Derek Walcott shone at the keynote conversation on March 7th, 2013 with Seamus Heaney at the Association of Writers and Writers Programs in Boston. Later on in the conference, he continued to spread his brilliance at the panel reading two days after, with his former students.
“The poem comes from out of silence. That silence has to be made,” Walcott said at the keynote conversation. Later, reflecting on this quote, I believe he is talking about the silence of the page, to take great pause and thought before coming up with a poem. Contrary to Jack Keroauc’s notion of “First thought, best thought.” Walcott is pushing for meditation and reflection before jotting down your poem.
The two veterans of poetry sat in comfy, black leather chairs— Heaney on the left, Walcott on the right. But it was Walcott who stole the stage. His presence was one of wisdom and fervor. He wowed the audience with wizened intelligence and also deadpan, childish humor.
In the afternoon on the third and final day of AWP, Walcott was greeted by a somewhat smaller audience, as he talked about teaching, poetry, and playwriting. The intersection of playwriting and poetry is where I perked up. This has been an interest of mine since I graduated with a degree in theatre. I have always wondered where the two paths of poetry and theatre might meet.
It seemed to Walcott that most writers think “when it gets sad, it gets lyrical,” “it” being the writing. This is not true, according to Walcott. He then showed the audience how you could insert famous lines of poetry into famous moments of theatre, you get an elevated lyrical moment. For example, he inserted James Wright’s “I want to be lifted up. / By some great white bird unknown to the police.” into Blanche Dubois’ famous lines in Williams’ The Street Car Named Desire. He also pondered if Arthur Miller had used an E.E. Cummings line how much more of an effect it would have had on the audience. “Strange,” he said, “that poetic diction is not being used on the stage.”
Walcott also stated that it would be in a budding playwright’s best interest to form a group that he/she could write for and direct. This might be the best advice I received at AWP.
Derek Walcott was a joy to see in person and to be able to glean what I could from him. I enjoyed his spunk and energy. At the end of the keynote, he wanted the audience to be able to ask questions, but the moderator told him there was not enough time. That eagerness to embark knowledge is a venerable trait in Walcott that I will not soon forget.