Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Derek Walcott: Sixty Years of Poetry

On this date (January 23) in 1930 Derek Walcott was born in St. Lucia of the West Indies. Raised in the West Indian culture with its native language exhibiting the French and English influences on the island history, Derek Walcott, educated by his schoolteacher mother, also was taught English as a second language, and he became fascinated by its traditional literature. Consequently, Walcott developed a passion for poetry and playwriting, and eventually he authored his own works written mostly in the adopted language.

Sixty years ago, at the age of eighteen, Derek Walcott released his first volume of poetry, a self-published collection titled 25 Poems (1948), which he funded with assistance from his twin brother, Roddy. At about the same time, he and his brother began a theater group, the St. Lucia Arts Guild, with which they were able to produce some plays Derek Walcott had written in verse. Indeed, much of Walcott’s early promise and measure of success were most evident in his contributions to the theater concerning characters and plots derived from experiences, observations, or histories of the islands he knew so well. Perhaps the peak of this phase in Walcott’s career was achieved when Dream on Monkey Mountain, his drama about colonialism in the Caribbean, won an Obie Award in 1971.

Nevertheless, as might be indicated by his reliance on verse in many of the nearly two-dozen plays he has written, Derek Walcott’s great strength lies in the lyrically eloquent language and richly vivid imagery mostly associated with his poetry. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Walcott released a series of impressive poetry collections, including The Castaway and Other Poems (1965), The Gulf and Other Poems (1969), Another Life (1973), Sea Grapes (1976), and The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979).

However, one might be right in suggesting Walcott’s poetic work reached its maturity with volumes published in the 1980s and 1990s: The Fortunate Traveller (1981), Midsummer (1984), The Arkansas Testament (1987), Omeros (1990), and The Bounty (1997). Some critics even would claim the period of poetic development achieved its highest level in Omeros, Walcott’s epic book-length poem, which may have led to his winning the Nobel Prize in Literature soon after its publication, receiving the honor in 1992.

Yet, I would argue for regarding those works that have followed, especially The Bounty and The Prodigal (2004), as examples demonstrating a continuing excellence still witnessed in his poetry. As I remarked last year in my review of The Prodigal: “Derek Walcott’s poetry has always been an ambitious art—with admirable works usually unsuitable as anthology pieces—that requires of readers great patience and long undivided deliberation, but which ultimately rewards readers with its lyricism and inventive language investigating important themes.”

Walcott’s best poetry often has focused on the inner conflict felt because of an apparent clash of cultural influences on his personal life and in his public work. In addition to the competing control of differing languages in both areas of his existence, Walcott has repeatedly shown a growing unease with his sense of place, geographically and emotionally. As I have written previously, Walcott sometimes displays concern, perhaps even guilt, developed over long stretches of separation from his beloved native island, as well as away from its inhabitants, for which he has maintained great affection and to whom he has continued to display devotion in his work over the decades. At times, Walcott also exhibits a split allegiance between the home where he was born and his position as a public figure in Western culture—a great writer in English, a celebrated speaker in Europe and the United States, a teacher at prominent universities associated with modern Western culture.

This dichotomy between two self-images may have been unavoidable, since both of Walcott’s grandfathers were white Europeans, while his grandmothers were islanders of African descent. Still, now as he approaches eighty and with the death of his twin, Walcott seems to be returning to his origins in recent poetry. As the title of The Prodigal suggested, and as I once observed about that collection of poems: “The poet, stunned by his brother’s passing and encouraged by his own aging, elects to exit the world he has adopted for decades so that he might revisit the site where he and his twin had spent delightful days together.” Indeed, in his work Walcott has returned to the location where, with his brother’s aid, he released his first poems composed sixty years ago, including the following piece from among those first works written in 1948:


I, with legs crossed along the daylight, watch
The variegated fists of clouds that gather over
The uncouth features of this, my prone island.

Meanwhile the steamers which divide horizons prove
Us lost;
In tourist booklets, behind ardent binoculars;
Found in the blue reflection of eyes
That have known cities and think us here happy.

Time creeps over the patient who are too long patient,
So I, who have made one choice,
Discover that my boyhood has gone over.

And my life, too early of course for the profound cigarette,
The turned doorhandle, the knife turning
In the bowels of the hours, must not be made public
Until I have learnt to suffer
In accurate iambics.

I go, of course, through all the isolated acts,
Make a holiday of situations,
Straighten my tie and fix important jaws,
And note the living images
Of flesh that saunter through the eye.

Until from all I turn to think how,
In the middle of the journey through my life,
O how I came upon you, my
Reluctant leopard of the slow eyes.

Interviewed by Charles H. Rowell in the Winter 1988 issue of Callaloo, Walcott spoke of “Prelude”: “I think I wrote that poem when I was probably sixteen or seventeen, somewhere during that time when I was very excited about my discovery, through several older people, of the poetry of W.H. Auden, T.S. Eliot, and Dylan Thomas—physical books that I had, books whose print I liked. So the sense of separation, which very often people writing about my work define, is not that early. It comes a little later. In other words, by 1947 or 1948, when we were boys at college, we felt that we were part of the heritage of the British Empire—its language, its history, and so on. We were quite aware of the fact that the background of the Caribbean was a background of slavery. But my generation was not schizophrenic about the heritage of the Empire and the heritage of the Caribbean. It was a double rather than a split thing. In other words, we had an interior life, the life of education.”

Further, Walcott confides: “Later on in Another Life, I wrote about the divided child. But I think that that division, the slow perception of that division, came with a gradual sense of a loss of innocence about history.” Readers seeking to discover a sampling of Derek Walcott’s poetry and to examine his measured development as a poet over more than half a century might be advised to begin with his latest publication, Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), which was released in 2007.

Throughout his life, Derek Walcott also has been an accomplished artist, painting numerous watercolors depicting the radiant sunshine, the brilliant landscape, and the glaring scenery of the seas surrounding his native islands. As well, he has offered self-portraits, such as the image accompanying this post. Some of his paintings have graced the covers of his collections or been included among the poems in their pages. However, now at the age of seventy-eight, throughout his sixty years of poetry Derek Walcott has presented a magnificent, though progressively forming, portrait of his islands and of himself that could never fully be captured on a canvas.

No comments: