A beautiful article by Joshua Jelly-Schapiro about the friendship, artistic rapport and ongoing dialogue between the two men behind Morning, Paramin: beloved Nobel Prize winning poet Derek Walcott and a renowned figurative painter Peter Doig. Here are excerpts below; read full article in The New Yorker.
The village of Paramin, in Trinidad’s high northern mountains, is a scattering of humble homes. Known for the peppers and thyme its farmers grow on hillside plots, the village is reachable only by vertiginous roads plied by old Land Cruisers that serve locals as communal taxis. Trinidad is an island known for its intertwined histories—it changed hands between the British, French, and Spanish, and has more than a million residents who boast roots in India or Africa or both—and Paramin is especially so. Many of the area’s people descend from slaves who fled cocoa plantations at the mountains’ feet, and older residents still speak a French Creole. Each year, during Trinidad’s famous carnival, the sons of these elders cover themselves in blue paint and fasten demons’ horns to their heads. The “blue devils” then gather at the town’s crossroads, spitting fake blood, to terrify the children of their neighbors, or of visitors from the island’s nearby capital of Port of Spain.
No Trinidadian will read the title of the new book by Derek Walcott, the Nobel Prize-winning poet from the nearby island of St. Lucia, and Peter Doig, the celebrated Scots-Canadian painter long resident on the island, without thinking of such traditions. “Morning, Paramin” is a collaboration between two foreigners who have both spent chunks of their lives in a country that is, as Walcott writes, “full of paintable names.” The book finds Walcott, who has himself always made paintings, and who will soon turn eighty-seven, responding to the dreamscapes of the painter thirty years his junior. On the left-hand pages, prints of fifty-one of Doig’s paintings from the past twenty-five years face poems by Walcott, written in the past two, on the right. Walcott’s free verse dilates upon the places the images evoke for him. A beach scene in crimson elicits an elegy, for instance, for “the wisdom you get from water-bearded rocks”; a painting of one of Paramin’s blue devils prompts an ode to islands whose “heredity is night,” their “bats and werewolves, loups garous, douennes.” The palette of Doig’s “Gasthof,” a painting of two figures in beige silhouette, has Walcott recall his first glimpse of an English mustard field—“like opening a book’s brass-studded doors.” Also included are some of the paintings Doig made of the snowy ponds and woods of Canada before he came to the tropics. Apropos of Doig’s snowflakes, Walcott, who once taught at a university on Alberta’s frigid plains, writes of “the silent blue kimono of the pool,” of “freckled logs,” and of “how far from palm and breakers was our apartment floor in Edmonton.”
Walcott makes mention, in the poem that accompanies the painting “Pond Life” (1993), of the “two different heritages” at play in Doig’s work. The phrase also describes the two friends—one black, one white, one a native son of the Antilles, the other an arrivant to them. Their collaboration was enabled by the island where they met, as Doig told me when I called him at his studio. Doig spent part of his boyhood in Trinidad, where his father worked for a shipping company; thirty-five years later, he returned for an artist’s residency, with his own family, and decided to stay. Walcott, Doig reminded me, first arrived there in the nineteen-fifties, to help found the vaunted Trinidad Theatre Workshop with his brother Roderick and performers including Beryl McBurnie and Errol Jones. He then spent decades splitting his time between universities in North America and his home in St. Lucia, where he grew up and where he has since settled with his partner of many years, Sigrid Nama. [. . .]
[Image above: Peter Doig, “Lapeyrouse