Walcott Doc ‘Poetry is an Island’ is an Enchanting and Illuminating Portrait

Julien Neaves, Editor

How do you capture the essence of a man that embodied a world of creativity like Saint Lucian poet, playwright, and Nobel laureate Sir Derek Alton Walcott (1930-2017)? If you are filmmaker Ida Does you paint a portrait with fine and broad brush strokes and craft the award-winning 2013 documentary, Poetry is an Island.

And “portrait” is the best word I can use to describe the film, as it is more about capturing Walcott at that time than attempting to trace an extensive, exhaustive biography. Sure, there are biographical elements, as we learn about his parents, his birth, his family, and how he started writing, and we see archival images and video including of when he won the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature. But the meat of the film is exploring the world of Walcott through both his eyes and those around him. And it is downright fascinating.

Photo courtesy walcottfilm.com

Allow me to get a little personal for a moment, if that’s alright. It is? Good on you. My sole academic exposure to Walcott came in the form of his poetry collection Selected Poetry (1993). I was equally amazed and intimidated by his mastery of language and depth of imagination. You could tell this was a man who saw the world like no one else, and this comes out well in the film through the interviews with family, friends, and colleagues. There is an intimacy in their descriptions, voiced over scenes of Walcott painting, chatting with people or contemplating the waves with those deep, boundless eyes. And it is even more apparent in the narrated excerpts of his poetry. Listening to the words of a master in full control of his craft while soaking in the breathtaking cinematography of the natural and human wonder of St Lucia, or the spectacle of the Hindu Ramleela festival in Trinidad, is to be an island surrounded by the highest art. And it is glorious.

In the film, as in life, there are the heights and depths, the comedies and the tragedies. Walcott is a beloved creative force but also a super strict task master, especially when it came to his plays. One friend recalled him berating a late actor that the only excuse for tardiness is if his “mother dead”. His impact and love for the people and land of St Lucia is palpable, but as is his hurt at the lack of development of a planned artist retreat on an island gifted to him, Rat Island, the dilapidation of the theatre named in his honour, and a plan to build a tourist resort at the foot of the “sacred” Pitons. But one can tell that his love of country was one that would never wane, even to the day of his death (he would pass four years later).

Photo courtesy walcottfilm.com

Poetry is an Island is primarily a commemoration of Walcott and his work but stretches beyond to become a commemoration of Walcott the man, his beloved country, Caribbean identity and poetry itself. And it is truly magnificent.

Score: 9 out of 10

You can watch Poetry is an Island and other great Caribbean content on Pavilion+. And you can check out more from the region below:

RICH POETRY MEETS STRIKING IMAGERY IN DEREK WALCOTT-NARATED ‘THE SADDHU OF COUVA’
THE POETRY OF “UNFINISHED SENTENCES” IN THREE SLICES
THE BLACK MOSES IS A TREASURE TROVE (THE BAHAMAS)
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Julien “Editor Jules” Neaves is a TARDIS-flying, Force-using Trekkie whose bedroom stories were by Freddy Krueger, learned to be a superhero from Marvel, but dreams of being Batman. I love promoting Caribbean film (Cariwood), creating board games and I am an aspiring author. I say things like “12 flavours of awesome sauce”. Read more.