Islands of Words

David Clemens

Back when Bravo provided high culture, I was entranced by a South Bank Show episode on a Caribbean poet named Derek Walcott.  When I saw Walcott would read at Stanford, I raced to hear him in person, only to be appalled by the meager audience which clapped and immediately dispersed.  Alone with him, I nervously asked how his book Omeros was coming.  Surprised someone knew of it, he said there were publication delays but it would be out soon.  Shortly after, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. A few years later, friends and fortune combined to bring Derek for a reading.  That afternoon, he said he had always wanted to see a redwood tree, so we hopped into my Ford Focus and headed for Palo Colorado Canyon, but stopped just south of Carmel so he could survey the light, the surf, and the hills along the coast.  Walcott also paints, and looking through his framing hands, he slowly rotated and said, “Everywhere you look is a painting.” Derek’s sold-out reading was magical, including Tiepolo’s Hound, “A Letter from Brooklyn” and his Odyssey section on the Cyclops, a metaphor for all totalitarian dictators who have no depth of vision. Next day, Derek became impatient as his companion Sigrid embraced everyone, kissing, hugging, saying goodbye.  He turned to me and said, “Let’s show them how men say goodbye.”  He looked me straight in the eye, firmly squeezed my hand, and said, “Goodbye.” I felt like a child in his presence, this aging yet vital man, numinous, strong despite infirmities and occasional vertigo.  His masculinity was overwhelming. Now his latest, and perhaps last, book has arrived, White Egrets.  His lines move like waves and trade winds, elegiac, abundant with his island, the sea, sunlight, fields, lost friends, memory, art, and the enchantments of erotic women.  You can own this treasure here.

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March 23, 2011


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