Nobody's Nation Reading Derek Walcott
by Paul Breslin
University of Chicago Press, 2001
Cloth: 978-0-226-07426-9 | Paper: 978-0-226-07427-6 | Electronic: 978-0-226-07428-3
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074283.001.0001
ABOUT THIS BOOKAUTHOR BIOGRAPHYTABLE OF CONTENTS

ABOUT THIS BOOK

Nobody's Nation offers an illuminating look at the St. Lucian, Nobel-Prize-winning writer, Derek Walcott, and grounds his work firmly in the context of West Indian history. Paul Breslin argues that Walcott's poems and plays are bound up with an effort to re-imagine West Indian society since its emergence from colonial rule, its ill-fated attempt at political unity, and its subsequent dispersal into tiny nation-states.

According to Breslin, Walcott's work is centrally concerned with the West Indies' imputed absence from history and lack of cohesive national identity or cultural tradition. Walcott sees this lack not as impoverishment but as an open space for creation. In his poems and plays, West Indian history becomes a realm of necessity, something to be confronted, contested, and remade through literature. What is most vexed and inspired in Walcott's work can be traced to this quixotic struggle.
Linking extensive archival research and new interviews with Walcott himself to detailed critical readings of major works, Nobody's Nation will take its place as the definitive study of the poet.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY

Paul Breslin is a professor of English at Northwestern University. He is the author of The Psycho-Political Muse: American Poetry since the Fifties, published by the University of Chicago Press, and You Are Here, a collection of poems.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Cover

Acknowledgments

List of Abbreviations

- Paul Breslin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074283.003.0001
[Derek Walcott, imagination, St. Lucia]
This introductory chapter begins with the author's explanation of why he chose “Nobody's Nation” as the title of this book. It then discusses the central themes in Walcott's works. It describes the author's visit to St. Lucia, where he had two conversations that seem, in retrospect, to define the polarities of Walcott's imagination. This is followed by an overview of the subsequent chapters. (pages 1 - 10)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Paul Breslin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074283.003.0002
[Derek Walcott, biography, paintings, Harold Simmons, poetry, Warwick Walcott]
This chapter presents a biographical sketch of Derek Walcott. Derek was born on 23 January 1930 in Castries, the largest town of St. Lucia. His father Warwick Walcott died on April 23, 1931, after surgery for a mastoid infection. Although the future poet, only a year old at the time, could have no direct memory of him, his father's presence remained in the house. His paintings — he had been a skillful amateur watercolorist — and other “revered, silent objects” hung on the walls and stood on the shelves, meticulously cared for by his widow. He also left behind him a circle of artistically inclined friends who remained close to the family, including a professional painter named Harold Simmons, who became in many respects a father to the fatherless Walcott. It was Simmons who brought Derek's poetry to the attention of Henry Swanzy, who soon afterward invited the eighteen-year-old poet to read on his “Caribbean Voices” BBC program; and it was Simmons's review in 1950 of a joint exhibit of paintings by Walcott and St. Omer that encouraged Walcott to choose poetry as his vocation. (pages 11 - 44)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Paul Breslin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074283.003.0003
[Derek Walcott, West Indian culture, Anglo–American literature, Haiti, creole vernacular, poems, Henri Christophe]
This chapter traces the emergence of Walcott's style from the interplay of influences in both West Indian culture and the canon of Anglo–American literature as he encountered it from the 1940s to the early 1960s. Walcott's engagement with the “little tradition” — its heroes and legends, its language and form — begins in Henri Christophe, with its choice of postrevolutionary Haiti as subject and with its incorporation of creole vernacular speech. Five years later, he would write The Sea at Dauphin entirely in vernacular — so much so that outsiders had trouble understanding the dialogue. The early poems, in contrast, may describe West Indian places and experience, but the form and language of the representation come “from abroad.” Not until 1958, with the first version of “Tales of the Islands,” did Walcott attempt sustained vernacular in his poems. But the early volumes repay attention if read as the record of a young colonial poet's struggle to find his relation to the Anglo–American tradition. (pages 45 - 82)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Paul Breslin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074283.003.0004
[Derek Walcott, plays, The Sea at Dauphin, Drums and Colours, Rockefeller commission]
When Walcott arrived at the University of the West Indies, he had already achieved precocious success both as a poet and as a playwright, but he had yet to evolve a fully mature style in either role — notwithstanding the promise evident in the best moments of the two earliest books of poetry and of Henri Christophe. For the most part, Walcott's greatest accomplishments during his Jamaican residence came in his plays. By the time he moved to Port of Spain and started the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1959, he had written two of his best: The Sea at Dauphin (1954) and Ti-Jean and His Brothers (1957). Especially productive was the transitional period of 1957–1959, from the first Rockefeller-sponsored trip to the United States and Canada to his decision to live in Trinidad. This chapter focuses on The Sea at Dauphin and the official and unofficial products of the Rockefeller commission: Drums and Colours and Ti-Jean and His Brothers. (pages 83 - 101)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Paul Breslin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074283.003.0005
[Derek Walcott, Robinson Crusoe, Adamic poetics, history, Sea Grapes, Pantomime, New World]
This chapter traces the development of Walcott's preoccupation with Robinson Crusoe in relation to his Adamic poetics and rejection of “history,” from the early 1960s to the late 1970s. It considers Walcott's appropriation of the Crusoe myth in the three Crusoe poems of the 1960s, the 1965 lecture, some poems from Sea Grapes (1976), and the play Pantomime (1978). Walcott's merger of Adam and Robinson Crusoe is at once a classic instance of creolization and an implicit acknowledgment of the New World Adam's inevitable status as a second-comer. (pages 102 - 126)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Paul Breslin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074283.003.0006
[Derek Walcott, plays, Makak, English, patois, language, common people]
This chapter analyzes the play, Dream on Monkey Mountain. More than thirty years after its first performance, Dream on Monkey Mountain remains Walcott's best-known play, and arguably his best as well. Walcott has claimed that in this play, “the strength of the characterization does not come from me, it comes from the imagination of my people.” Its central character, Makak, “comes from my own childhood,” he recalls. The play emphasizes the divide between English, the language of the colonial courtroom, and patois, the language of the common people. (pages 127 - 155)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Paul Breslin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074283.003.0007
[Derek Walcott, rhetoric, epic, autobiography]
This chapter analyzes Walcott's first epic-length poem, Another Life. The poem is not so much an epic as an autobiography, albeit of an atypical kind. Undertaking a long poem for the first time, Walcott confronted the problems of narration posed by what Glissant would call a “non-history.” Yet at first glance, the poem seems more straightforward than its Anglo–American modernist counterparts. In its unhurried pace, it recalls nineteenth-century examples such as The Prelude, In Memoriam, or The Ring and The Book. It is almost Victorian in its expansiveness and unapologetic delight in elevated rhetoric, extended painterly description, and digressive metaphors. (pages 156 - 188)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Paul Breslin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074283.003.0008
[Derek Walcott, self-transformation, marriage, sailor-poet, Shabine, postcolonial Trinidad]
This chapter analyzes the poem, “The Schooner Flight.” Prior to its inclusion in The Star-Apple Kingdom, the poem appeared in three different forms spanning the period from winter 1977 through 1979. Given the lead time between submission and publication, Walcott must have begun the poem in 1976, when his affair with Norline Metivier, later to become his third wife, was breaking up both his second marriage and the social cohesion of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop. Knowing the circumstances, one can hardly help reading the poem as grounded in autobiography, preoccupied as it is with the sundering of ties to marriage and nation and with a quest for self-transformation and rebirth. The revisions show Walcott increasing the artistic distance between himself and his persona, the sailor-poet Shabine, and shifting the center of gravity from Shabine's personal troubles toward his disillusionment with postcolonial Trinidad and his visionary struggle to free himself from the colonial past. (pages 189 - 214)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Paul Breslin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074283.003.0009
[Derek Walcott, Caribbean, poetry, The Fortunate Traveller]
This chapter focuses on Walcott's poetry in the 1980s. The Fortunate Traveller (1981) inaugurates a restless decade of shuttling between the Caribbean and North America, with increasingly frequent trips to Europe as well. “I accept my function,” Walcott declares, “as a colonial upstart at the end of empire, / a single, circling, homeless satellite.” Compared with earlier works, there is more self-reflexiveness in The Fortunate Traveller and certainly more attention to it on the part of critics from the mid-1980s onward. Several reasons for this perceived change converge: the growing vogue of deconstructive criticism in the United States in the early 1980s; Walcott's increased contact with U.S. writing and its intellectual ambience; and Walcott's attenuated relation to the Caribbean, which deprived him of the naturalizing trope of an Antaeus-like power derived from place. It is a change that his critics half perceive and half create. (pages 215 - 240)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Paul Breslin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074283.003.0010
[Derek Walcott, Homeric analogy, analogical method]
This chapter analyzes the poem Omeros. It makes a case for the poem's critique of its own analogical method, but suggests that it is impossible, after multiple rereadings, to feel that the whole poem is built with that critique in mind. Too many parts of it seem sincerely invested in the Homeric analogy critiqued elsewhere or simply unaware that their reaching for analogies is strained. It is argued that the self-critique may have emerged in the course of composition, and that Walcott could not (or would not) integrate the portions he had already completed into his belated insight. Nonetheless, Omeros remains a great poem, large in scope and sympathies, with much unforgettable writing. (pages 241 - 272)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Paul Breslin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074283.003.0011
[Derek Walcott, drawings, Omeros, poetry, paintings, Nobel Prize, Alix Walcott, Joseph Brodsky]
In 1992, Walcott received the Nobel Prize, and as Bruce King observes, for some time afterward he “appeared a bit directionless.” Suddenly people who had never cared about his work before were besieging him with requests. There were other distractions as well: a sexual harassment charge in 1994, the death of his mother, Alix Walcott, in 1992 and of his close friend Joseph Brodsky in 1996. The Bounty (1997) was released seven years after the publication of Omeros. Haunted by the death of his mother and his friend and by his own advancing age, The Bounty is Walcott's most melancholy book. Tiepolo's Hound began as a project undertaken as Walcott was finishing The Bounty. In June 1996, when Walcott turned the Bounty manuscript over to Farrar, Straus and Giroux, he and Sigrid “also signed a contract ... for a book of about a hundred Walcott paintings and drawings which Walcott said he would introduce with a ten-page essay.” By November 1997, the essay had become a poem in progress, and what finally emerged was a novella-length poem, accompanied by reproductions of twenty-six Walcott paintings. (pages 273 - 286)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

- Paul Breslin
DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226074283.003.0012
[Derek Walcott, poets, poetry, writers]
This chapter evaluates Walcott's strengths and weaknesses. Without presuming to settle the question of Walcott's stature, it addresses the main arguments that have been made for — and against — his eminence, and offers the author's own assessment. (pages 287 - 296)
This chapter is available at:
    University Press Scholarship Online

Notes

Index