Never before had I encountered a more animated and excited Derek Walcott. Our only living Nobel laureate was clearly in his element on Wednesday evening when he played host at a book launch, at Jambe Du Bois on Pigeon Island.
To quote William Arthur Ward: “The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.” Guests at Wednesday’s launching of Bostonian Melissa Green’s book of poetry, ‘Magpiety’, couldn’t have asked for a more inspiring tutor than Walcott—as Ms Green happily testified.
Among Wednesday evening’s adoring assemblage was Jane King Hippolyte. By Walcott’s indisputable word she stood out early—for her clarity and modesty. “She is also married to one of our best poets, Kendall. But she taught him how to spell,” Walcott joked.
Ms Hippolyte read a piece entitled ‘Geography for Robert’, reportedly in answer to an observation by fellow local poet Robert Lee that there was no geography in her poetry. “This subject is quite topical these days,” said Hippolyte.
In his introduction of Melissa Green, Walcott revealed that she was a very gifted but quiet student of his. “We were working together and then one day she told me her father had died. What I said was, “So now you have to write a poem, right?” which sounded to her, I imagine, callous and crude, maybe. She went home and wrote a poem anyway. And when I got it I was stupefied with admiration!”
I suspect it’ll be a long time before the lady receives higher praise!
For her part, Green recalled that when she first met Walcott she had been drowning for a long time trying to find someone who could bring her to poetry. “And he just put out his hand and drew me from the water and we worked very hard . . . But I wasn’t a good writer. He taught me to write a line and it had to be as straight and powerful as the horizon. I will forever be grateful to Derek for teaching me how to write a line. He both shadowed and brightened every line.”
Ms Green has been writing thirty years. She said: “When Derek recognizes you, you come to life; you become blessed; you are christened; you are awakened.”
I swear I saw a tear fall from the Nobel winner’s left eye. Green then read excerpts from her book.
Later in the evening a traditional folk band entertained and it was not long before Walcott was into the singing of some of the Kwéyòl folk songs too, much to the delight of those present. Some of them even joined in at the beckoning of Walcott.
In attendance on Wednesday were some of Walcott’s other long time associates and friends: Gandolph St. Clair, Kendall Hippolyte, Robert Lee and McDonald Dixon as well as poet Vladimir Lucien and SHE Magazine editor and Managing Director of the STAR, Mae Wayne.