Art & Culture

My connection with poet Derek Walcott

Abhay K
Abhay KMar 22, 2017 | 20:39

My connection with poet Derek Walcott

I don't know how I gathered the courage to ask Derek Walcott to contribute his poems on Castries, capital of St. Lucia, and Port of Spain, capital of Trinidad and Tobago to CAPITALS, a poetry anthology on the capital cities of the world I had started editing in 2014.

I remember clearly, it was Irish poet Gabriel Rosenstock who had brought my attention to Derek's poem "Night in the Gardens of Port of Spain" in March 2014.

I fell in love with the poem instantly and wanted to include it in CAPITALS.

I started looking for ways to contact Derek Walcott.

No one I knew seemed to have his contact details. It took me a month and a half to get contacts of his daughter Anna Walcott.

I wrote to Anna for help and patiently waited for her to reply. Anna gave me the contacts of Derek Walcott and Sigrid Nama, his partner, in October 2014.

I wrote to Derek immediately seeking his permission.

I even called him on his landline number in Castries on October 3, 2014 and Derek himself answered!

I could not believe it. I did not have the words.

Somehow, I managed to introduce myself: I told Derek I was an Indian poet and diplomat posted in Nepal and needed his poem on Port of Spain for the anthology I was editing on the capital cities across the world.

Derek said he would send me the permission over email. He mentioned that he liked Indian food cooked by Nepalese chefs in Castries, which he and Sigrid frequented.

I felt on top of the world after talking to the poet. He was gentle, he was kind; his partner Sigrid was very sweet.

After our conversation, I waited for Derek's email for months. I kept reminding Sigrid. Finally, in April 2015, I got the much-awaited permission from Derek to include two of his poems in the anthology, Night in the Gardens of Port of Spain and A City's Death by Fire about Castries.

Sigrid requested that I send them a copy of the anthology after its publication. I had shared the mailing address with the publisher and his contributor's copy of CAPITALS was on the way when I heard the sad news of his passing.

The last two lines from his poem "Nights in the Gardens of Port of Spain" says it all about the brevity of life on earth:

"As daylight breaks the coolie turns his tumbrilof hacked, beheaded coconuts towards home."

Here, "coolie" could possibly be a metaphor for death and "coconuts" for human beings.

However, poets like Derek Walcott never leave us as their words keep illuminating our lives.

His poems have become a part of the poetic conscience of humanity. His words are celebrated across political boundaries.

Derek, in an interview to The Paris Review in 1985, said: "The English language is nobody's special property. It is the property of the imagination: it is the property of the language itself. I have never felt inhibited in trying to write as well as the greatest English poets."

He liberated all of us who are not from the United Kingdom and have chosen to write in English for one reason or the other.

We are often subjected to this question in interviews, in conversations with strangers: "So why do you write in English?"

I think he has answered this question for all of us once and for all and nobody could have answered it better.

Out of blue, in July 2016, I received an email from a Zurich-based communicator working on the images of communication in Derek Walcott's poetry, requesting me to write a foreword.

She also shared the reason for choosing me for doing the honour - I combined writing and painting.

I was, of course, flattered. Her original research impressed me and I learned a great deal about Derek's poetry.

I could not write a detailed foreword owing to my preoccupation with official work and prior literary commitments.

Nevertheless, I did appreciate her efforts in a blurb for the book.

Derek had a great mother, a school teacher who raised him as a single parent after his father had died when the poet was one.

She accepted him as a poet, which must have been hard for her, and helped him publish his poetry collection.

For Derek, it must have been the greatest honour, greater than his Nobel Prize for literature, I believe.

Derek rose to be a mighty poet in all sense, the lines of his poems roaring like lions.

Derek had his shortcomings, but then even gods have them.

Personality clashes happen and he had his share of them. But these will be forgotten with the passage of time.

What will shine are his poetry and the power of his words to move generations to come.

Watch: Poet Munawaar Rana talks 'Urdu shayari'

Last updated: March 22, 2017 | 20:39
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