‘Walcott as Poet and Seer’- The relationship between the artist and his country


A report by Keryn Nelson for the St Lucia Star.

returned to Saint Lucia from Taiwan, in part to reconnect or, rather, to connect, as I have no memories of ever feeling fulfilled in the following regard: to my home and the art made on its soil. I am not like many. I do not hold cynical views of art or artists. I think people connect with what they connect with, they sing of what they know, they paint the world as they see it, they write the things they struggle to say. I believe a rich creative industry is indicative of a thriving society. I hold art to high regard and I hope to build my appreciation for local art and artists as I naturally did for the foreign talent that infiltrated my world through television, books and then the internet. Post-university, just as I sunk my teeth into stage and film productions on foreign soil, the disconnect between the stories I was helping to tell and those I wanted to see told pushed me to book a flight bound for home. I did this amidst protests from Saint Lucian acquaintances who offered unsolicited lectures on how home was the land of wasted talent.

Having returned, I cannot say Saint Lucia’s artscape is as barren as they make it seem. No matter how small, there is a community here. A community of persons working, persisting, crafting.

Unlike the homebody I was forced to be as a child and teenager by a protective parent, I now make my best effort to attend art events, plays, lectures, film screenings, book launches, festivals. My latest was The University of The West Indies’ screening of Jean Antoine-Dunne’s ‘Walcott as Poet and Seer’ and Davina Lee’s ‘The Knot’ as part of the university’s 70th Anniversary Celebrations. The event was held at the Financial Administration Centre on the evening of February 16.

About fifteen minutes in length, ‘The Knot’ tells a tale of love and the lengths one will go to in order to get it, keep it or break free from it. I have been in awe of Davina Lee from the moment I learned of her journey in film — a creative whose talent was not foiled by commands to pursue a path more certain; how, as a teenager, she was so in tune with her passion that she pitched a television show to a local station and has remained dedicated to her calling, undeterred by naysayers.

Antoine-Dunne’s documentary ‘Walcott as Poet and Seer’ chronicles the late literary virtuoso’s poetic journey, primarily to his later work, accenting his interest in film along the way. In similar fashion to a few other biographical productions on Walcott, at the centre of the film was his relationship with, and adoration of, Saint Lucia’s landscape, seascape, people and the history of the Caribbean, as well as how these influenced his art. The film also incorporates clips dating fifty years back, including interviews with Monsignor Patrick Anthony, Dunstan St Omer, John Robert Lee and other local culture and art exemplars.

The relationship between Dunstan St Omer and Walcott stuck out as a prominent part of the film. St Omer relayed the contents of a friendship between a “shabin” Walcott from a middle-class family and himself, a dark-skinned boy from a working-class family — a friendship fortified in a love for the arts and a shared vision to impact the world. Most outstanding was St Omer’s talk of how such dreams give life its colour, its meaning — how it served Walcott when he uprooted himself to take his art outside the country and, similarly, St Omer who purposefully stayed to serve the people and the land.

I appreciate such stories; the reality they paint, the vividness with which they are told; a truthfulness to and of self that most others lack — at least from my perspective.

It is true that the only person who understands the tragedy of an under-served, under-developed craft is the artist forced to deviate from his or her calling in order to “survive” — gradually becoming a shell of themselves.

Despite the efforts of some of our older heroes, Saint Lucia has not quite mastered continuity of a self-sustaining, thriving art culture.

Although my learned accounts of failed art intiatives are piling up — the latest discovery is Mc Donald Dixon’s article ‘Remembering Gandolph (1951–2018)’, published in last weekend’s issue, where he mentioned that he donated proceeds from the sale of his collection of poems, ‘Pebbles’ to the Saint Lucian government for the building of a National Theatre — I remain hopeful. I do wish to see a time when the accummulated efforts of all artists yield consistent, quality work; so much so that the artist may live off of his or her art. I hate to be clichéd but I place all my concerns into the hope this old maxim stirs up: “Where there is a will, there is a way.”

One thought on “‘Walcott as Poet and Seer’- The relationship between the artist and his country

  1. Interesting article, comparison are drawn to arrive at a conclusion, having read comments offered gave thought to the reality Walcott has always considered himself ,’ as a son of the soil’, of the country of his birth. Compared with Naipaul who is also a Nobel prize winner as Walcott, publicly renouncing his country which to me, is a character flaw.

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