Hommage à Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott

Par Earl Lovelace

A work in progress

In islands in which achievement has meant escape and by escaping the escapee confirms   the wretchedness of the space, perhaps Derek Walcott’s great gift to us has been to remain and make a home here, not by using his own gifts as chips to exploit the mediocrity bred by the fear of change , but by demanding from the space the loyalty and attentiveness to effort aimed at  the construction of a place that returnees can return to  and ,when the time came,  enough of a place so that Shabine would be able to have more than a beach  to leave.

The theatre Workshop was one concrete example of this struggle and triumph so that more than fifty years later it remains a symbol of the grandeur of its better days as a stubborn resolve , ambition whittled down to a manageable size. On the outskirts of the town

I knew Walcott from young, in the days when he roared in this city and led a flock of actors from bar to bar cursing everybody black is white.   . He was despite his often-forbidding exterior, a man with a twinkle in his mind, with a store of jokes . He was very funny.

As a director and leader he demanded from his flock the same tough punctuality and discipline that he required of himself.

Trinidad was lucky to have him when we did , a shabine from St. Lucia, with no cocoa in sun, belonging to no club , with  nobody’s fire-rage to take up , free to be allowed to represent a  vision, to make his own enemies and to choose his  friends . He would become a presence here, a pillar before the twin towers or the malls , young poets making pilgrimage to his home in  Petit Valley, seeking asylum in his shade .  And here we must mention Margaret in whose debt we remain .

There are two things that stand out to me from Walcott. He was a man who was faithful to his truths and he had the confidence, the audacity, the self-belief to try on every idea  that surfaced in the space, first by dismissing it, then trying it on to see  how it fit, as if he had to experience first the antipathy of a certain stance, feel it before he could pass judgement on it.

He went as far as any Caribbean writer in telling the truth about himself, his motives, his quarrels with the workshop, his disappointments. He criticised at various stages black power, the old leadership, and the new leadership of the people. The followers, their ignorance. He was for Naipaul and against Naipaul .He became a rednigger, shabine, lestrade, ti Jean, Crusoe and Friday. He was himself Warwickshire and Ashanti .Each book of poetry was an event, another stage, another insight; each play illuminating another   corner.

So at the end his followers embraced him not because they could follow where he led, or embrace what he said , but because in a way he had been all, been everything. And that is what he remained, a work in progress, guided by his own talent and genius and love, a mas man playing a different mas every year. In constant rehearsal. He was someone we could respect.

But if there was passion - And this is the other thing  -  There was never contempt . There was love . Walcott loved his islands and the folk .

At the end of the day he came to see that we were as good as anybody.

Even though he struggled for acknowledgement, for validation at every turn, he ended up with the confidence to feel himself a small boy on an island  guided by love, blessed by obscurity, cherishing our insignificance.

It was a blessing to have him in our midst.

Go well, Derek.

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