Derek Walcott, a Mighty Poet, Has Died

By March 17, 2017

Walcott’s poems explored, among other themes, the sea, memory, and the joys and terrors of physical love.

Derek Walcott was a complicated person and a great poet, and often those things are not divisible. The time I spent with him and his beautiful German-born partner, Sigrid Nama, in Derek’s native St. Lucia changed my life in ways that extended past the New Yorker Profile I wrote in 2004. I felt as though I had always known him—not known him, exactly, but seen him, been in his aura, his history, because, like my father, Derek was the product of a profound world, a distinctly Caribbean world with its history of colonialism and its imperceptible change, and home to so much more, including mothers who spared no amount of love to make you understand that you were their bright boy. Derek’s mother, Alix Maarlin, a schoolteacher, helped him publish his first poems, and it was the light of that first love that Derek always stood under; it made him shy about intimacy, while closeness was something he always sought. The first Mrs. Walcott believed in him with a pride that eclipsed the great honor of his 1992 Nobel Prize for Literature because she was the first to say, if only in her mind: “Why not be Shakespeare?” Anything was possible, and where you were from was just part of the story…

PHOTOGRAPH BY LEONARDO CENDAMO / LUZ / REDUX

Retrieved from The New Yorker

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