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This article is taken from PN Review 69, Volume 16 Number 1, September - October 1989.

Autobiographical and Aesthetic Philip Hobsbaum

Derek Walcott is one of the most immediately attractive writers on the Anglophone scene. He is so good that one wonders why he is not even better. The Arkansas Testament (Faber, £3.95) is his eleventh collection of poetry. Part of the book is based on Trinidad, where he has lived much of his working life, engaged in teaching, journalism and the production of plays. Part of the book refers to travels and encounters while lecturing away from home.

But where is home? The Arkansas Testament is dedicated to the Irish poet, Seamus Heaney, who derives from a landscape in mid-Ulster where his family has been domiciled for centuries. Compared with this, Walcott seems deracinated. He was born into a Methodist family living in the predominantly Roman Catholic island of St Lucia. He is not, more than any other Caribbean of African descent, indigenous to the islands. He is not even straightforwardly African. One grandfather was an Englishman from Barbados and the other was a Dutchman from Saint Maarten, a dependency of Guadaloupe.

St Lucia itself is one of the Windward Islands, situated between Martinique and St Vincent in a series of archipelagos stretching from the coast of Florida almost two thousand miles south to Venezuela. It is by no means the jewel in that long-drawn-out crown. St Lucia is only 238 square miles in extent. When Derek Walcott was born, in 1930, it numbered some eighty thousand people. Even so, Walcott grew up in a ...


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