Thursday, April 13, 2006

Poem & Note: Derek Walcott

The people one runs into at the bank in New York City: here's a poet, a very famous one, I spotted on Tuesday. I told the young customer assistance representative who was helping me that sitting just a few feet away from where we were conversing was one of the greatest living poets. After I told the young man who this was--he'd never heard of this poet--he went and Googled him, and came back smilling. I said hello to this poet, whom I've met several times, and he sort of nodded vaguely (he wouldn't know me from Eve), and then I attempted to snap a surreptitious picture. The photo succeeded, only my flash went off (once again, it wasn't set on manual!), which led to a mini-scolding by the customer assistance who was sitting at the desk, as well as the person helping the poet. Ah well--I think of it as one of my US Weekly moments, only for the Academy of American Poets set.

Here's one of his gems.


Schizophrenic, wrenched by two styles,
one a hack's hired prose, I earn
me exile. I trudge this sickle, moonlit beach for miles,

tan, burn
to slough off
this live of ocean that's self-love.

To change your language you must change your life.

I cannot right old wrongs.
Waves tire of horizon and return.
Gulls screech with rusty tongues

Above the beached, rotting pirogues,
they were a venomous beaked cloud at Charlotteville.

One I thought love of country was enough,
now, even if I chose, there is no room at the trough.

I watch the best minds rot like dogs
for scraps of flavour.
I am nearing middle
age, burnt skin
peels from my hand like paper, onion-thin,
like Peer Gynt's riddle.

At heart there is nothing, not the dread
of death. I know to many dead.
They're all familiar, all in character,

even how they died. On fire,
the flesh no longer fears that furnace mouth
of earth,

that kiln or ashpit of the sun,
nor this clouding, unclouding sickle moon
withering this beach again like a blank page.

All its indifference is a different rage.

Copyright © Derek Walcott, from bonvibre's Phat American Poetry Book.


  1. Oh, that's a beautiful selection. How great that you passed knowledge in the bank, and the representative met your enthusiasm such that he went off post haste to look up Walcott. Picturing a gifted writer taking a phone photo of an illustrious poet cracked me up--that's a sweet amalgam of beauty, love, and technology.

  2. Audiologo, thank you for the nice reply. The bank account rep's interest in (rather than indifference towards) Walcott was particularly satisfying!

  3. I find the poetry circle very small and therefore hard to go into a bookstore and read something from someone that's not dead. One of my professors gives me journals published by other colleges everytime I see him but that's the extent of it. Can you mention anybody I should know about?