Image by Chris Felver

Derek Walcott

b. 1930

What's poetry, if it's worth its salt, / but a phrase men can pass from hand to mouth? Derek Walcott - from 'Forest of Europe'

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About Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott (b. 1930) was awarded the Nobel prize for Literature in 1992, two years after the publication of his most ambitious and celebrated work to date, Omeros, an epic poem which draws on the Homeric tradition and relocates it in the voices and lives of the people of the Caribbean. His own experience of living in two cultures has been a powerful influence on his work; he grew up on the relatively isolated island of Saint Lucia, moved to Trinidad in his twenties, and now spends much of his time in the USA, where he teaches literature and creative writing at Boston University. This duality has brought a richness to his writing: he has deep roots in his native culture and at the same time takes possession of his rightful place within the English-speaking literary tradition. As Sean O'Brien has said, "Walcott is faithful to his origins while speaking to the world".

Much of Walcott's work reaches out for an unattainable paradise or utopia which finds its physical parallel in the Caribbean of his childhood. Recurring themes of loss, survival and remembrance are present in 'Sea Canes', an attempt to resurrect the dead through memory, which can be strong and lasting enough to possess "the rational radiance of stone". The desire is to keep faith with reality, to reconstruct the past and its people "as they were, / with faults and all". 'Sea Grapes', the title poem of Walcott's 1976 collection, articulates personal pain and melancholy through an engagement with history and myth; the longing for home and the need for adventure are part of an "ancient war" which will be part of the human condition forever. 'Blues' is situated in a very different place: the America of Walcott's exile, a bewildering place where festival celebrations share the streets with a casual, recreational violence.

There is a resonance and musicality to Walcott's voice which embodies both the formal complexity and sophistication of the work and its intimacy. While he is best known for his poetry Walcott is also a prolific writer for the stage and for musical theatre, and perhaps it is these disciplines which bring to his reading a sense of drama and a skilful use of silence.

With over twenty collections spanning four decades, Walcott is a towering and influential presence in contemporary poetry. He is an honorary member of the American Academy and the Institute of Arts and Letters, and was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1988. His collection 'White Egrets' won the 2010 T. S. Eliot Prize.

This recording was made on the 5th June, 2007 at the Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Additional material and useful links

Caribbean Poetry Project

This pioneering collaboration between the Cambridge University Faculty of Education, the Centre for Commonwealth Education and the University of the West Indies aims to help teachers develop their...

Selected bibliography

White Egrets, Faber and Faber, 2010.

Selected Poems, Faber and Faber 2009


The Prodigal, Faber and Faber 2006


Tiepolo's Hound, Faber and Faber 2001


What the Twilight Says: Essays, Faber and Faber 1998

The Bounty, Faber and Faber 1997

Homage to Robert Frost: Essays on Poetry (with Joseph...

The Odyssey: A Stage Version, Faber and Faber 1993

The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory - The Nobel...

Poems 1965-80, Cape 1992

Omeros, Faber and Faber 1990


Collected Poems 1948-1984, Faber and Faber 1992

Three Plays, Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1988

The Arkansas Testament, Faber and Faber 1988

Plays for Today (with Dennis Scott and Errol Hill),...

Midsummer, Faber and Faber 1984

Selected Poetry (with Wayne Brown), Heinemann 1981


The Fortunate Traveller, Faber and Faber 1982

The Star-Apple Kingdom, Cape 1980

The Joker of Seville; and O Babylon!: Two Plays, Cape...

Sea Grapes, Cape 1976

Another Life, Cape 1973

Dream on Monkey Mountain And Other Plays, Cape 1972

The Gulf and Other Poems, Cape 1969

The Castaway and Other Poems, Cape 1965

Selected Poems, Farrar, Straus & Giroux 1964

In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960, Cape 1962

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