V.S. Naipaul Versus Derek Walcott

I studied V.S. Naipaul’s A House for Mr. Biswas in my first year at the University of Zimbabwe.  I found the book engaging and enlightening, rich with its characters’ unique experiences. Later, I browsed other books by Naipaul, such as A Bend in the River, but none seemed to surpass the talent displayed in A House. So I can safely say I know one or two things about the works of Naipaul. But I am a new comer to Derek Walcott’s works, although I have always known about him being one of the Nobel Laureates. A few weeks ago someone mentioned Walcott’s facility with poetic style and the first opportunity I had I bought his Selected Poems and Tiepolo’s Hound.  That was last week.

Then today I woke up to find out these  Nobels have an on-going dispute in which they doubt each other’s talent in writing. Naipaul is reported to have labeled the poetry of Walcott as “full of emptiness”. Sometime in 2007. Now, actually last weekend, Walcott made a public attack of Naipaul at the Calabash International Literary Festival in Jamaica, in his poem “The Mongoose”. As he started his reading, reports The Statesman, Walcott announced, “I’m going to be nasty.” Here are the opening lines of the poem:

“I have been bitten. / I must avoid infection./ Or else I’ll be as dead as Naipaul’s fiction.”

Here is a longer extract as transcribed by The Statesman:

“So the old mongoose, still making good money

Is a burnt out comic, predictable, unfunny

The joy of supplements, his minstrel act

Delighting editors endorsing facts

Over fiction, tearing colleagues and betters

To pieces in the name of English letters

The feathers fly, the snow comes drifting down

The mongoose keeps its class act as a clown

It can do cartwheels of exaggeration

Mostly it snivels, proud of being Asian

Of being attached to nothing, race or nation

It would be just as if a corpse took pride in its decay

After its gift had died and off the page its biles exude the stench

of envy, “la pourriture” in French

cursed its first breath for being Trinidadian

then wrote the same piece for the English Guardian

Once he liked humans, how long ago this was

The mongoose wrote “A House for Mr Biswas”

The UK’s Telegraph  reports that Patrick French, Naipaul’s biographer, said “Knowing Naipaul, he’ll say nothing and then at some point he will lash out. He said to me once, ‘I settle all my accounts.'” Whatever happens, literature wants to see moments like these.


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