..Derek Walcott (
1930- ), winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in
Literature, was recently awarded France's
highest honour for cultural achievement -the
Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters. The
Award was conferred in Paris by the French
Minister of Culture Renaud Donnedieu.
St Lucian -born Walcott moved to Trinidad in the
1950s, where he founded the Trinidad Theatre
Workshop in 1959, as "a theatre where
someone can do Shakespeare or sing Calypso with
equal conviction". Walcott frequented the
Calypso tents during dem early years in Trinidad
and he soon became a fan of the inimitable
"Spoiler" (Theophilus Phillip). Indeed, Walcott
managed to capture Spoiler's artistic
mischievousness in a fascinating poem titled "
The Spoiler's Return" in which the dead bard
composes as he decomposes.
Spoiler died on December 24, 1960 after checking
himself out of hospital against the firm
advice of his doctor. Grenadian-born "Bomber"
(Clifton Ryan), Spoiler's greatest disciple,
tells a heart-breaking yarn 'bout how the
Master's casket was carried to the cemetery by a
band of tear-soaked kaisonians. Says the Bomber:
"We came out of the All Saints Church and we
decided not to put the coffin in the hearse; we
carried it right to the [Woodbrook] cemetery".
Bomber was the winner of the Trinidad and Tobago
Calypso King (Monarch ) Competition in 1964 and
one of his compositions was a nifty number
called "Spoiler's Dream". In his Dimanche Gras
presentation, Bomber delivered just like his
mentor, hitting an appreciative audience with
multiple dollops of Spoiler's trademark
sentence- "AH WANNA FALL"
WALCOTT IN GRENADA, 1954
Young Derek Walcott came to Grenada in September
1954 to take up an appointment as an Assistant
Master of English and Latin at the Grenada Boys
Secondary School (GBSS). Walcott did not like
Grenada. He was turned off by the country's
fixation on class and colour, says biographer
Bruce King. Here is how King puts in "Derek
Walcott, A Caribbean Life":
"Although he had a reputation as a good teacher
and Faye [Walcott's first wife] was admired for
her looks, dress sense, and having landed a job
in the Governor's office, Derek was unhappy in
Grenada. He did not want to teach. He wanted to
live on St Lucia and paint. Grenada was called
the Spice Island and, according to a long
unpublished article he later wrote , Walcott
made up his mind to dislike the nutmeg, ginger,
and allspice for which it was famous. St George,
the capital, is a beautiful town built in hills
around a harbour; he decided it was Georgian
colonial postcard pretty... Walcott disliked the
social distinctions based on class and shade"
Walcott's observations about race and class in
Grenada gained academic respectability in the
work of the Jamaican -born social scientist
M.G.Smith, who studied the island between
1950-1954 (The Plural Society in the British
West Indies, pp. 262-303) Smith tells us that "
a small near-white planter group was at the apex
of the [Grenadian] hierarchy and that the "brown
upper middle classes dominated commerce,
official councils, committees, certain clubs and
other organizations...The island beauty contest
catered to the brown elite" p277.
All of this helped to set the stage for Eric
Gairy , who came back to Grenada in December
1949 from Aruba. Young Eric Gairy spoke on
"diverse occasions" ( he liked those words)
about the "indignities" he suffered at the hands
of "Grenada's whites, the so-called "upper
brackets who played tennis at Dunfermline".
Gairy probably sought to avenge those real or
perceived indignities when, in his early teens,
he served as lookout man for his brother George
("Bambam head") while the latter broke into the
clubhouse of the Dunfermline Tennis Club.
The young men were found out and brought to
trial: "Bambamhead" got a court-ordered flogging
and Eric ("Barbadosbroomstick"), dressed in his
best church clothes, walked out of the court
with his little halo intact.
Walcott, who published his first book , 25
Poems, in 1949, has said a great deal
about race since his sojourn in Grenada (
September to December 1954):"Mongrel as I am",
he has written, "something (body part)les in me
when I see the word Ashanti as with the word
Warwickshire, both separately intimating my
grandfathers' roots, both baptising this neither
proud nor ashamed bastard, this hybrid, this West
Did the Grenada experience launch the poet into
racial politics? Perhaps it did .
According to Mervyn Alleyne, Walcott tends to
absorb rather than shed influences.