IN JULY 1994, I flew to Paris as one of six aspirant Black South African writers invited by the South African writer, Denis Hirson (resident then in Paris for twenty years), to a once-off fiction workshop sponsored by the French minister of culture. The other writers were Joan Baker, Sipho Mahlobo, Isaac Mogotsi, Roshila Nair and Mango Tshabango. Most of us had had bits and pieces published here and there, most notably Tshabango, who had had a story published in an early Staffrider. The workshop – ten week days – took place at Royaumont Abbey, a 13th century Cistercian monastery close to a small village 30-plus kilometres north of Paris. Apart from these ten days, our programme included five or so days in Paris, staying with Parisians and taking part in readings at two book stores.
While Walcott sometimes misses the point of a question or his humour falls flat, it is still a pleasure listening to him, where the crack of age adds another dimension to his voice as he insists that Omeros is not a re-writing or a re-framing of Homer in the Caribbean. For me the power of Walcott’s poetry has always been its associative abilities, drawing connections through association, insinuation, rather than any direct line. To him the relationship between Omeros and Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey is one of association, allusion, as it should be with literary ancestors.
My favourite bit is when Walcott mentions his morning ritual when writing:
I live near the sea… on the edge of the beach. And I would get up in the morning – in those days I smoked, thank god – I would get up, and I knew I was getting up not really to work, but to smoke and have a coffee…