“a 20th-century man, living in the West Indies and in Boston, poised between the blue sea and its real fish, its coral reefs and gigantic turtles (endangered but also real), and the rockets and warheads, between a lapsed colonial culture and the industrial North, between Africa and the West, between slavery and intellectualism, between the native Caribbean tongue and English learned from books, between the black and white in his own body, between the sound of the home ocean and the lure of European culture, and, to turn the order of reference around, between the high-tech underground of the computerized silos and the steel bands riding with the guitar of Joseph Spence as he sings, ”Out on the rolling sea and Jesus speak to me.” “
I spend my day in a high-tech silo looking at digital words on a computer screen but as Walcott read his poetry I felt a connection to the oral history our ancestors. They would have been equally enthralled listening to Beowulf, or The Iliad or Gilgamesh as I was hearing Love After Love. This was the poem emailed most often to NPL Live curator Paul Holdengraber once people found out Walcott would be speaking.
The evening was also a reminder that I should read more poetry so that will be one of my resolutions next year – especially now I have a signed copy of White Egrets.
Walcott described the power of poetry perfectly in his Nobel lecture:
“Poetry, which is perfection’s sweat but which must seem as fresh as the raindrops on a statue’s brow, combines the natural and the marmoreal; it conjugates both tenses simultaneously: the past and the present, if the past is the sculpture and the present the beads of dew or rain on the forehead of the past. There is the buried language and there is the individual vocabulary, and the process of poetry is one of excavation and of self-discovery. “