Monday, February 02, 2004

Working in an English verse tradition and writing about everyday life in the Caribbean, Walcott knows himself to be an anomaly. "I have to live, socially, in an almost unfinished society," he told me once. "Among the almost great, among the almost true, among the almost honest. That allows me to describe the anguish." His goal, he said, is to "finish" his incomplete culture....

The epic is natural to Walcott. "I come from a place that likes grandeur," he has said. "It likes large gesture; it is not inhibited by flourish; it is a society of physical performance; it is a society of style." St. Lucia is also a place that, having had relatively little written about it, lives, still, in a vague sphere where time does not seem to exist, and where dates have little resonance. What resonates are individual stories, the image of the island's various straight-backed Helens walking to market, seemingly impervious to the ever-changing weather, or to history.

-- From Hilton Als's profile of Derek Walcott in the current New Yorker. (The legendary New Yorker fact-checkers have got at least one tiny detail wrong: the BBC radio programme to which Walcott--& just about every other West Indian writer of his generation--contributed back in the 1950s was Caribbean Voices, not Caribbean Voice.)

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