Learning the art of poetry from U of A's Nobel laureate
Derek Walcott added to his long list of awards in February when he won the T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, one of the poetry world’s highest recognitions, for his collection of poems, White Egrets, which was partially completed during his time at the U of A.
Walcott came to the U of A as the inaugural Distinguished Scholar in Residence in 2009, a program that follows in the footsteps of writing mentorship residencies such as the writer-in-residence and writer-in-exile initiatives, which are designed to give students the once-in-a-lifetime chance to study and work with some of the world’s best writers.
Walcott’s relationship with the U of A goes back to 2007, when he read a poem while been accompanied by a percussionist. During the same visit the Nobel laureate poet also taught a master’s class with students from over a dozen countries, where he asked each student to translate Dante’s Inferno into their language and read it aloud.
U of A political science professor, Malinda Smith, said Walcott wanted the students to determine how the poem would read when translated, recalling an extraordinary debate with an Italian student.
“Afterward I remember Derek saying, ‘wasn’t that great. That student sure gave it to me,’” Smith said. “It was magical. He was very impressed by it. He also said that he’d never been in a class with students from so many countries, speaking different languages.”
Smith said Walcott does not like the charm of fame, which comes in handy in relating with his students.
“It’s rare for undergraduate students to have that direct teaching access to someone like Derek and that makes the U of A one of the few places where this rich experience would happen.”