Babel brings Buffalo a bit of St. Lucia

If there was one writer on the Babel bill this year I really needed to see, it was Derek Walcott. This is not because I’m a huge fan or anything, I have heard just about as much about him as the other three, namely nothing. However, upon trying to read his book of poetry, I found myself at a true loss of comprehension. Maybe I need a scholastic atmosphere to know I have others around me for interpretations, but no matter how much I enjoy the art, I just have the hardest time wrapping my mind around it. This 1992 Nobel Prize winner is a true wordsmith, though, and his flowing, metered prose is beautiful to delve into, it’s just sometimes one needs the man himself to read his words for absolute clarity.

Thankfully, Walcott did just that; a reading in the true sense of the word, the poet spent about a half hour reciting works that he handpicked to the audience. This was by far the shortest appearance yet with introduction (thankfully much shorter than Dorfman’s), readings, and Q/A lasting a little over an hour before the autograph session began. It is quite amazing what hearing a poem by its author can do to someone. Looking around the room, most patrons had their eyes closed soaking in each word, few if any were reading along in their books. To me, it was more like a concert then anything literary. His deep, lightly accented baritone was lyrical and flowed through the room. Myself being a music lover without ever really listening to the specific words found that I just let the poetry come to me, maybe not understanding each stanza, but fully comprehending the context and emotions that went with each line.

Walcott is a very humble man containing a keen sense of humor. Almost shy and nervous at the start, once he was introduced and seated in his chair (nice plush cushions rather than the standing podiums from the past) he softly spoke, “they left me alone?” By far the smallest audience number, Walcott still saw enough to call us a huge crowd, something “rockstars love, but poets, notsomuch.” He spoke of how he must compress everyone into one person, so that he can be seated across the room from an embodiment of us as a single entity, which he can then speak and read to. The Q/A contained much levity and was a joy to be apart of. When asked who he thinks deserves the Nobel today, he responded with “I’d like it again, it’d be great” before admitting to his friend Philip Roth. We also learned that to him the poet’s audience is the poet himself, as it’s dangerous to assume you have a following for they can turn and rebel against you at will. A poet’s goal is to astonish himself that what he wrote actually came from him. “The poet is nature’s priest,” he declares, although he won’t be yelling it in the streets any time soon.

One gripe of this installment was the decision to start taking tickets. I didn’t like losing a souvenir, especially since I now will have a gap in the collection. However, they did announce next year’s line-up, and it’s a good one, even for a literary novice as myself:

9/25 – Nigerian author Chinua Achebe and his novel Things Fall Apart
10/29 – Canadian author Michael Ondaatje (novel TBD)
4/1 – Iranian Marjane Satrapi and her graphic novel Persepolis
4/17 – Isabel Allende? (don’t quote me, I thought I heard Isabella Yenday, so she is the closest I could find on a google search)

Tickets will be on sale at the final leg of this season’s show 4/24 with Kiran Desai.

Courtesy of Bruce Jackson.

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