Do you remember going to a fair when you were a kid and riding the Scrambler? Remember getting your head whipped around so much that everything blurred together? Kind of made you want to hurl, right? Come on, we know we're not the only ones…
Anyway, whether you blew chunks or not, it's definitely time to grab your intellectual Dramamine. While Derek Walcott's 1990 epic poem Omeros won't literally make you heave (we hope), it's going to take hard work to keep track of who's who, what's what, and where the heck you are in time as you read this book.
Now for the good news: Unlike the Scrambler, which might just leave you lunch-less, Omeros is totally worth the work. But you don't have to take our word for it—this is the piece Walcott published right before being nominated (and winning) the Nobel Prize in Literature. Which means a lot of super smart people were majorly impressed.
What's so impressive? A lot of things. But while we'll unpack these fully in this learning guide, here we'll just say that this is not your mama's Iliad. Instead, this is a poem that offers a mind-boggling array of cultural connections, narrative voices, love stories, painful memories, and time-travel—all in one compact volume. That's storytelling at its finest, even if does make you a bit seasick.
There are ample reasons to give two figs about Omeros, but we think the biggest one is that we live in a country founded on slavery. And Omeros is about nothing if not the legacy of slavery and how it—at times literally—bleeds into the present (we're looking at your wound, Philoctete). And since we live in the present, too, this poem has some serious things to say to us.
If you're thinking yeah, yeah, I've heard this all before, then hang with us, because when it comes to Omeros and the ways in which the past is embedded in the present, it actually has a pretty hopeful tale to tell. We're not saying that the path to healing ever looks easy in this book (spoiler alert: it doesn't), but we are saying that this poem argues fiercely that healing from the past is possible—and it even shows us how.
So on the one hand, you should care about Omeros because we live in a world where the imprint of slavery lingers on and, though unpleasant, it's important to examine the ways in which this is true. But on the other hand, you should care about Omeros because it offers hope and guidance—not that the past will ever disappear from the present, but that the wounds it leaves us with will be mended.
A Nobel Poet
The Nobel Prize website offers a variety of resources to help you explore the lives and works of those who have won this prestigious award. This page offers up a detailed version of Walcott's biography.
A Collaborative Effort
The University of Cambridge and the University of the West Indies have created the Caribbean Poetry project, an effort that brings together poets, teachers, scholars, and those in publication to develop a higher appreciation and awareness of Caribbean poetry. Cool beans.
This website is our go-to place for all things metrical. Check out the pages on Walcott, which offer biographical information and a selection of his poetry.
Celebrated art director Isaac Julien riffs on Walcott's poem to create a 20-minute film starring Achille.
London Calling: Omeros Takes the Stage
Actor/Director Bill Buckhurst talks about working with Walcott to bring Omeros to the stage at the Sam Wannamaker Playhouse in London.
Poetry and the Island
This documentary film of Walcott's life and work has been steadily making the rounds, and has even been translated into Italian.
Up Close and Personal
This Paris Review interview goes deep into Walcott's family memories, work habits, and poetry.
Back in the Day
Here you will find the New York Times review of Omeros from the year of the poem's publication.
Fire and Brimstone
Remember that moment in Omeros when Walcott visits hell and finds a special place reserved there for speculators who betray the people and the natural beauty of St. Lucia? He's found some more future inhabitants for that particular place of torture.
Walcott's candidacy for Professor of Poetry at Oxford University was compromised when "reminders" of his past indiscretions came to light.
Everything You Ever Wanted to Know…
This comprehensive interview/documentary was made at the time Omeros was released. It offers a good view of St. Lucia, as well as a series of in-depth conversations with the poet.
Poetry is an Island
Here is the teaser for the documentary film on Walcott's life that premiered in 2013 at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival.
BBC Radio 4's "The Routes of English" discusses the interplay between Creole and English with Derek Walcott.
Philoctetes Gets an Overhaul
The foundation for Walcott's character Philoctete and his storyline—Sophocles's play and hero—is staged with a female in the starring role and war veterans in the chorus.
Chatting up the Poet
This is a podcast of Walcott discussing Omeros with the BBC's World Book Club.
Jack of All Trades
In addition to his literary achievements, Walcott is a painter of some note. Here you will find several paintings of St. Lucia that were part of a show at the June Kelly Gallery in New York.
Achille? Is That You?
Experience the work of Winslow Homer, the creator of "The Gulf Stream." It was in this painting that Walcott recognized his character Achille.