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This review is taken from PN Review 28, Volume 9 Number 2, November - December 1982.

VOLUBLE VOYAGER Derek Walcott, The Fortunate Traveller (Faber) £3.95

The title of Derek Walcott's latest collection of poems is both ironic and accurate. As he moves from North to South America to the West Indies, the poet-traveller senses violence, corruption, suffering: whether in the austere winter of New England, where 'Old Glories flail/The crosses of green farm boys back from 'Nam', or the stifling midsummer of Port of Spain, where 'junta and coup d'état, the newest Latino mood,/broods on the balcony'. He is fortunate, in that he can move on: but this freedom is a guilty privilege: the suffering 'remain/compassionate fodder for the travel book,/its paragraphs like windows from a train'. It is also a privilege with an ancient price: rootlessness, isolation: this traveller is almost always alone. He is fortunate and guilty in another, deeper way, however: in the quality of his poetic imagination which, re-enacting that old scandal, makes art out of suffering.

Walcott's poetic imagination is informed by a variety of registers, from 'that lovely Latin lost to all our schools' to the vivid Trinidadian dialect which energizes 'The Spoiler's Return'. It is also an imagination prone to extremes. Walcott can be, at times, decorous and subtle; but for the English reader much of his work has, to borrow George Steiner's coinage, an extraterritorial energy: its power is undeniable, but it challenges indigenous notions of restraint and precision. Consider the Gothic surrealism of the line 'On the black wings of your screams I watched vultures rise', or the complex shock of this apostrophe ...


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