean dialects and English to explore the richness and conflicts of the complex cultural heritage of his homeland. (1974) employs interludes of dance, along with a contemporary score by Galt Mc Dermott, to recount events in a small Rastafarian community during the 1966 visit of Haile Selassie. The son of a civil servant and a teacher, he was of mixed African, Dutch, and English heritage. Walcott observed: "My society loves rhetoric, performance, panache, melodrama, carnival, dressing up, playing roles. ." In his dramatic works, this vivacious island culture, with its historical roots and its political subtexts, takes precedence.
Walcott was married to dancer Norline Metivier and had three children by previous marriages. Walcott received a five-year "genius" grant from the John D. Sometimes the two idioms jostle uncomfortably; yet upon occasion they combine with stunning effect to form a brilliant synthesis.
A Rockefeller fellowship brought him to the United States in 1957; he studied under the American stage director Jose Quintero, returned to the islands in 1959 to found the Trinidad Theatre Workshop. Lucia, Grenada, and Jamaica and at many American universities: Boston, Columbia, Harvard, Rutgers, and Yale. Naipaul, he kept a home in Trinidad and was a familiar and revered figure in his homeland. Central to both Walcott's drama and his poetry is an exhilarating tension between two disparate cultural traditions, the Caribbean and the European.
This poetry is, indeed, extraordinary—complex, powerful, almost Elizabethan in its delight in form, its flamboyant eloquence and lush imagery.
From the beginning—his first poem was published in a local newspaper when he was 14—Walcott sought inspiration among great poets of the English language; Shakespeare, Marvell, Auden, Eliot, Lowell.
Nevertheless, Caribbean rhythms, themes, and idioms inevitably find their way into the verse—through vivid dialect personae like Shabine, the sailor in (1979), often regarded as the poet's alter-ego; in the perennially anguished voice of a "divided child," "schizophrenic, wrenched by two styles," that lurks beneath the cosmopolitan surface.
Walcott's range as a poet was remarkably varied and generous.
That is the basis of the Antillean experience, this shipwreck of fragments, these echoes, these shards of a huge tribal vocabulary, these partially remembered customs, and they are not decayed but strong. Trollope's "non-people." A downtown babel of shop signs and streets, mongrelized, polyglot, a ferment without a history, like heaven.
They survived the Middle Passage and the Fatel Rozack, the ship that carried the first indentured Indians from the port of Madras to the cane fields of Felicity, that carried the chained Cromwellian convict and the Sephardic Jew, the Chinese grocer and the Lebanese merchant selling cloth samples on his bicycle. Because that is what such a city is, in the New World, a writer's heaven.
This poignant, accomplished volume shows the poet working at the height of his powers.
Walcott's other popular poems include "A Far Cry from Africa" (1962), "Codicil" (1965), "Sainte Lucie" (1976), "The Schooner Flight" (1979), and "North and South" (1981).