Long tables, open bottles, and smoke: Hanging out with Derek Walcott by Sven Birkerts
This article has been published on the Literary Hub website. It begins:
I learned a good deal about poets and poetry from Joseph Brodsky, whose classes I audited in the 1970s in Ann Arbor and whose opinion on most anything I took as holy writ in those days. Joseph was a great one for naming and ranking poets, and much of our conversation consisted of him delivering his various verdicts. “Miroslav Holub is terrific, ya?” Or “Yevtushenko, he’s just shit.” So-and-so was in fact a good poet, “too bad he had to get a Bly-job.” I was all ears, and tuned in closely whenever a new name appeared on his list. “Derek Walcott,” he said one day, “Caribbean poet—look him out [sic].” And I, ever dutiful, did just that, picking up Sea Grapes and Another Life. I remember liking both, and I also remember pushing myself to like them still more so I could be adequate to Brodsky’s esteem. I certainly felt Walcott’s power and freshness, and got that this was poetry with a unique rhythmic surge. But at that point I hadn’t fully connected with it. Some time later, after I moved to Cambridge, I thought I might try to get closer by writing about the man. I decided to set Walcott’s work and worldview against that of his fellow Caribbean writer V.S. Naipaul. The two had been friends in their youth but had since taken radically divergent paths, Naipaul dismissing his roots, Walcott putting his at the core of his poems and plays. I had heard there was friction.