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Saturday, 25 August 2007

Naipaul on Walcott

Early in 1949, in Trinidad, near the end of my schooldays, word came to us in the sixth form of Queen's Royal College that there was a serious young poet on one of the smaller islands to the north who had just published a marvellous first book of poems. We had never had news like this before, not about a new book of poetry or about any kind of book, and I still wonder by what means this news could have reached us....

-- From "Caribbean Odyssey", an essay on Derek Walcott by V.S. Naipaul (excerpted from Naipaul's forthcoming book A Writer's People), published in today's UK Guardian.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first time Naipaul has written about Walcott and his work, at least for publication (Walcott of course wrote a now rather famous review of Naipaul's novel The Enigma of Arrival in 1987; it is included in his book of essays What the Twilight Says). But some years ago, going through the C.L.R. James papers at the UWI library in St Augustine, I came across a letter from Naipaul to James--undated but written from Srinagar in India, which places it c. 1963--in which he mentions Walcott's In a Green Night, published not long before.

Naipaul addresses James by his nickname--"Dear Nello"--and goes on to say:

I have always felt about Walcott that here, in the most unexpected, purest way, we had a poet, someone of startling vision and muscular expression; some of his poems have never left me....

The essay in today's Guardian gives a fuller version of the story of Naipaul's reading of Walcott over the decades.

1 comment:

clarabella said...

Having read Naipaul's article, I am compelled to invoke Mike Smith's long wail, "Me Cyaan Believe It!" I had thought that it was theory that had murdered song and story (Fragano Ledgister and I are currently having a chat about that on my blog) but surely that can't account for Naipaul? Was it the Palgrave book? Perhaps I should send him a copy of SUNSONG... I know Matthew will permit me a borrows: "What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?" Me cyaan believe it! Me say, me cyaan believe it.