"It was pleasant in the car, even with the soldiers,"

Writing against the angle of the cold rain, at night, the heat's been turned off, traffic splashes. Went to the BU Creative Writing Program faculty reading last night. Remembered why I felt so uncomfortable during my time there. I thought of Stephen Spender's accurate assessment of Pinsky in his Journals:

"He read a long poem about playing tennis which was wonderfully observed, but it struck me that this was poetic copy-writing. Illustrated with photographs, the poem would make a marvelous brochure for a firm selling tennis rackets." (28-9 March, 1979)

But I went to hear Walcott read, anyways. He read briefly, almost mumbling the words, a quick succession of lines piled in a jagged mass, from The Prodigal (Part I, section 6), ending with this vision of the Hudson and New Jersey:

"Blue-grey morning, sunlight shaping Jersey,
and, magisterial, a white city gliding between buildings,
leaving the river for the Caribbean
its cargo: my longing. A high, immaculate ship."

When he read that last line there was a spark in the air of the auditorium. The apparition just as likely to be an actual cruise ship as a premonition. Part II, section 7 of The Prodigal reflects why most of his work resonates so much for me: because Walcott is one of the few poets writing in English who directly engages with Latin America. This section recounts a visit to Colombia, offering exaggerated, or amplified, impressions of a landscape and people distorted by war and paranoia. Ubiquitous soldiers, the real presence of death among people, buildings, the landscape and the poet himself. I'm reminded of Michael Hofmann's series of poems about Mexico in Corona, Corona, in that both remain faithful to the English language while writing through and of Latin America.

I sometimes read Omeros as a Latin American text, in terms of its acknowledgement of invisibility as a central condition of life. The heroic events of each individual day amid the ruins of empire. I think I've also found it heartening that Walcott is disliked by both the mainstream and the avant-garde. During my year at BU there were only about three of us who engaged with Walcott's work in a serious manner. The rest seemed concerned with avoiding his blackness, perhaps, or with dismissing his technical proficiency.

Long ago. The task was accomplished, M.A. earned, loans accrued, enemies kept at a distance, books discovered. Glad to be through with that.

No comments: