Category: Derek Walcott

Remembering Derek: The IRNEs

April 25th, 2017 in Blog, Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Derek Walcott, IRNE Awards

IRNE_DW

Boston Playwrights’ Theatre founder Derek Walcott was remembered at last night’s IRNE Awards!

Remembering Derek: Larry Breiner

March 19th, 2017 in Blog, Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Derek Walcott, poetry

Derek Still
by Larry Breiner

ore legar populi” - Ovid

The pages of the sea still turn
And the leaves of the trees.
The feathers of birds still rustle in the wind.
But there is a stillness, a muting, something missed.
Where is the voice that tolled out the names in the sea,
Intoned the oracles scratched on the Sybil’s leaves,
And chronicled the cities fled or flown to?

Take up the volume; turn up the volume.
Read him to your child, your lover,
To strangers encountered,
To your father who is too much alone.
The lost voice, reanimate,
Reanimates the voices of all the lost,
The sound of a shot of rum,
The harsh gossip of the almond
and the cedar’s singing,
The hoe’s thud into earth, the oarlock’s creak,
The slow, echoing topple of the bois canot,
And the bursting youth of every dolphin - every one.

Remembering Derek: Ronan Noone

March 18th, 2017 in Alums, Blog, Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Derek Walcott, Ronan Noone

I have a lot of great memories of Derek Walcott but the one abiding memory, the one that always returns, is when he pulled me aside one day after our first class together. He had just heard an early draft of a play I was writing and he asked if I would like to sit in on his poetry seminars too. I said, "Yes, of course." But what it really meant to me was that this master had seen something in my work that required his attention; that this green behind ears newbie had the stuff to become a writer. It was the recognition that gave me the confidence to be the writer I am today.

The play I was working on that day was The Lepers of Baile Baiste. And below is a picture of myself and Derek and Ciaran Crawford on the opening night of that play in New York City three years after that first class. I am what I am because of Derek Walcott.

Ronan_Derek

New York City, 2004: Ciaran Crawford, Ronan Noone, and Derek Walcott on opening night of The Lepers of Baile Baiste.

—Ronan Liam Noone

Remembering Derek: Boston Playwrights’ Theatre

March 17th, 2017 in Blog, Boston, Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Derek Walcott

DW_headshot_IMG_0416Today, Boston Playwrights’ Theatre is mourning our founder, Derek Walcott. We wanted to offer the following memory for Derek’s past students of playwriting at Boston University.  

….

On the afternoon of Boston’s coldest day of the year, January 26, 2007, we interviewed Derek Walcott, Professor of Poetry and Playwriting at Boston University. Derek spoke from his home in St. Lucia. The interview was conducted by phone. Below are selections from Derek’s side of that conversation regarding the founding of Boston Playwrights’ Theatre (then celebrating its 25th Season).

….

Derek Walcott:

The thing I wanted to do was to have the playwright in close contact with the actor, which is something in a professional theatre that you just don’t get. You get the actor coming in, being given a part, the writer’s there, and there’s no real exchange between the playwright and the actor. There’s an exchange between the playwright and the director, but I thought the thing that would be best for any playwright—and particularly since I was at BU—was to have a program in which the actors and the playwrights could relate immediately, and the actors could help in terms of the shaping of the scripts. So, that was the whole plan behind it, and I think it has worked very well in terms of the immediacy of the relationship between the actor and playwright.   

….

I was invited to come to BU by Leslie [Epstein] and George Starbuck, I forget the year. And it was a good offer, so I accepted it. Well, with the MacArthur [Fellows Program, also known as a “genius grant”] you got some extra money apart from your personal award, so I used money from that to put into the Playwrights’ Theatre in Boston. I forget how much it was that started off the Playwrights’ Theatre. We got very good support from Dr. Silber, and so on, to clean out the theatre, to use where we are now and build things.   More

Remembering Derek: Melinda Lopez

March 17th, 2017 in Alums, Blog, Derek Walcott, Melinda Lopez

Derek, I knew you first as a master playwright, then a terrifying and inspiring teacher. But I feel that I truly came to understand your greatness when I studied your poetry with Anita Patterson at BU.  I still turn to your New York poems in times of crisis. I will again and again. Thank you for teaching me so much about theatre, your grace, your jokes, and Chinese Food.

Playwrights, Open the Suitcase.

—Melinda

A note from Kate

March 17th, 2017 in Blog, Derek Walcott, Kate Snodgrass

“The king is going home.” from Omeros by Derek Walcott.

I am heartbroken. For those of us who knew and loved him, Derek's passing is a milestone in our lives—certainly it is in mine. And for the world, we have lost a needed presence, a gifted poet and playwright, a true literary giant. I try to express it, and words are not enough. For those of you who knew him and loved him, please feel free to contact me (ksnodgra at bu dot edu) or K. Alexa Mavromatis (kamavrom at bu dot edu). We will be happy to have your words on this blog. Sharing our grief allows us to be together, and that is everything in this moment. With warmest regards to you all.

—Kate

St. Lucia, January 23, 2017

January 24th, 2017 in Blog, Derek Walcott, Kate Snodgrass, St. Lucia, teaching

st_lucia_1Today I’m flying back to Boston from St. Lucia on Derek Walcott’s birthday—January 23. He is 87 years old today. I have been coming here for years on this week where the entire island celebrates his birthday with readings at the Governor’s House and with the “Nobel Speech”—this year given by Jamaica Kincaid. Many of Derek’s friends come from all over the world to celebrate with him as well—Esperanza from Spain, Mindy from China (via Los Angeles), Caz from North Carolina (via Yale and St. Kitts), Glyn and Marie-Cristina from Essex and London, Adriana and Martin from Transylvania and Canada, Michael from North Dakota. This year we are missing some stalwart visitors like Stephanos from Greece, Derek’s translator Matteo from Italy, John from New York, and many more. But all of us have become a staunch, if mismatched, team of celebrants, and Derek and his partner Sigrid traditionally take us to dinner, honor us with a boat ride up to Soufriere to have lunch near the active volcano at the Ladara resort (a honeymooners’ paradise where there are no confining walls, only spectacular views of the Pitons); then the return back up the coast to Castries with a late-afternoon stop for a dip in the Caribbean sea. More

Celebrating Derek Walcott: Laurence Breiner

October 15th, 2015 in 2015/2016 Season, Blog, Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Derek Walcott

DW_headshot_IMG_0416This month we are celebrating our friend and founder, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. We held a private event here at BPT featuring a number of Derek’s colleagues, friends, and former students who honored him by telling stories and reading his (and their own) work. The invited audience was treated to selections from his work including The Ghost Dance, The Joker of Seville, and many others. 

We shared essays about Derek in the program for the event, and want you to have the opportunity to read them too. Enjoy!

Among Walcott’s many distinctions is this: he is, as far as I can tell, the first Anglophone Caribbean poet to quote another Anglophone poet in his work. This happens in his autobiographical poem Another Life (1973), where he describes the exhilaration he felt as a teenager reading the then-new collection by the Jamaican George Campbell (First Poems, 1945). In the first depiction of the act of transmitting a West Indian poetic tradition, Walcott quotes several lines as read by his mentor Harry Simmons. Actually he quotes Campbell again later, but with characteristic slyness: the quoted phrase (“thank you, life”) is so banal it can easily pass unrecognized, but it is a line from one of Campbell’s most famous poems, “Litany.” To put that another way, Walcott is the first to insist that there is a community among the poets of the region, and that they can be engaged in a conversation. The filial gesture, with its nod to Simmons, is especially sweet, coming at a time when Walcott was often criticized for too much reference to “Western” culture.

Since Walcott, two succeeding generations of poets have arisen in St Lucia, for whom the conversation of poets is normal.  Leading the first successors are Robert Lee, Kendel Hippolyte, Jane King, and MacDonald Dixon, lifelong friends who have for the most part remained in the island, supporting each other’s efforts (though their poetry sounds nothing alike) and investing in the rising younger writers. The work of the new cohort, though highly individualized, is clearly aware of and engaged with the poetry of Walcott and of the intervening, mentoring, generation. Walcott has his outright imitators (Wayne Brown seems permanently stuck with that label), but none of them seem to live in St. Lucia.

Walcott’s slyness about allusion is a robust trait he has passed down, close kin to his love of egregious bad puns (for every reader of Walcott, a headslapping moment accompanies the realization that thanks to his Eastern Caribbean vowels, whenever he is watching the “gulls” at the beach he may also be watching the “girls”). Hippolyte’s “Poem in Manger” makes that Walcottian move in its very title, which sets up the poem as a holy infant, first forcing us to read it as a very incongruous Christmas poem, and then (if we are dogged) leading us to an unexpected source, surely the oddest prior Christmas poem in English, Robert Southwell’s “The Burning Babe”  (1595). Meanwhile there is yet more on the plate for the St. Lucian reader, who is likely to have reacted already to the disturbing bilingual pun planted in the same three words: “poème à manger” – a ready-to-eat poem, which is also a baby.

In the current generation, Vladimir Lucien, as we might expect in this tight community, is one who has learned from Walcott and Hippolyte especially, but their presence in his poems is subtle rather than imitative. For example, his poem “The True Sounds of Numbers” is shaped by a trope of enumeration that Hippolyte often employs. On the level of detail, however, the line “I want to count leaves of cane” invites us to associate the speaker productively with Walcott’s Ti-Jean, the folk-hero who defeats the planter-devil who sets him this very task.

Ben Jonson, the Renaissance poet-playwright to whom Walcott is sometimes compared, had his tribe, the “Sons of Ben.” So too does Walcott – it is one of his gifts to his country.

—Laurence Breiner

Laurence Breiner is Professor of English at Boston University and a member of the African American Studies Program.  He is the author of An Introduction to West Indian Poetry and Black Yeats: Eric Roach and the Politics of Caribbean Poetry, as well as numerous articles and reviews on Caribbean poetry and drama.

Celebrating Derek Walcott: Russell Lees

October 14th, 2015 in 2015/2016 Season, Alums, Blog, Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Derek Walcott, Derek Walcott: A Celebration, Russell Lees

DW_headshot_IMG_0416This month we are celebrating our friend and founder, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. We held a private event here at BPT featuring a number of Derek’s colleagues, friends, and former students who honored him by telling stories and reading his (and their own) work. The invited audience was treated to selections from his work including The Ghost Dance, The Joker of Seville, and many others. 

We shared essays about Derek in the program for the event, and want you to have the opportunity to read them too. Enjoy!

A typical class with Derek (the years I was in the program anyway) went like this: the weekend before class, the playwright, director and actors meet to rehearse a scene. We block it out, find some props, the actors ask questions; then several run-throughs and perhaps some rewrites. A couple of days later we arrive in class all rarin’ to go. The lights come down, brief silence to settle the audience, lights up and the scene began! Very exciting indeed for a playwright.

Generally about 45 seconds into the scene (and certainly never more than 2 minutes), Derek, who sat invariably on the front row, would put up a hand. “Sorry! Stop there, please. I’m sorry, but...” And then he’d pose unsettling questions. “Why would he iron a shirt at this moment? What is the time of day? What is your idea, tonally? Why is she standing there?” Next he’d conduct a few experiments, some textual and some directorial. He might ask the actors to skip every other line, or place them facing unusual directions or remove a character from the scene altogether. His directions to the actors mostly involved rhythm: “Staccato to begin! Staccato!” In the initial weeks, these sorts of things drove the playwrights completely insane. It was enormously frustrating to write and rehearse a 15 minute scene, only to have it abruptly up-ended during its first few seconds. Infuriating, really.

But…

It took a while for us to set aside our defensiveness, but eventually, each of us did simply because it was undeniable that each time Derek tossed those change-ups at our plays, they came alive onstage. Clichés were stripped away, implications surfaced, words took on greater meaning. What at first had felt almost like an affront, instead was revealed to be a purposeful unveiling of substance within the work that, until Derek messed with it, had been opaque to the writers themselves.

We came to call this (unimaginatively) “Derek’s magic” and soon looked forward to it. It was no parlor trick, however. All his meddling was showing us how to rethink the text in space and time, opening up unforeseen possibilities.  Derek was pushing us to take our own work more seriously. It turned out that, once a writer had seen this ... it’s difficult to call it a method, since it was so idiosyncratic ... this restructuring in action class after class, it was possible to do a similar version of it in one’s head while writing. It is, in fact, a way to push for a little extra depth or obliquity or acuity. And that was Derek’s imprecation to us always: push the writing a bit further, try to write just a tad better than we were comfortable with, dare a little. After all, it’s live theater. It’s no place for cowards.

—Russell Lees

Russell Lees is the author of Nixon’s Nixon, which played off-Broadway at the MCC Theatre and in regional theatres around the country as well as across the UK and in London’s West End. Subsequent plays include Monticel’ (produced at BPT in 2003) and Rancorous. Currently he is what is called a narrative designer at Ubisoft, Montreal.

Celebrating Derek Walcott: Anita Patterson

October 13th, 2015 in 2015/2016 Season, Blog, Boston Playwrights' Theatre, Derek Walcott, Derek Walcott: A Celebration

DW_headshot_IMG_0416This month we are celebrating our friend and founder, Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott. We held a private event here at BPT featuring a number of Derek’s colleagues, friends, and former students who honored him by telling stories and reading his (and their own) work. The invited audience was treated to selections from his work including The Ghost Dance, The Joker of Seville, and many others. 

We shared essays about Derek in the program for the event, and want you to have the opportunity to read them too. Enjoy!

I am grateful to Derek Walcott for the wisdom and beauty of his poetry, and because he has taught me that education and craftsmanship have the potential to release us from our servitude to history, bringing peace of mind through love and acceptance. I have reflected for many years on these lines from Omeros, where we learn,

…the right journey
is motionless, as the sea moves around an island
that appears to be moving, love moves around the heart—
with encircling salt, and the slowly travelling hand
knows it returns to the port from which it must start. (291)

Walcott writes in the modernist tradition of T. S. Eliot, Aimé Césaire, and St.-John Perse, poets who drew their strength from a fertile desert, the diverse cultural rubble of the New World. For Walcott, as for Césaire and Perse, this multifaceted legacy on the frontiers of empire fostered elation, an awakening to new possibilities in what Walcott has called “the tidal advance of the metropolitan language” (“Muse” 51). Like Eliot, Walcott embarks on an odyssey to discover and reassemble shattered New World histories, where the end is a homecoming, Walcott’s knowing acceptance of his poetry’s beginnings in a Caribbean port. Receiving the gifts of memory and heritage conferred by family, community, and the landscape of his native island, in Omeros the poet’s homecoming brings his father’s advice to fruition:

“Once you have seen everything and gone everywhere,
cherish our island for its green simplicities,

…The sea swift vanishes in rain,
and yet in its travelling all that the sea-swift does
it does in a circular pattern. Remember that, son.” (187-188)

In 1974, Walcott explained how the modernist ideal of the craftsman figured in his own self-conception as a poet from the Caribbean archipelago:

In the indication of the slightest necessary gesture of ordering the world around him, of losing his old name and rechristening himself, in the arduous enunciation of a dimmed alphabet, in the shaping of tools, pen or spade, is
the whole, profound sigh of human optimism, of what we in the archipelago still believe in:  work and hope (“Caribbean” 13).

A year earlier, Another Life honored the artisanal achievement of the poet’s mother, a seamstress who imposed order and significance on a childhood lived within the chaotic panorama of contemporary New World history:

Your house sang softly of balance,
of the rightness of placed things. (157)

One reason for Walcott’s great success as a poet is that his devotion to craft affirms solidarity with the invisible, nameless, countless, laboring men and women who, believing in work and hope, built his Caribbean island heritage. Not all of us have the brilliance and strength to achieve such a homecoming, but Walcott’s lifelong commitment to poetry and teaching gives me hope that future generations of students and readers will continue to discover the wondrous possibilities of the New World in his work.

—Anita Patterson

Anita Patterson is Professor of English at Boston University, where she teaches courses on American literature, modernism, and black poetry of the Americas. In her book Race, American Literature and Transnational Modernisms (2008), she developed a more global and comparative perspective, exploring the dynamics of influence and intercultural dialogue among New World poets such as T. S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Ezra Pound, Aimé Césaire, St.-John Perse, and Derek Walcott.

Works Cited
Walcott, Derek.  Another Life.  Collected Poems, 1948-1984.  New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986.  143-294.
---.  “The Caribbean:  Culture or Mimicry?” Journal of Interamerican Studies and World Affairs 16.1 (February 1974). 3-13.
---.  “The Muse of History.”  What the Twilight Says.  New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998.
---.  Omeros.  New York:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1990.