Celebrating Black History Month at the VCU Libraries
Reviewed by Kevin Farley, Humanities Librarian
Poet Derek Walcott, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992 (see here for further information about Walcott and his work), has been an influential voice in the rise of Postcolonial literature, and the consequent development of the academic discipline, Postcolonial Studies (and Postcolonial Literary Theory). In these movements, the experiences of those who have been subjected to colonization—particularly in the former British Empire, including India, Africa, and the Caribbean (an empire that lasted some three hundred years)—are rendered in fictional retellings of the external and internal conflicts instilled by colonization. As many readers instinctively understand, fiction at times serves to work through, or re-imagine, the constraints imposed upon us by the world, by others, and even by ourselves; unlike much literature before it, however, the postcolonialist aesthetic often leaves the conflicts of its narratives unresolved, in keeping with the legacy of colonialism itself. In Walcott's work, and the work of Postcolonial writers, such conflicts lead to a greater understanding of the forces that continue to affect those who have been colonized. This legacy is depicted perhaps most completely in Walcott's contemporary epic poem, Omeros—an extraordinary re-invention of the Homeric epic, the Odyssey. Set in the Caribbean, Omeros (a masterpiece of versification, written in stanzas of Dantean triplets, suggesting the literary echoes that permeate Walcott's poem, as well as the purgatory of enduring and striving to overcome colonialism) portrays the lives of ordinary islanders, who must struggle with scarcity, poverty, unfulfilled dreams, and the embattled desire for transcendence—the detritus left ashore as empire recedes. "Affliction," Walcott writes, "is one theme / of this work, this fiction, since every 'I' is a / fiction finally." The title character, Omeros, is a blind poet who embraces the world around him, its joys, sorrows, violence, and beauty, and celebrates the entwined lives and legacies from which his art takes life.
Cabell Library PR9272.9 .W3 O44 1990