Archive for March, 2013

The Lingering Question

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Well, we finished Omeros rather abruptly.  We just read this vast, genius, beautifully complex poem and I feel like we barely skimmed the surface of what this poem stands for and why it’s so important.  Maybe it’s just because we didn’t have class yesterday, but I have this lingering “So what?” feeling that’s really dissatisfying.  My train of thought is somewhat like, okay, so Walcott’s a poetic mastermind and was inspired by Homer…so what?  Okay, art is history’s nostalgia…so what?  Cultural amnesia, the ocean, fishing, Hector being a horrible driver, Achille forgiving Hector, the Plunketts, Ma Kilman healing Philoctete’s wound, the rain cleansing things, conch shells, the anxiety behind rewriting history, etc. etc.  We identified all these fragments but never put them all together.  So, what does Omeros mean?  What can we take away from it?  What is the glue binding this work together?

I’m not foolish enough to think I can fully pinpoint Walcott’s intention, as it would most likely take years of studying Omeros to completely understand it, but I want to offer some final thoughts to wrap up our study of the work.

First of all, the glue is in the title.  The glue is in the name: Omeros.  All these sections within each chapter, within each book, are bound together under this name.  We already know it means Homer, but is that its true significance?  No.  Walcott would not have written a poem with the mere title “Homer.”  That would be akin to me writing a long poem about people being buried alive and then calling it “Poe.”  That would just be stupid.    Yes, it refers to Homer, but that’s not its real significance as it pertains to the poem.

First, let’s look at the scene on page 14, when Walcott first hears the word “Omeros,” the catalyst for inspiration to write an epic of the same name.

“I said, “Omeros,”/and O was the conch-shell’s invocation, mer was/both mother and sea in our Antillean patois,/os, a grey bone, and the white surf as it crashes”

This is Walcott’s moment of inspiration not simply because the word refers to Homer, associated with the sea more than any poet, but because he realizes that it also refers uniquely and perfectly to the nature of life on St. Lucia.

I want to interpret the word “invocation” in the sense of the calling, the bringing up, the invoking of spirit from within.  This gives a sort of spell-bound nature to the conch shell, the whooshing call of the sea it produces against the ear, symbolized by the letter O.  Mer is a little more obvious.  Walcott identifies it as representing the sea as the mother of his ancestors, the slaves brought over from Guinea on ships, the fishermen whose canoes are extensions of themselves, manifestations of their souls.  Then we have os, Latin for “bone”, symbolizing the framework of the human body, and, if we consider the marrow it contains, can symbolize strength and virtue.

Now you’re thinking, “So, what?”

So, let’s look now to Book Seven, page 296, on which Walcott contemplates the mythical power of the sea, the source of it all, the source of this poem, the source of Homer’s epics, the source of human life on Earth:

“It was an epic where every line was erased/yet freshly written in sheets of exploding surf/in that blind violence with which one crest replaced/another with a trench and that heart-heaving sough/begun in Guinea to fountain exhaustion here, however one read it, not as our defeat or our victory; it drenched every survivor with blessing.  It never altered its metre/to suit the age, a wide page without metaphors./Our last resort as much as yours, Omeros.”

This is perhaps the most revealing paragraph in the entire book.  First of all, it identifies why the sea is such an inspiration for epic poetry.  It is the natural epic, with an ever changing surface, fluid yet permanent, ageless, each pattern of waves a wordless poem instantly to be erased and rewritten, an ocean of continuous beginning, simultaneously archaic and new.  It is Earth’s literature.  At least, that is how I think Walcott views it here.

Second of all, in the literal sense, this serves to describe the voyage of slave ships from Guinea to St. Lucia.  However, the epiphany Walcott reaches here is the influence of those qualities I just described; this passage was not the delivery of his ancestors, but rather their spiritual deliverance.  The sea inspired Walcott to write this poem because it led him to realize that his ancestors’ history was not merely being obliterated, erased, but being rewritten.

The “heart-heaving sough” refers to the rush of wind heard in the conch-shell, the wind that carried his ancestors across the sea, mer, the mother from which they were reborn into a new culture of their very own.  Those who survived, “drenched…with blessing”, Walcott sees as being baptized by the sea, symbolizing their death, burial, resurrection and thus the purifying effect this terrible event had on them.  The steadfast, untamable nature of the sea, that which “never altered its metre/to suit the age, a wide page without metaphors,” relates to os, the bone, the internal strength given to the slaves by the sea when it blessed them.  The sea gifted to Walcott’s ancestors its attributes in this respect, which is why his characters are so intimately connected to it, because it birthed them.  This is exactly why Hector dies upon abandoning the sea for the land.  The sea was the source of him.  

This is the poetic nature of the suffering endured by Walcott’s ancestors, and it fuels his inspiration.  It justifies his turning their suffering into his art, because through the word “Omeros,” through the work of Homer, through awe of the sea he discovered something wildly profound.  He reveals, through this work, the fluid and ongoing epic quality to history, the quality making it impossible to erase, the quality which turns endings to beginnings, just as “one crest replace[s] another with a trench.”

A present example of this lies in African-American culture.  They were originally brought over as slaves, and while their past culture came to an end, it gave birth to them writing a new one uniquely for themselves.  To be vague, this led to Gospel music, to so much literature, Obama becoming president etc.

The presence of characters like Achille, Hector, Helen, Philoctete and others, who resonate literary history, shows even further what Omeros means as a whole.  It means that history is not something which remains in the past.  Like the sea it is perpetual and transforming, and it is what writes us.  History is the skeleton of humanity, and with it we endure.  It is our blank page; inspiration.

Happy Annotating :)

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

truth

Happy Annotating everyone

Duality of Change

Wednesday, March 27th, 2013

One of the more significant lines we discussed in Omeros during class was “art is history’s nostalgia” (Walcott 228). Walcott raises the idea of art as a means of preserving the past, a way of freezing a moment as it is and protecting it from the erosion of time. I would like to further discuss the duality of this artwork and preservation. Preservation of an era or generation is an important theme. Writing an epic, a “tale of the tribe” is in itself an attempt to immortalize an era in a piece of art. This is critical to St. Lucia during a seemingly inevitable transformation of its physical appearance and people. In his Omeros, Walcott’s travels and emotional journey while writing his poem appear to be an act of nobility and cultural preservation. However, in books six and seven Walcott reflects on the guilt he feels from his actions, remarking “hadn’t I made their poverty my paradise” (Walcott 228), as he investigates and documents the destruction of a peoples’ culture. Walcott begins to see himself more like the tourists harassing Achille with cameras, considering the crude art behind the cheap post cards that attempt to capture the island’s life. His guilt manifests even more terrifyingly when he sees the souls of dead poets suffering in hell, punished for the same art which he so passionately loves.

Another symbol of this duality which Walcott repeatedly uses is that of “twin-headed January” (Walcott 223), the month which both ends a year and introduces one. The symbol introduces both books six and seven. Using the image of the passing year is particularly appropriate. This change that so drastically affects everyone is completely out of their control. Janus and January traditionally tend to be images of new beginnings, usually thought of as something hopeful. In this case however, January is an ominous time of year. Achille does not want to lose the sea or his island roots. The presence of January could mean that change has already surpassed the point of return. Or more likely, it could represent an internal shift within Walcott himself, perhaps a change in his opinion of his craft.

Schedule Reminders

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Thursday, March 28, class will not meet.

Annotated bibliographies are due hard copy to my dept. mailbox or office door no later than 4:30 p.m. that day.

Sea Grapes

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

 

Here’s a link to another
Derek Walcott poem
entitled, Sea Grapes.
This page includes an audio file.

 

 

Lingering Issues- Portrait of America

Monday, March 25th, 2013

“This was history. I had no power to change it.

And yet I still felt that this had happened before.

I knew it would happen again, but how strange it

 

was to have seen it in Boston, in the hearth-fire.”

– Walcott, Omeros Book V, Chapter XLIII, Part III

As we were saying in class, Books IV and V get confusing with all the jumping around, but I think the images of America that Walcott uses in them are worth a closer reading. As a whole, these passages don’t have many positive things to say about America, except maybe about its beautiful landscape and some of its hard-working, honest inhabitants doing jobs such as farming and fishing. Even so, these few positives are tainted by the American history and ongoing attitudes. For example, in Chapter XXXV of Book IV Walcott writes, “‘Somewhere over there,’ said my guide, ‘the Trail of Tears/ started.’ I leant towards the crystalline creek” (177). Obviously, even though this takes place in a beautiful setting, the place has an ugly history that can’t be ignored.

Walcott also mentions more modern places, where even though they have been built up, the history of them can’t be ignored. For example he writes, “My face frozen in the ice-cream paradiso/ of the American dream, like the Sioux in the snow” (175). This serves as a reminder that in this land where everyone is pursuing the “American dream,” it is bound to come at a price for some and has already caused grief to many in the past.

In class we’ve already discussed the modern lingerings of racism portrayed in the poem. Like not being able to get a cab, or being feared because of skin color.

So why include this view of America? I think we have to go back towards the beginning of our discussions and the poem. For example, we spoke about resorts in places like the island (St. Lucia) in this poem and how their purpose is to serve the tourists and only show what is glamorous about the place. This is why I think Walcott put a negative view of America in the poem… to avoid allowing a country with a history of slavery and war from being glamorous. He even mentions the glamour of southern estates and lavish museums but makes sure to surround them with criticisms. I think Walcott also wanted to draw attention to America’s tendency to take what they want when they want it, while not necessarily considering how it will affect those who are already established in their own ways of life.

Just some thoughts… What have you guys been thinking?

As for the Lingering Issues

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Professor Scanlon in response to your post, you are most certainly welcome and I thought maybe I could help clarify the poem for the class! I made up this little outline of the main characters/ plots throughout the novel to help everyone understand what I understand! (Please Professor/classmates if any of this is incorrect or misleading feel free to criticize!) The article I read is an analysis and contains amazing descriptions of the characters/plots. I used this website to aid my story! This story is not meant to be highly educated nor difficult to understand so hope it helps! As an introduction, Scott begins to explain, “Omeros takes its name from the Greek name for the poet Homer. The poem draws parallels with both Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. The principle characters in the poem include Achille, Hector, and Helen. Achille and Hector are fishermen on the island of St. Lucia. Helen is a beautiful young woman, whose lovers are Achille and Hector (Scott 1).” The first main plot is the relationship between Helen (the very pretty one) and Achille and Hector, the fishermen. We follow the breakup of Achille and Helen, Helen’s moving in with Hector, Hector’s switch from fisherman to cabbie, Helen’s attempts to find work. Then on top of all of that Achille is also suffering over the loss of Helen. Then in the book we follow Achille as he starts his journey, as he makes a dream return to West Africa, and as he celebrates the St. Stephan’s day festival. Eventually, we discover about Hector’s death in a crash. Then right after about Helen’s pregnancy, and her return to Achille. 
The second plot I feel is equally as important involves Major Plunkett and his wife Maud (a more independent character). The Major decides to write a local history in part as a tribute to Helen’s beauty. We learn of Maud’s desire to return to Ireland, her preparations for her death, and the Major’s eventual mourning for her loss. At one point the Major and Hector confront each other. The third, involves the wound of Philoctete. He is associated with Ma Kilman, who runs a local bar, and Seven Seas, a blind bard-like figure. Philoctete’s wound is eventually healed by and African woman, Ma Kilman, who uses her tribal ways to save him. The last plot involves Walcott himself as the narrator. We follow his own attempt to come to grasps with his failed marriage and his journey. We see Walcott meet the ghost of his father twice in the long poem. Once in St. Lucia and once in North America! In Book Five, “It describes the poet’s travels to Portugal, Italy, England, Ireland, and back to New England. He travels to the Great Plains of North America, looking through the window of an airplane at the clouds and at the landscape of the Dakotas. He returns to Boston, and tries to get a taxi, but several taxis pass by and refuse to stop, though they are empty. He walks to the harbor, and looks at the skyscrapers (Scott 1).” This shows a glimpse of how he was feeling along his adventure and the way he interacted with the lands (example: staring at the skyscrapers). In Scott’s quote, we as readers follow Walcott on his journeys to North America, where he encounters the ghost of Catherine Weldon, Europe, where he visits Lisbon, London, Dublin, and the Mediterrean, and his return to St. Lucia, where he makes a dream visit to the underworld. That’s pretty much all I got and I know there is a lot of connections to Shakespeare (mainly) and other incredible authors however the notes above are what I believe to be the main story line. I assumed that you knew who the characters where roughly in this outline and if you do not then I can also explain maud and Hector and all of them if need be! This does NOT mean however, that I believe this is the point of Omeros. I think Walcott embarks on a lot of forms, genres, characters, and stories that I have yet to understand but that’s the beauty of it all. It would not be nearly as famous if we actually understood it all!

Source

Scott, Alex. “Derek Walcott’s Omeros, and the Significance of the River of Ancestry.” Queequeg’s Crossing. N.p., 2000. Web. 24 Mar. 2013.

Supplementary Long Poem – Kristen Roberts

Saturday, March 23rd, 2013

again, i apologize for my unfashionable lateness. i’ve completely lost control of my narcolepsy and it is slowly swallowing my life. i also have absolutely no time management skills. shocking news, i’m sure.

i’m sorry if this seems to lack my usual absurdness. i’ve misplaced my joy of learning somewhere underneath this never-ending pile of homework that has me stuck in my apartment doing homework at 3am on a friday night. for the first time ever, i actually miss having the free time to clean up my apartment. this place is a complete tip.

i honestly wish i understood this poem more, because there is clearly so much to talk about. but i unfortunately don’t speak poet with any sort of fluency, and i’m gravely disappointed in this essay. it could have been so awesome. :/

i bet you’re stoked to read it now.

(more…)

Postcard from St. Lucia

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

postcard st. lucia

helpful links: Gwendolyn’s essay  and Paul Jay’s article

My hand message washed off but here you go anyway

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

People, I am feeling… unnerved?  dissatisfied?  disappointed?  [insert UN and DIS words] that we are struggling with Omeros so much.  It is a hard poem.  But it’s also a stunning poem.  And this is an advanced seminar.   You don’t have to like it (but thank you, Kristina!).  But you should be working harder to understand it, to think about its purpose and intention.  You should be blogging about it, even if you are posing questions.  So let’s see some better work in our last week on Walcott.

Some lingering issues:

literary/epic precursors:  We talked about the Melville exchange in class, but a few others are important to Book V as well.  What do you make of the narrator’s encounter with James Joyce (200-201) and his imaginative rendering of the Odyssey (200-204)?

What is going on with our fluid Seven Seas/Omeros/griot/shaman/London man/etc. figure?  What do the manifestations have in common?  What is the purpose of this figure in the poem?

portrait of America: In Books IV and V, we get reflections on present-day America and historical America: Boston, the American West, Native American history, the history of slavery and current race relations.  How are they portrayed individually or what is America’s role more broadly?

poem’s (in)coherence: In class, people expressed confusion about how to bring together all of the parts of this poem: Plunketts, narrator, Achille/Helen/Hector etc.  Ideas?

same old, same old:  I, too, am sick of father-son stories (thanks a lot, Shakespeare, Disney, and everything in between).  But we’ve got another.  Warwick-narrator.  Plunkett-missing son-historical Plunkett.  Afolabe-Achille.  Discuss.

language:  French creole.  English creole.  Standard English.  Anachronistic Black Dialect.  (Others?)   Are there patterns of usage?  Where and why are certain languages employed?  Also, have you noticed that nature “talks” in the poem?  Walcott repeatedly describes nature using communicative words (e.g., garrulous, talkative, cry, pass on, making signs, calligraphy); how does that fit in?

form/genre:  This is our first truly narrative long poem.  Our genre theorists talked about the influences of lyric, epic, novel, drama on the long poem.  How can we characterize Walcott’s use of these or other generic forms and expectations?

There is more but that will do.