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This review is taken from PN Review 171, Volume 33 Number 1, September - October 2006.

SING ME BACK HOME DEREK WALCOTT, The Prodigal (Faber and Faber) £12.99

 In our secularised – not to say materialised, sensualised, and virtualised – world, the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is frequently read, at best, with confusion at the father’s glad forgiveness of his wayward son, or, at worst, with an assured cynicism that feckless self-indulgence will have no consequences. Too worldly, most of us miss the point: God always welcomes his sinners home. Given the motive force that drives much of the body of Derek Walcott’s work it is clear why the parable would intrigue and attract him. Walcott’s poetry, especially Omeros, his monumental reconceptualisation of The Odyssey, has centred on the attraction and repulsion of home. The retelling of Homer’s story in a Caribbean setting further dramatised the poet’s sense of rootlessness as he navigated his career between the heavy weight of the Western canon and the ephemerality of Trinidad’s sea breezes. In his poems, Walcott never forced the overtly political point, as has his friend Seamus Heaney from time to time, but the sense that he was a perpetual outsider – by race, by history, by climate – always underlay his descriptions of the landscapes and seascapes that his poetic eye described. It is a vital aspect of his poetic achievement that Walcott, although he always foregrounds his liminality, never descended into formulaic protestations of the poetic outsider against the ‘metropolis’. Walcott knows the push-pull of both the Via Veneto and a dirt path, sustaining in his poetry a clear-eyed recognition of both the attractions ...

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