cover image The Bounty

The Bounty

Derek Walcott, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $18 (0p) ISBN 978-0-374-11556-2

A prime aged Porterhouse steak, four times as thick as this slim volume and served with butter and pate, would not match the rich density of this new collection, the Nobel laureate's first since his epic Omeros. Walcott's lines are marbled with imagery worth savoring on the tongue before swallowing: ""burnt sheaves of tall corn/ shriven and bearded in chorus."" He forges a connection between the human heart and the earth that is reminiscent of the best Irish poetry. But the potatoes are supplanted by breadfruit, and the ache of a farmer's sacrifice to a historic land is replaced by a frequent flyer's knowledge that the soil of Poland and Parang, Spain and Boston, can all bury the bodies of loved ones or grow rich and dark with memory. In ""Italian Eclogues,"" he makes Italy an occasion for an elegy for Joseph Brodsky: ""...these cropped fields are/ your stubble grating my cheeks with departure,/ grey irises, your corn-wisps of hair blowing away."" It is Walcott's home turf of St. Lucia that is the setting for his wondrous title poem, in which he grieves the loss of his mother, rages in anger that his only weapon against death is his pen: ""and the fire in these tinder-dry lines of this poem I hate/ as much as I love her."" In that poem he strikes a foxy metaphor when he describes the line of poetry as a line of black ants, delicate words that tread the page and combine to move mountains. ""I behold their industry and they are giants,"" he writes of the ants--accurately expressing the admiration readers will feel for his words. (June)