Magazine article European English Messenger

Paola Loreto. the Crowning of a Poet's Quest: Derek Walcott's "Tiepolo's Hound"

Magazine article European English Messenger

Paola Loreto. the Crowning of a Poet's Quest: Derek Walcott's "Tiepolo's Hound"

Article excerpt

Paola Loreto. The Crowning of a Poet's Quest: Derek Walcott's "Tiepolo's Hound". Amsterdam and New York: Rodopi, 2009.

It seems that the outstanding epic poem Omeros (1990) has partially obscured Derek Walcott's succeeding collections: The Bounty (1997), Tiepolo's Hound (2000), The Prodigal (2004) and White Egrets (2010). Although in these books Walcott's craft is as fine as ever, none of them seems to have the same capacity for summing up the epic breadth of the Caribbean. Critics focus mainly on Omeros or on Walcott's previous poetry and do not delve into his later works. The publication of Paola Loreto's The Crowning of a Poet's Quest, the first monographic volume on Tiepolo's Hound, is thus a very important step towards a sound critical assessment of Walcott's recent poetry.

Omeros and Tiepolo's Hound should be considered complementary books, as, in its own way, each one recapitulates and reworks the development of Walcott's poetics. If, on one hand, Omeros explores the growth of a collective Caribbean voice ("the tale of the tribe", to quote Pound), on the other hand, Tiepolo's Hound gives a self-reflective account of the ripening of an individual artist, leading to a moral and aesthetic culmination that is clearly described in Loreto's study. Loreto's main thesis is that Tiepolo's Hound is Walcott's definitive Bildungsroman, the book in which he has most deeply reflected on what Wordsworth called "the growth of a poet's mind".

Emerson's theory of organic expression is Loreto's conceptual starting point. By choosing a non-contemporary framework which, nonetheless, has the solidity of a classic, Loreto sets aside all current theoretical conceptualisations on Walcott that oscillate between standardised and partially worn out antitheses such as modernist/postmodernist, traditional/postcolonial, and the like. The first chapter, "The Poetry of Pragmatic Imagination: The Circuitous Influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson", outlines an original theoretical frame inspired by the American philosopher's thought. As the peak of human and natural sensibility, poetry must be regarded as a special act that, while being self-reflective, concentrating on itself, opens out to humankind and calls for its collective spiritual growth. If this appears out-of-date to today's self-assured intellectual cynicism, Loreto's exposition of Walcott's Emersonian poetics remains absolutely convincing. Loreto soars above modern and contemporary literary fashions, turning back to the origin and life of poetry itself as an optimistic, idealistic and subjective flow of creation channelled through humanity's universal mind. Emerson's indirect and yet essential influence on Walcott is keenly traced out through an American literary and philosophical tradition, which goes from Dickinson and Whitman to Eliot and Stevens. Loreto finally examines Walcott's quest for the notion of poetry as a perpetual restructuring of one's own perceptions and language in order to begin again, with every word, at every moment, just as nature itself does.

Chapter 2, "Ex-Centric Manners: Walcott and Nabokov's New Paradigm of the Writer of the Twenty-First Century", discusses Walcott's self-reflective poetics through a parallel reading of the narrative techniques in Tiepolo's Hound and in Nabokov's last novel, Look at the Harlequins! (1974). Both Nabokov and Walcott prove to be paradigms of a conscious use of what Loreto calls the "hermeneutic circle", a creative and cognitive process implying that the proper understanding of a text is possible only through a ceaseless circular movement from each of its parts to its totality, and back, so that meaning changes in time and emerges only through further subsequent and self-reflective readings of a writer's work. …

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