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Derek Walcott obituary

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Nobel prize-winning poet who explored the cultural complexities of Caribbean life

In a career spanning poetry, theatre, journalism, painting and teaching, Derek Walcott harnessed “the complexity of his own situation” – the phrase used by the Swedish Academy when he was awarded the Nobel prize in literature in 1992. Walcott, who has died aged 87, powerfully explored the cultural and linguistic complexities of the Caribbean, where each island has its own distinct melody and vocabulary, as well as those of his own life.

He said that his work could be summarised on a postcard: “Wish you were here.” The poignant current of nostalgia that runs through his verse reflects his belief that Caribbean poetry is “very happy when it’s very sad”. Good Caribbean writing, he believed, has a strong sense of tragicomedy and a brave attitude. It does not despair easily. He described the region as a place of “unfinished associations”, bearing the amnesia that followed indenture and slavery. It is also “the territory of metaphor”, a fertile imaginative terrain, and Walcott’s work is accordingly full of symbolism, myth and folklore.

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