Derek Walcott: Rhyme, Process and “Sea Grapes”

Derek Walcott's interview with Pearl London in the spring of 1982, included in Poetry in Person (Knopf 2010), is remarkably illuminating, thoughtful, and humorous.  Walcott has a tendency toward aphorism and toward spontaneous, weighty pronouncements that made his discussion with London particularly engaging and satisfying both to transcribe and to excerpt. "Innocence," he says at one point, "is reborn in the poem at the same time that knowledge, ordinary knowledge, is there."

Walcott's emphasis on landscapes is one of the most remarked upon aspects of his poetry; his use of rhyme is another.  He speaks movingly to London of the need for rhyme, joking first that any poet that doesn't have a habit of trying to rhyme difficult words should "write a nice big fat novel." He goes on to say: "A rhyme is harmony.  A couplet to me encloses the world...The necessity of rhyme is a philosophical, organic necessity."

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This passage was part of a larger explanation Walcott gave, of how he went about writing the poem "XLVIII." His unpretentious narrative of the process sheds light on the confluence of deep and trivial things that together shape his poems; the room for chance and free association, but also the need for technical and grammatical picking-apart ("The present participle is so pathetic you feel like kicking it, you know what I mean?"). 

At the end of the seminar, London asked Walcott to read Sea Grapes, "as a kind of farewell gesture." He complied:

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