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White Egrets: Poems Hardcover – March 16, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
From Nobel Prize–winner Walcott comes a 14th collection of poems, richly textured in sound and image, and spanning many countries and memories. From his native Caribbean to Italy, Spain, England, the Netherlands, and the United States, Walcott meditates on the passage of time, fallen empires, bygone love affairs, and mortality. Throughout, in metrically complex verses, he writes about the vocation of the poet with a virtuosic ear and a painterly eye (Walcott is also an accomplished watercolor and oil painter): my craft and my craft's thought make parallels/ from every object, the word and the shadow of the word/ makes a thing both itself and something else/ til we are metaphors and not ourselves/ in an empirical language that keeps growing. Walcott describes a wistful search for home in these poems—Silly to think of heritage when there isn't much, he writes—while also expressing deep joy and thanks that he finds his true and permanent home in poetry. This is poetry's weather, he says of a rainy day in Venice, a lovely moment in a beautiful book. (Apr.)
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*Starred Review* Long, lush, yet battering poems that surge and retract and return like the sea, like breath, are Nobel laureate Walcott’s forte. In his fourteenth collection, he curves this grand form away from the epic and toward the personal, examining the ruins of love and the puzzles of age as he enters his eightieth year. The title poem, punctuated by “stalking egrets” and “clattering parrots” and revved by a tree-tossing storm, is part elegy and part rhapsody and includes this artist’s credo: “The perpetual ideal is astonishment.” That is the state of being Walcott summons as he takes measure of yearning, regrets, and resistance to turmoil, reveling, instead, in the exaltation of earth, sky, and ocean as birds embody feelings and poetry itself. In gorgeous evocations of place––Sicily, Spain, Italy, London, New York, Amsterdam––Walcott writes of the “nausea of absence,” then rejects despair in a startling moment of connection, addressing, “You, my dearest friend, Reader.” His tropes swoop in like birds returning to roost, winged words in jazzy riffs that lift and plunge, flashing light and shadow as Walcott, a not-unscarred literary warrior reports, “I have kept the same furies.” And, looking ahead, “So much to do still, all of it praise.” --Donna Seaman
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when speaking of poetry, there's always talk of the line. one from White Egrets chosen at random:
`hide her face in mist and the barred sun shrivel'
i remove my finger from the page and look up and see the line is from the poem, Epithalamium: The Rainy Season. an epithalamium is a wedding song, and the poem was written `For Stephanos and Heather', a couple who means nothing to me, but who must be very special to mr walcott for him to dedicate a poem to them. their wedding in a rainy season is captured in the one line i selected at random; the mist become veil and the sun shrivel the appearance as the folds created by the drape of the veil, as well as being an allusion to a shakespearean sonnet. any line by walcott would reveal as many gifts. as a reader i am honored to be recipient of his poems, several of them, like White Egrets, for and in memory of his friends, like the joseph of white egrets, his good friend and fellow nobel laureate holder, joseph brodsky.
there's a poem here to president barack obama, Forty Acres, of an engraving:
`Out of the turmoil emerges one emblem, an engraving -
a young Negro at dawn in straw hat and overalls,
an emblem of impossible prophecy: a crowd
dividing like the furrow which a mule has ploughed,
parting for their president; a field of snow-flecked cotton
forty acres wide, of crows with predictable omens
that the young ploughman ignores for his unforgotten
cotton-haired ancestors, ... `
not the american ancestors of mr obama, but the ancestors of a more extended culture, and the direct ancestors of his wife and his daughters who are part of a race who claim him, and he has accepted and claimed as his own through the mingled blood of family.
and there are other poems of travel, reminiscences, old lovers, aging and the feel of the loss of poetic powers, a trope of old men, real and fictional as prospero, a character from one of walcott's favorite shakespearean plays. his poetry remains grounded in the west indian island of his birth and the british island that gave birth to many of the poets of a tradition, problematic to him, which he's honored as one of the tradition's noblest and most distinguished poets.
the couplet he inserts in A London Afternoon:
`but though from court to cottage he depart,
his saint is sure of his unspotted heart'
by the 16th century british poet, george peele, entitled A Farewell to Arms, concludes with the couplet:
`Goddess, allow this aged man his right
To be your beadsman now that was your knight.'
no poet serves, or has served, poetry better, than derek walcott.
(for like and kind). Maybe it's caused by any growth made while
the slaps were sent, received, that a sense of the sort
beyond greatness in the work of this very fallible is met.
Mind these not. From your sitting stand, read and decide.
But for me, reading Mr. Walcott here in his humble (however got)
honest, has set revelation lengths ahead of ego its foe,
and caused what is post below.
Be a man of projects. - Scribe Ani
In double harness, wonder a plague,
he crossed the threshold of eighty and asked,
three years back in his Sea-Change,
whether he (and at himself he laughed)
would become Superman at seventy-seven.
Body, ship of state to rend and break;
closed for repair, rest, nutrition,
and the ancient's second medicine, exercise
award greatness the wreath and dodge of attack.
Each hand captains their driving vessel,
Nestor in the cart with Diomedes at a hundred.
All who on this eye, mouth planet, walked, stooped,
hewed, and drove from before Abram through
to a fighter in New York or a diver in Japan.
`must do more than when they were young,'
I think of those two Athenians, in (their) Politeias
who quote another:
"When a man no longer has to work for a living,
he should practice excellence."
"Eat less and leap more," Rabelais has
the peasant ass say to the dandy, court horse.
And my own tall sire only gave in when stranded,
garage-less in his Purgatory at eighty,
final sleep coming six to seven years on,
and still more man than many.
A superman at eighty? Life puts legs to it!
© Copyright 2010 (17 April-03 June) Joseph Duvernay