Looking through my twitter feed I saw that Commonwealth Writers tweeted a link of a month old BBC broadcast, where British poet Glyn Maxwell was interviewing my favourite poet and playwright from St. Lucia, Derek Walcott, on his birthday.
Honestly, the interview was kind of boring. Walcott usually says the same thing in every interview, and not much of what he said in this one was much different to things he has said before, but I always enjoy when Walcott reads fragments of his own poetry, which he did.
Hearing him read reminded me of the first and only time I heard him read his work live. It was an evening in 2008, when Mummy and I went to the Errol Barrow Centre for Creative Imagination. Memory is a funny thing; I remember that there was supposed to be some kind of presentation/discussion about a project between between Yale and the Cultural Studies Programme at University of the West Indies, but all I really remember was him reading his poetry.
After sitting near the back in a packed auditorium for a few minutes, an old man with mostly white hair walked to the front of the room and took his seat near the microphone. He didn’t look like he was big on smiling; Mummy told me that when she was teenager in Trinidad, they used to have to call Walcott’s house to buy tickets to whatever play may be happening in the Little Carib Theatre (Trinidad’s first theatre established by performance artist Beryl McBurnie in 1948). She and Granny didn’t really like having to call or go to his house for tickets because he always seemed so grumpy.
In the auditorium he read extracts from familiar favourites like ‘The Schooner Flight’ and, what would have then been his newest book of poetry, Tiepolo’s Hound (2000).
Walcott is important to me because he is the first poet whose work I enjoyed reading before I had any inkling of how to critically approach a poem. I would just read his poems out loud, trying to hold the imagery in my mind.
Hearing him read that first time six years ago, somehow added another layer to his work. Since then I always try to read the poetry the way I thought he would read it. I still read the poems out loud a few times, but then I also read quietly trying to imagine his voice and how he would linger on certain words.
To make a long story short, Walcott was my gateway poet, my starting point when it comes to reading poetry. His poetry is a safe place that I can return to again and again.