Derek Walcott: Poet and Creator of breathtaking beauty. 

Sir Derek Walcott, Nobel Prize-winning poet, playwright and essayist, died on March 17, 2017, aged 87. 

This post is written in the memory of Derek Walcott, of whom I have no memories at all, neither of the man himself, nor of reading his poetry. With the news of the passing away of the Nobel laureate, his poetry has surfaced and being read and analyzed and remembered all over the world. 

I now learn of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia that he belonged to, that shaped his poetry and that he borrowed from, all his life. I only knew of the other Nobel laureate from the Trinidad and Tobago islands, the inimitable V. S.Naipaul. There must be something about the islands that begets so much poetry and literary excellence. Incidentally, the two of them have been contemporaries, knowing each other well and later, falling out and having an acrimonious relationship. 

Derek wrote majorly of the Caribbean, of the landscape and the topography, of its colonial past and its rich and varied culture, which came about due to the intermingling of influences over the centuries. 
In reading his poetry, I learn of the pull of the native places and their place in our psyches, the ways they shape our narratives and the ways we go back to them in our memories, if in no other way. 

In his poetry, Derek turns back again and again to St. Lucia… 

…Didn’t I prefer a road

from which tracks climbed into the thickening syntax
of colonial travellers, the measured prose I read

as a schoolboy? 

– Omeros

I also learn of the anguish and the muse of a creative spirit, at the empty days, of the pain of not being able to create. 

… I am a musician without his piano

with emptiness ahead as clear and grotesque

as another spring? 

– In the Village 

Walcott was prolific, but he would still wait for inspiration, perhaps, waiting for the poems to arrive, without trying to force them. 

If you know what you are going to write when you’re writing a poem, it’s going to be average.

I learn of the power of the creation that is brought about anew, when things break and the ways they are then glued together. The pieces are better than the whole; it is the healing power of love that brings life to it. 

Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole. The glue that fits the pieces is the sealing of its original shape.

 -Nobel Acceptance speech. 

I learn what home is and how exile affects the person with its pain and longing. All through his work, Derek talks of places and of being away from them, exploring them in his memory and the memories being even stronger than reality. There is a poignant nostalgia in his poetry. 

I also learn of lives and of journeys… 

Verandahs, where the pages of the sea

are a book left open by an absent 

master 

in the middle of another life –

I begin here again, 

begin until this ocean’s 

a shut book, and like a bulb 

the white moon’s filaments wane.

-Another Life

I learn about the beauty of greeting myself at the doorstep, waiting eagerly for me to walk through the door, to hear about my day, to smile at the good fortune I had and the little things that went wrong. About knowing myself, as I have known my fears and struggles and desires; the unfulfilled ones and the unrequited passion. 

…with elation, you will greet yourself arriving at your own door…

– Love after Love. 

Derek’s lyrical poetry is a sensory extravaganza. 

…I lived there with every sense.

I smelt with my eyes, I could see with my nostrils.

-Omeros 

There is not just his home that is in his poetry, it is the deep sense of the places he is in, the painting of a picture through words. Being a trained artist and expected to be a painter when he was young, his skill of seeing things as paintings and pictures comes through as breathtaking beauty. 

Roads shouldered by enclosing walls with narrow

cobbled tracks for streets, those hill towns with their

stamp-sized squares and a sea pinned by the arrow

of a quivering horizon, with names that never wither

for centuries and shadows that are the dial of time. Light

older than wine and a cloud like a tablecloth

spread for lunch under the leaves.

-In Italy

Derek talks of age that is no longer youth, 

I have come this late

to Italy, but better now, perhaps, than in youth

that is never satisfied, whose joys are treacherous,
while my hair rhymes with those far crests, and the bells

of the hilltop towers number my errors,

because we are never where we are, but somewhere else
– In Italy

In White Egrets, published in 2010, Derek muses on his own mortality. Beautifully, he says, 

be grateful that you wrote well in this place,

let the torn poems sail from you like a flock

of white egrets in a long last sigh of relief. 

And, as he famously said, 

No poems. No Birds. 

– In the Village. 

4 Ways to Tell if You are a Writer 

Image courtsey: The Odyssey Online

Disclaimer: This post is aimed at and addressed to you, the reader. However, whenever I say ‘you’ for the reader, it can also be construed as ‘me’, the writer, because this is why the post is written: to reassure myself that I am doing alright. 
It can take (us) writers a long time to be marginally readable. There are a few who are like Gods on Earth, the ones who seem to write without effort, sitting down at their gleaming writing desks each morning, hammering out hundreds of words with scarce a pause in between and a smile on their lips. These demi Gods are a paragon of clarity and eloquence and everything that they write is lapped up by the masses and the adulating crowds… anyway, you get my point.

Then there are the mere mortals, the ordinary writers who find the writing hard, fearful and terrible. Most of what they write is through a convoluted process of agonising over the what and the how. They (Us) struggle to get the words right, the adverbs out of sight, weeding out the cliched similes and mataphors so that the masses of words are pruned into the semblance of a manicured beauty.

To add to the agony of making the writing clear is the fear of not doing it well enough. There is the issue of acceptability, both of what is being written about and the language employed. Say in a memoir, how much about something can one write? What are the things that absolutely should not be left out so as to stay relatable, even though it may mean being estranged from your aunt, the one who tattled about the family secrets in the first place.

Then, there is the problem of excrutiatingly bad ideas that somehow refuse to turn into the swans from the ugly ducklings of the first drafts. The bad first drafts just morph into bad second drafts and the rewriting seems to have little effect on the final version. Is it ever going to get any better, is what you (I) despair of. Months go by and then of course, years and the way we live our days, in desperation and trepidation seems to be the way we are going to live our lives. The mere mortals seem to lose all hopes of even sitting at the feet of the demi Gods.

In between the struggle to be the writers we (there, the ‘we’ had to come out) want to be, spewing breathtaking beauty and truths of life that have hitherto been undiscovered or let us say, not been expressed in our inimitable ways and the awareness of the clock ticking away, perhaps of our creativity and the resilience to write, there lies the little window of hope and of getting there against all odds. 

In spite of the doubts, here are a few ways to tell when you (yes, we) are a writer.

1. Daydreaming

You daydream a lot. Yes, me too. Daydreaming is built into your system and no matter what others think, it is a valid activity, to be indulged into on a daily basis. Dreaming is not a waste of time, you feel, but a way to be more creative and a way to delve into your intuitive powers. 

You would always have stories running through your head. They may be populated by wild characters or ones that do unimaginably creative things. The stories are varicolored, sensory extravaganzas that stream fast through your mind even when your are deep in other things.

You have imaginary conversations. The talk could be the people in your head or the people who are real and you rehearse the words and your reactions and their delight and how those conversations are then going to be the turning point in their lives.

The day dreams are also about you, writing away to literary abandon. There could be no greater pursuit or joy than in writing.  

2. The Written Word

It is God. Period. Anything that is ink or black scratchings on white paper or any coloured scratchings even on yellowing parchment, it can be put on a pedestal. This applies equally to cheesy love letters and drab instructions for fixing a machine.

As for you, in the presence of the written word, you are dumbstruck and you can be content in being a wallflower for the rest of your life but you want part of the glory of the word and you itch to write yourself. 

It is not about being published or about the accolades or the hallowed doors that open to a person of immense talent. It is about the joy of relentless writing, only for the sake of it. 

3. Writing on your mind

Reading and Writing are always on your mind. Indulging in one makes you want to indulge in the other. They are the yin and the yang. You swing like a pendulum between the two. There are stories that you read, that you like and they lead your mind to narratives that run around in your head. There are snippets of conversations that you hold onto for  a years because you can weave an entire tapestry of emotions around them. 

4. You hate your work

You excel at self criticism. Your Inner Critic (IC) is alive and kicking. Everything that you write is robustly rejected as being  terrible in every aspect. Your IC can mostly be found perched on your shoulder as you practice your craft. For every few sentences, the IC can be seen shaking his (or her, depending on your own gender and on the complex you have, either Oedipus or Electra) head, his expression a mask of disdain. The words you employ are met with a snigger from the IC, the flow of ideas with a grimace. Nothing you write meets the approval of the IC, even when others like what you publish.

A strong IC also means that you, the writer have a strong urge to improve your craft. 

Writers are writers, because they write. Even when no one reads them. Even when the words are not precise and the sentences are convoluted. Even when the writers digress from the story they are telling to another thread that unravels inspite of themselves, sometimes creating themes and motifs and at other times, creating a mess.

This listicle is part of Friday Listicles, a weekly feature that professes our love for anything that is presented in a numbered or bulleted form, paving the way for a happy weekend. 

9 Quotes on Writing by Writers 

1. There’s no such thing as perfect writing, just like there’s no such thing as perfect despair.

Haruki Murakami 

2. Writing every book is like a purge; at the end of it one is empty … like a dry shell on the beach, waiting for the tide to come in again.

Daphne du Maurier 

3. All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.

Leo Tolstoy 

4. An idea, like a ghost, must be spoken to a little before it will explain itself.

Charles Dickens 

5. The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart. 

Maya Angelou 

6. So usually even if you like a sentence or a story or something, it won’t come out that way – it’ll come out years later, and in a different way, and you don’t really control that.

Keren Ann 

7. Writing down thoughts is like making marks in the wind. The wind in turn makes kites fly even as we cannot see the strings. 

Nicoletta Baumeister 

8. To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the music the words make. 

Truman Capote 

9. There are two kinds of truth: the truth that lights the way and the truth that warms the heart. The first of these is science, and the second is art. 

Raymond Chandler

This listicle is part of ‘Friday Listicles‘, a weekly feature that professes our love for anything that is presented in a numbered or bulleted form, paving the way for a happy weekend. 

Taboo: A Book Review

Title: Taboo

Author: Thomas Piggott

Genre: Non fiction, Memoir. 

Publishers : Wallace Publishers 

Synopsis 

Set in the Midlands during the 1970s, Taboo tells the harrowing true story of the brutal abuse Thomas Piggott suffered and the childhood that was so heartlessly stolen from him as a result. It also follows him into adulthood, highlighting how the pain and the emotional damage caused by these attacks blighted his relationships, his career and his life in general, long after they had stopped. 

Review

Taboo is a book that delves deep into the mind of a child abuse victim and traces the ramifications of that traumatic experience into other areas of his life. It talks candidly of abuse, depression and mental illness. A true story, it can inspire other sufferers to speak out and seek the justice and the care that they deserve. 

Thomas Piggott wrote the book to share his story. He wanted to exorcise the ghosts of his past and come to terms with the negative influences that nearly destroyed his life. He also wanted to lay to rest his painful memories and to encourage other victims to talk about their abuse and to seek help so that they do not have to spend years feeling guilty and humiliated. 

It is a poignant memoir and the sincerity with which Thomas narrates his life’s events makes the reader sympathise with him. The book and the narration of the events is peppered with aphorisms and the learnings that he has culled from his experiences. 

Beginning right from his childhood and leading on to adulthood, Thomas describes the abuse and how the trauma later on leads to depression and mental illness. His marriage falls apart, as does his sanity.

An Acute Psychotic Experience brings forth fully the demons that he has had to battle. It is an eye opener in that it helps the reader to understand the despair and the helplessness of someone who is suffering from mental illness . 

The book is in a conversational style, which means that sometimes in the middle of the scenes, the writer digresses. It also seems like there are journal entries that have been put in the book, making certain events seem disjointed. 

The author’s time at the mental hospital takes up a large part of the book and in talking of his experiences as well as of the people he encounters, it makes for an interesting read. 

When the story ends where it does, there is plenty of hope that the author hands out, yet I wished there was more about his struggle to come to terms with ‘real life’ after spending time at the hospital for mental illness. 

In the end, there is hope and faith and a belief in the human spirit that can overcome all odds. In spite of being on medication, Thomas keeps his chin up and tries to redeem his life and dignity as best as he can. 

Verdict 

The book is a sincere and sensitive portrayal of child abuse and mental illness and the effects it has on the psyche of an individual. In talking of experiences that are considered Taboo by the society, the book attempts to destigmatise them. It exhorts the victims to come forward, talk about their experiences and to seek help so that they can be healed. 

The grammar in the book is jarring at times and the flow of the narrative is punctured by digressions into the author’s viewpoint. 

I rate this book 3 stars. 🌠🌠🌠 

I received a copy of the ebook for an honest review. 

Friday Listicles : Top 6 Literary Fixes


Being a voracious reader, I like to read book after book, with scarce a pause in between. I can be reading up to three different books at a time. When I am full of one, or overwhelmed with the thought thread in another, I only have to turn to yet another. Good books nourish the soul.  But there are times when I need some mindless reading, or something that is not too much effort but is good reading. I call such reads my literary fixes as they fill the gap in my reading and they are light and pleasant.

Here are my Top 6 Literary Fixes :

1. Re reading Classics


Classics are considered ‘heavy stuff’, with archaic language and difficult to follow plot line. Yet, there is nothing more comforting for me to turn to the familiar characters I have grown up with (I started reading classics at a very young age and had read many of them by the time I finished school) and relive their lives, struggles and emotions. I go down the familiar lanes, see the landscapes once again and wander the mansions. It is something I cannot do in real life, for people and places change every time I blink.

2. Western Novels


The wild, wild west attracts me like nothing else and because the uncertain, danger ridden, pistol toting, knife wielding characters always live on the edge, it is a perfect antidote to my staid lifestyle. Any time, I pick up a Louis L’Amour book and follow the protagonist across the deserts or on mountain trails, I come back rejuvenated.

3. Travel Literature


The Lonely Planet magazines are my best friend. They are always perched on my shelf just within reach. I pore over the articles and the magnificent photographs and sigh and dream. Well, some day….

4. Romance


The girl is lovely, simple, sincere and the guy is rich, arrogant and seemingly too good for her. Yet, ‘feelings’ develop and they inch towards a commitment. The key words are ‘simple’, ‘feelings’ and ‘inch’. These are the features of the romance novels I like. Yes, Barbara Cartland, Georgette Heyer…. They are old world and so am I. But, sometimes, books like Twilight seem too interesting and… delicious!

5. Humour 

P G Wodehouse would take the credit anyday for cheering me up. There have been train journeys, when I caught up on my reading of the pile of Wodehouses I owned, laughing uncontrollably all by myself and attracting queer glances from my co passengers. There is just something about the humour that is slapstick and yet delivered in the most understated manner. 

6. Good Housekeeping


This is the last but definitely not the least. Any time, I am fed up of the chores, the endless running about, the loooong list of things to be accomplished, I plonk down in a comfortable chair and check out the online version of Good Housekeeping magazine. The pristine houses and beauty of living spaces makes me forget my own shabby surroundings, badly in need of dusting. In my mind, I am repainting the kitchen cabinets a gorgeous red and getting the perfect floral centerpiece.

I would love to hear from you, my dear readers, about your literary fixes.

Small Stones – Book

The cracked spine of the book 

digs through my palm 

The rustle of the pages 

brittle with age 

The musty odour wafting up 

Yellowing pages and faded words 

mingle with the bitter coffee 


What are small stones?

A small stone is a short piece of writing (any style) that precisely captures a fully-engaged moment for you. The process of discovering small stones is as significant as the finished creation. Searching for small stones encourages you to keep your senses on the “alive and alert” status. Involve yourself with a new set of eyes, ears, nose, mouth, fingers, feelings and mind. This is Mindful Writing at its best. 

Follow Me Home: A Book Review 

Book title : Follow Me Home 

Author : Jen Benjamin

Genre : Romance, Chick Lit

Synopsis 

When writer Katie Kendall moves to LA to turn her best-selling novel into a film, she is pretty sure it should be the happiest time of her life. But, with an unsupportive husband who suddenly files for divorce, the paparazzi assuming she is having a fling with the leading actor, and her friends left miles away in her old hometown, she begins to think she’s made a big mistake. 

Can her new crowd of friends help her through these times? And could those paparazzi snappers have a point about that leading actor…? 

The author, Jen Benjamin is a newspaper writer and her debut novel, Follow Me Home, is charming. 

The Story 

Katie, the best selling writer moves to California to produce a movie based on her book. Things look good and then they just fall apart. 

Her unsupportive husband files for divorce and Katie is perplexed. Before she can fall into despair, her new found friends in town rally to her support and Katie waltzs effortlessly into the making of the movie. 

She feels an attraction for the male lead, who is a rock sensation and a very unlikely person for her to fall in love with. 

And yet, the love story moves smoothly to its logical conclusion with a few twists thrown in for some hiccups. 

What Is Lovable 

The characters are lovable. The protagonist Katie, is intelligent and sensitive yet socially inept, liable to get nervous, goof up, feel awkward and has the most self deprecating wit that you would like. Jesse, the male lead is wonderful. A singing sensation with millions of swooning fans, he falls in love with the unpretentious Kate. To top it, he is caring, mature, level headed and generous. If that is not adorable, what is? And yes, he has a very loving and caring family as well. 

Julia and Ashley are the perfect girlfriends for Katie, lending an ear, encouraging Katie, supporting Katie and asking her to get to the root of her feelings for Jesse. 

There’s Ivan, the rich lawyer, who is, yes, another understanding character. So, the love interest does not lead to a love triangle. 

Nor does Jesse have an ex – girlfriend so there are no real obstacles to the love between the lead pair. 

Using the pithy journal entries by Katie in the book is something I liked very much. It summarized and tantalised as to what was coming next. It also made the first person narrative interesting and funny. 

The book is set in California, with all the trappings of Hollywood and yet, what I loved best was the music they make for the movie. There is more emotional investment and even passion in the creation of a song than in the making of the movie based on Katie’s best seller. 

What It’s Not

The characters are lovable but all of them are too good and picture perfect. There are just a couple of characters that are supposed to be negative and their character flaws are sort of glossed over. There is no meanness here and it adds to the feel good factor that reading this book generates. 

in the book, plenty of things happen in the span of a few months. But it is a bird’s eye view of the events. We get the highlights ; the important bits that move the story forward. This adds to the breezy feeling that the reader gets. 

There is no over analysis of emotions. There is a lot going on. There is love, first and foremost and friendship, at its cutest level. There is bonding and concern and detachment and indifference and difficult situations but at no point does the book delve deep into the motivations or the angst of the past experiences or the losses. That is why it feels light and not like an emotional drama. 

Verdict 

All in all, a lovable, feel good, light read that can be categorized into romance and chic lit. 

There is no smut, no overt sexual encounters and no objectionable language. 

I liked reading this debut novel so much that I am looking forward to the writer’s next book. 

I rate this book 4 stars. 🌠🌠🌠🌠 

I received a copy of the book for an honest review.