Jose Luis Martinez-Duenas Espejo and Jose Maria Perez Fernandez, Eds. 2001: Approaches to the Poetics of Derek Walcott

By Calvo, Clara | Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos, June 2003 | Go to article overview

Jose Luis Martinez-Duenas Espejo and Jose Maria Perez Fernandez, Eds. 2001: Approaches to the Poetics of Derek Walcott


Calvo, Clara, Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos


Jose Luis Martinez-Duenas Espejo and Jose Maria Perez Fernandez, eds. 2001: Approaches to the Poetics of Derek Walcott. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen. viii + 190 pp.

Approaches to the Poetics of Derek Walcott brings together a collection of studies on a writer who combines his status as Nobel Prize winner with his condition as a post-colonial, Caribbean-born poet. The ambivalent position enjoyed by Walcott, as a non-canonical author canonised by the prestige of the most highly priced international literary award, turns this volume into a more exciting venture than may appear at first sight. As the editors explain in their Foreword, one of the aims behind the plurality of approaches in the volume is to offer an exploration of the crucial relation between Walcott's poetry and the traditional English canon, given that, as a Caribbean poet, he seems to belong to the margins of this tradition yet, at the same time, his engagement with both Classical and English poets questions his marginality. The aim that binds together the individual essays in this collection is, therefore, to show how Walcott holds a critical position in relation to the canon while, at the same time, his poems offer a poetics of "integration and compromise" (10) through the attention they lavish on landscape and history. This has led contributors to this volume to explore Walcott's relation to Homer, Virgil and Dante, to modern Anglo-American poets, such as Wallace Stevens, and to other Caribbean and Meso-American poets, such as Octavio Paz. This unveiling of a deep mesh of connections makes Walcott's poems equally dependent on both the imperial centre and colonial margins and is one of the book's most engaging features.

The editors also point out that the volume is the result of a joint project carried out by members of the research group "Text and Discourse in Modern English," based at the University of Granada. In fact, all contributors belong to this group, which has been active for almost a decade, with the exception of Donald Freeman, who has provided a preface, and Jose Antonio Gurpegui Palacios, who has authored the initial essay. Freeman's preface introduces the individual essays and foregrounds some of the thematic links shared by contributions to this collection, stressing their concern with history and heritage. Gurpegui's "I Have no Nation but Imagination: Derek Walcott, a Caribbean in North America" cleverly combines biographical information and critical insight, introducing the reader to Walcott's works in a smooth, effortless way. Even a reader who is not acquainted with the poems discussed is bound to benefit from Gurpegui's discussion, since he makes sure no previous knowledge of Walcott's poetry is required. This first chapter meets its introductory purpose and serves as the welcome drink on arrival at a party--it is refreshing and it whets your appetite for what is to come.

The other chapters in the collection openly display the wide range of interests and concerns that fuel the varied work carried out by the different members of this research team. In "Tropical Sublime: Derek Walcott's Early Poetry," Julian Jimenez Heffernan suggests that Walcott's initial poetic products see the Caribbean landscape through the lenses that the English metaphysical poets--Andrew Marvell in particular--have provided him with. He also discovers traces of Wallace Stevens' "mighty line"--which, in turn, echoes Marlowe's and Shakespeare's--and shows how ruins, history and landscape form a useful triangle to account for the presence of a persistent interest in Walcott's poetry, an interest in the marks history leaves on landscape, in how landscape can be read as history. In "Terza Rima, the Sea and Historyin Omeros," Jose Maria Perez Fernandez reads Omeros as an epic poem in which Walcott conflates history and myth taking Dante's Divina Comedia as his model and while doing so, undertakes an exploration of the meanings which have been attributed to the stanzaic form known as terza rima, with a view to showing connections between literary criticism and metrical studies. …

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