At the recent Calabash Literary Festival in Jamaica, Derek Walcott reportedly had an audience riveted when he lashed out at Naipaul in the form of satirical verse. Here is an extract from the poem, “The Mongoose”*, grabbed from The Guardian and where you can also read a report on the event by Daniel Trilling:
I have been bitten, I must avoid infection
Or else I’ll be as dead as Naipaul’s fiction.
Read his last novels, you’ll see just what I mean
A lethargy, approaching the obscene.
The model is more ho-hum than Dickens;
The essays have more bite, they scatter chickens
like critics, but each stabbing phrase is poison
Since he has made that snaring style a prison.
The plots are forced, the prose sedate and silly
The anti-hero is a prick named Willie
Who lacks the conflict of a Waugh or Lawrence
And whines with his creator’s self-abhorrence.** (The Guardian, 1 June 2008)
* As the reporter points out, the Mongoose was brought to the Caribbean from India, by the British.
** The extract is probably as transcribed by the journalist; my version differs from The Guardian’s in that I have rearranged line-breaks according to the rhyming couplets.
And here’s a different extract, pulled from the New Statesman, but as reported by the same Daniel Trilling:
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”. (New Statesman, 29 May 2008)
The press was actually scooped on this story by a blogger in Kingston, Jamaica, Annie Paul. You can listen to a podcast of Walcott’s interview with Kwame Dawes and reading poetry at the Calabash Festival at Open Source.