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Writers need to be honest to their craft, Nobel winner says

April 25, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - Mercersburg Academy on Monday welcomed a Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright who told students that too many times literature is destroyed whenh writers believe they are "selling out" and not being honest to the art.

"The temptation of being not true to your craft is a perpetual one," Derek Walcott said.

Walcott explained that artists can add intricacies into their work that not only profoundly affect audiences, but also establish it as truly their own.

"There are different tricks you can do to ... soften (people). A lot of art is tricks. If you know the tricks, you can practice them a lot," Walcott said.

Walcott, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992 for "Omeros," said his first collection of poems was printed after borrowing $200 from his mother. He then sold the book on the streets of St. Lucia, the isolated Caribbean island where he was raised.

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Memories of the Caribbean don't influence Walcott's writing, he said, but rather "are my writing."

Touching on some of his many world travels, Walcott said he doesn't feel at home without the sand and sea. He read poems for a packed house at the Mercersburg Academy Chapel, and those poems created images of the Caribbean with a "bed of sweet sandalwood" and "crabs that were willing to let an epoch pass."

"He has a very deep appreciation for language," said Diamond Reynolds, a senior from the Bronx, N.Y.

Reynolds asked Walcott questions as a student panelist from The Fifteen, which is a club of the top 15 English students from Mercersburg Academy. The club has been in existence for about a century, staff said.

The Fifteen studies top literature from a number of genres and examined Walcott's work prior to his arrival through the Jacobs Residency fellowship program.

Walcott's writings use alliteration and metaphor to create identity, Reynolds said.

"His brain works at a higher level," said Stephanie Turner, a senior from Hagerstown who also is a member of The Fifteen.

Walcott said he cherishes the friendships he has found in literary circles, where writers often develop a feeling of "benign envy" over the accomplishments of friends. That comes from an innate sense of inferiority among artists who find difficulty in taking pride in their work, he said.

"I don't make distinction of better or worse among other writers. There's no competition really," Walcott said.

Walcott shared experiences in which his educators gave him confidence to write and speak publicly. He also explained how his mother, who would often recite Shakespeare, sparked his passion for great literature.

"I felt that maybe someday she'd recite something I had written," Walcott said.

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