Nobel Prize-winning poet shares techniques

Jeff Stone

Derek Walcott, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992, discussed the technical aspects of, and his appreciation for, the art of poetry with about 100 people in Scott Hall on Tuesday.

Walcott, a professor at Boston University, read a selection from his epic poem “Omeros” at the first event of Northwestern’s Classical Traditions Institute, a forum promoting the teachings of ancient Greco-Roman studies.

Walcott, who is also a painter and an actor, spent time addressing his background and the poetic techniques he used during his career.

“The challenge is having to choose the pitch of the poem,” Walcott said. “Language is sound, meaning is afterwards.”

Walcott also addressed the stylistic techniques involved in making a poem flow. Nouns and objects should rhyme in order to enhance the poem’s appeal, he said.

“If you find something that you will need for action, and it rhymes, it is utter bliss,” Walcott said.

Born in 1930 on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, Walcott speaks both English and French Creole. His knowledge of both languages is often showcased in his writing, and creates his unique style.

A number of faculty members were in attendance and three gave introductions of the poet.

One introductory speech came from English Prof. Paul Breslin, who has published a book on Walcott’s writing and history.

“He has extraordinary inventiveness and power of both image and sound,” Breslin said. “I think very few poets handle both of these things as well as him.”

Breslin’s book, “Nobody’s Nation: Reading Derek Walcott,” details the professor’s appreciation of the poet.

“I do truly believe that this is one of very few great living poets and it’s been a real privilege gradually getting to know him a little better,” Breslin said.

Although not as familiar with Walcott as Breslin is, some NU students also came to the reading to see a poet they admire.

“I came to the event because Derek Walcott is one of my favorite writers,” said Lauren Ludwig, a Speech sophomore. “I read some of ‘Omeros’ before and I enjoyed hearing it from the mouth of the poet himself. Poetry is meant to be spoken out loud. Although, at times it was hard to follow because I did not have the text in front of me.”

The new Classical Traditions Institute, which has been developing for more than a year, will serve as a home for faculty who have an interest in the legacies of Greco-Roman antiquity.

“We envision events in the future will bring together other subsets of people interested,” said political science Prof. Sara Monoson. “In future events in the fall we are planning to bring a philosopher, a Greek historian and other artists, both visual and literature.”

A large number of graduate and undergraduate students attended the event, as well as a workshop that Walcott gave earlier in the day.

“The event was hugely successful, he was remarkable,” Monoson said. “Both his reading and his comments were powerful.”