As dead as Naipaul’s fiction: Nobel laureates cross swords

June 3rd, 2008 - 12:23 pm ICT by IANS  

London, June 3 (IANS) Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul has attracted many controversies and enthusiastically engaged himself in many literary duels, but the latest has another Nobel winner targeting him - in rhyme. The attack comes from Derek Walcott, based in St Lucia in the West Indies, who is often acclaimed as the greatest living English-language poet.

His new poem, “The Mongoose”, is a “fast-paced, savagely humorous demolition of Naipaul’s work and personality”, reported the Guardian.

At the Calabash Literary Festival in Jamaica late last month, the poet read a selection of works from his forthcoming book “White Egrets”.

Ending the hour-long session, he presented the poem after telling the audience: “I think you’ll recognise Mr Naipaul … I’m going to be nasty”.

The Guardian report carried an excerpt from the poem:

“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”

Walcott then goes on to attack Trinidadian-born Naipaul’s alleged rejection of his Caribbean heritage in order to win acceptance from the British literary establishment.

The poem’s title refers to the animal that was brought to the Caribbean from British India and thus alludes to Naipaul’s background: he is descended from Indian indentured labourers who moved to Trinidad in the 19th century.

Walcott’s poem compares the novelist, who has described fellow Trinidadians as ‘monkeys’, to this creature: “the mongoose takes its orders from the Raj”.

“The Mongoose” is “the most electrifying poem that I’ve ever heard read out anywhere in the world. I remember the whole audience just suddenly leaning forward with a new kind of attention,” British poet Jackie Kay, who also read his works at the festival, was quoted as saying.

While the poem was widely debated in the Caribbean press, the two stalwarts have refused to comment on it so far.

But Naipaul’s official biographer Patrick French said the legendary author was expected to wait for the right moment to strike back.

“Knowing Naipaul, he’ll say nothing and then at some point he will lash out. I remember him saying to me once: ‘I settle all my accounts, I settle all my accounts.’ He gets even in his own way, even if he has to bide his time,” French was quoted as saying.

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