Today is the birthday of Derek Walcott. For those of us who think of literature in post-colonial terms, we already know the debt we owe this poet. As I've taught 20th century British Lit, I've wondered how on earth future scholars will deal with the late 20th century and beyond, when borders aren't so neatly defined for many of us in the Western world. How will we define national identity? Happily, I will not be one of the ones who has to sort this out. Even if I should ever get a more traditional job teaching in the field in which I was trained, I'll be more likely to teach 19th century British lit, not post-colonial genres.
I remember first encountering Walcott at a in-state conference on infusing world literature into curriculums at 2 year colleges. In hindsight, I was feeling deeply inadequate. I so wanted to be a published author, and I wasn't yet. I was working with a group of creative writers, all of whom got to teach much more interesting classes than I got to teach. I felt both hostile and irritated. But all of that melted away as we looked at some interesting poems. And thus, poetry salvaged a week-end conference for me, and I was able to switch to being my more friendly self and to leave that conference with happy memories and no burned bridges.
Derek Walcott's "A Far Cry from Africa" was one of those poems. Consider these lines:
"Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,
The gorilla wrestles with the superman."
And that anguished cry at the end:
"How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?"
On today's entry for The Writer's Almanac, we're given this quote from Walcott from his 1992 Nobel Prize acceptance speech: "For every poet it is always morning in the world. History a forgotten, insomniac night; History and elemental awe are always our early beginning, because the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world, in spite of History."
May you fall in love with the world anew today, in spite of History.
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