White Egrets, poems by Derek WalcottWhite Egrets
by Derek Walcott
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010

Reviewed by Claudia Broman

In White Egrets the action of life becomes poetry and the poems become annals of memory. As the tenth section of “In Italy” relates: “…they are poems we recite to ourselves, metaphors / of our brief glory, a light we cannot avoid…”

It would be a disservice to read Nobel Prize-winner Derek Walcott’s newest book of poetry too quickly.  Dense natural imagery steeped in Caribbean plants, trees, birds, and places contribute to the reader’s understanding of transience and the ongoing tick-tock of time.  Walcott’s subtle rhyming, alliterations, playful approach to hyphenation, and minimal adverbs are all testament to his poetry’s concrete detail and effective metaphor.

Caribbean memories make White Egrets sparkle, and Walcott relates these stories through conceptual frameworks of war, loss, slavery, colonialism, and empire.  Partnered with descriptions of early infatuations, saying good-bye to friends passed on, and experiencing the process of aging, Walcott’s poems prompt readers to consider what intimacy is.

Everyone and everything has a story, even mountain peaks moving in and out of mist.  Walcott takes these stories seriously as he uses the simple beauty of sparrows, egrets, and blackbirds to process the disappointments and joys of growing older.  Walcott calls on his readers to pay attention to the day-to-day, to develop an intimacy with place and experience, and honor our memories.

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Claudia Broman lives in Ashland, Wisconsin. Her poetry has appeared in Writing Nature: An Annual of Fine Nature Writing and Drawing.

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