cover image THE PRODIGAL


Derek Walcott, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $18 (112p) ISB

Travelogue, elegy, autobiography and lush description mingle and merge in the prolific Nobel laureate's latest book-length poem. Walcott (Omeros ; Tiepolo's Hound ; etc.) has long specialized in poems about places and journeys, and the first parts of his new work sound like more of the same: flowing pentameters remember stints in Milan, Colombia, the Swiss Alps, Manhattan and Berlin, each associated with a brace of elaborate images, as well as with a particularly attractive young woman. Describing these "women who contained their cities" and the history those cities hold, Walcott traces an "untethered pilgrimage" in which "what was altered was something more profound/ than geography, it was the self." If some readers find the first half of the volume unanchored (or too much like Walcott's 1982 book Midsummer ), the second will bring them a deeper and more complex view: we learn that the poet's journey through memory arose in response to the death of his brother, Roddy, and hence "from that fear/ that we he loved and knew once as a boy/ would panic and forget him." In Walcott's return to his native St. Lucia, his poem finds an emotional core; "the bright salt arc of a bare unprinted beach," allows the poet to conclude with sober reflections on his own celebrity ("the death-mask of Fame") and on advancing age. (Oct.)