In the Shadow of Derek Walcott
I HAVE LABOURED, like all Caribbean poets of my generation (if not all Caribbean writers), under the shadow of Derek Walcott. I was not always aware of this. Maybe if I had been, I would also have been resentful. In time, though, I would learn the things important for any Caribbean poet to make a way in the world today – always to have a Walcott anecdote at hand for interviews; to answer questions about him; to accept that reviewers and critics would read as ‘Walcottian’ some image, some line that I had written; humbly to acknowledge some way, however tenuous, in which his poetry had influenced mine. It hadn’t, though. Not really. Still, in reading through his own interviews and essays I would often find that he had been there before me. He had already thought through some thought that I was presently struggling with. He had thought it through carefully and had articulated, in a way that profoundly resonated with me, what it meant to be a poet from the Caribbean, what it meant to speak one language while committing another to the page; even what it meant to be a boy watching the Caribbean sun go down, knowing there was a whole wide world out there, and still not to be intimidated by your own ambition.
Walcott had even lived in Jamaica for a few years. That was before I was born. Still, I like to imagine him on top of our Blue Mountains, hands outstretched like Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer, throwing his shadow across the entire Antilles – a shadow stretching across geography and time, across both future and history, a shadow so impressively large even poets