Forty min­utes in the com­pany of ge­nius!

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL - By

“Toni Ni­cholas You are not just go­ing to stand there!” Even as he sat in his wheel­chair, the awe­some power of Saint Lu­cia’s No­bel Lau­re­ate could not be de­nied. His tar­get was a mes­mer­ized teenager, ap­par­ently a mem­ber of the or­ga­niz­ing team be­hind Mon­day evening’s po­etry-read­ing and book-sign­ing star­ring Derek Wal­cott. The ac­tiv­ity was held in the court­yard of the Bay­walk Mall and formed part of the arts com­po­nent of the 2015 Saint Lu­cia Jazz & Arts Fes­ti­val.

Wal­cott’s long-time com­pan­ion, Siegrid wheeled him in shortly be­fore 6 pm. An­other of the or­ga­niz­ers strug­gled to ad­just the mi­cro­phone stand for the su­per­star poet’s con­ve­nience. The young woman who ear­lier Wal­cott had ad­dressed tried to make up for the poor light­ing by di­rect­ing the light from her cell phone onto the open vol­ume in front of Wal­cott.

He posed the same ques­tion to an­other in­di­vid­ual who was at­tempt­ing to hold the mi­cro­phone in place: “Are you just go­ing to stand there?”

Mean­while, the small but ob­vi­ously ex­cited au­di­ence waited. Among the fifty or so seated were a num­ber of the Wal­cott faith­fuls: Robert Lee, Jane KingHyp­polyte, Ken­dal Hyp­polyte and rel­a­tively new Wal­cott ap­pre­ci­a­tor, Stan Bishop.

Then there was the en­thu­si­as­tic JOVC vol­un­teer, among the first to pur­chase and have Wal­cott sign his lat­est pub­li­ca­tion, a col­lec­tion of his po­etry en­ti­tled ‘The Po­etry of Derek Wal­cott 1948-2013’, from which he read that evening. By the look of him, stand­ing but a few feet from the leg­endary poet was, for one young Tai­wanese, the clos­est thing to Nir­vana.

There were no politi­cians in sight. Per­haps they were too busy in­vent­ing new ways to of­fer job-jobs-jobs for all. Also con­spic­u­ously ab­sent were of­fi­cials from the Cul­tural Devel­op­ment Foun­da­tion or from the main pro­mot­ers of the Jazz & Arts fes­ti­val. Per­haps see­ing Wal­cott once a year dur­ing No­bel Lau­re­ates’ Week was enough for our lead­ers and best brains!

Happy to re­port, a small me­dia corps was in at­ten­dance.

“Can you all hear me?” Wal­cott asked, sound­ing more Looshan than Looshan, his way of testing his mic. “Yes!” the au­di­ence replied, en­thu­si­as­ti­cally. And Wal­cott said, with his usual straight face: “I hope you are not just say­ing that to be nice to me.” The ever-faith­ful chuck­led.

“The fish­er­men row­ing slowly in the dusk…” He be­gan to read from “The Fish­er­men Row­ing Home­ward”. It was all part of a familiar Wal­cott theme, the sea, as in “Cru­soe’s Is­land”, “The Light­house” and “The Bounty”. Be­fore he got far into “The Sis­ters of St. Joseph”, he in­ter­rupted his flow to say he was “read­ing from my early work, dur­ing a pe­riod when (Sir Dun­stan) St. Omer and I had be­come re­ally good friends.” St. Omer passed away last week and un­doudt­edly Wal­cott had cho­sen to pay trib­ute.

Though at times it seemed his voice would desert him, Derek Wal­cott read for close to an hour, recit­ing as he alone can, “Tales of the Is­land” and “A Let­ter From Brook­lyn”.

There were more than a few ref­er­ences, al­beit sub­tle, about our aban­don­ment of our cul­ture. But al­ways, as frail as he now ap­pears, Wal­cott re­mained on point, some­times, evok­ing em­bar­rass­ing chuck­les. The at­ten­dance on Mon­day also made an in­deli­ble state­ment. The regular faith­ful and those who be­lat­edly have come to ap­pre­ci­ate the pres­ence among us of Derek Wal­cott milled around af­ter the read­ing to en­gage the “red nig­ger” who has of­ten been de­scribed as the great­est writer in the English lan­guage, com­pa­ra­ble to Shake­speare.

Mon­day’s event also com­prised a vis­ual arts ex­hi­bi­tion fea­tur­ing the work of Lawrence Deligny (wood sculp­ture), Michelle El­liot (paint­ing and ce­ramic), Ce­cil Fevrier (photography), Ras Mosera (paint­ing), Ch­ester Wil­liams photography) and Pauli­nus Her­man (3D wire art).

An ex­pres­sive Wal­cott at Mon­day’s

read­ing.

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