Derek Walcott: Collected Poems

Early life and education

Walcott was born and raised in Castries, Saint Lucia, in the West Indies with a twin brother, the future playwright Roderick Walcott, and a sister, Pamela Walcott. His family is of African and European descent, reflecting the complex colonial history of the island which he explores in his poetry. His mother, a teacher, loved the arts and often recited poetry around the house.[6] His father, who painted and wrote poetry, died at age 31 from mastoiditis while his wife was pregnant with the twins Derek and Roderick, who were born after his death.[6] Walcott's family was part of a minority Methodist community, who felt overshadowed by the dominant Catholic culture of the island established during French colonial rule.

As a young man Walcott trained as a painter, mentored by Harold Simmons, whose life as a professional artist provided an inspiring example for him. Walcott greatly admired Cézanne and Giorgione and sought to learn from them.[6] Walcott's painting was later exhibited at the Anita Shapolsky Gallery in New York City, along with the art of other writers, in a 2007 exhibition named "The Writer's Brush: Paintings and Drawing by Writers".[7][8]

He studied as a writer, becoming “an elated, exuberant poet madly in love with English” and strongly influenced by modernist poets such as T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound.[3] Walcott had an early sense of a vocation as a writer. In the poem "Midsummer" (1984), he wrote:

Forty years gone, in my island childhood, I felt that the gift of poetry had made me one of the chosen, that all experience was kindling to the fire of the Muse.[6]

At 14, Walcott published his first poem, a Miltonic, religious poem in the newspaper, The Voice of St Lucia. An English Catholic priest condemned the Methodist-inspired poem as blasphemous in a response printed in the newspaper.[6] By 19, Walcott had self-published his two first collections with the aid of his mother, who paid for the printing: 25 Poems (1948) and Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos (1949). He sold copies to his friends and covered the costs.[9] He later commented,

I went to my mother and said, 'I’d like to publish a book of poems, and I think it’s going to cost me two hundred dollars.' She was just a seamstress and a schoolteacher, and I remember her being very upset because she wanted to do it. Somehow she got it—a lot of money for a woman to have found on her salary. She gave it to me, and I sent off to Trinidad and had the book printed. When the books came back I would sell them to friends. I made the money back.[6]

The influential Bajan poet Frank Collymore critically supported Walcott's early work.[6]

With a scholarship, he studied at the University College of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica.[10]

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