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Chapter 9 - Learning from Walcott

Heaney’s Black and Green Atlantic

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2024

Malcolm Sen
Affiliation:
University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Julie McCormick Weng
Affiliation:
Texas State University
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Summary

The Caribbean poet and playwright Derek Walcott was an early and heretofore relatively unrecognized exemplar for Seamus Heaney, who began reading Walcott in the 1960s and continued engaging with his work his entire career. Walcott’s example enabled Heaney to realize that he could be true to his mixed and multiple linguistic, cultural, literary, and political inheritances, and further, that dwelling amongst such identities could be a position of poetic strength. This essay shows how Walcott confirmed Heaney’s penchant for memorializing historical atrocities committed against members of minority communities across the “Black and Green Atlantic.” At the same time, Walcott’s nuanced poetry modeled how Heaney might enrich and complicate his poetry of witness by seeking rapprochement with such perpetrators through registering their common humanity through their local language. Walcott’s poetic integrity thus influenced Heaney’s continuing attempts to draw on the divisive conflict in Northern Ireland by exploring how literature might not linger on the wound of racialized resentment but finally transcend that situation and ascend into a condition akin to Walcottian song.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2024

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