Giving new meaning to the phrase "poetry slam," Derek Walcott read a poem called "The Mongoose" at the the Calabash Literary Festival in Jamaica last week. The subject of the poem is none other than Walcott’s fellow Caribbean writer and long-time nemesis, VS Naipaul. Walcott’s poem begins with the lines, "I have been bitten, I must avoid infection/Or else I’ll be as dead as Naipaul’s fiction," and continues in rhyming couplets with a vitriol worthy of Alexander Pope:
Since he has made that snaring style a prison
The plots are forced, the prose sedate and silly
The anti-hero is a prick named Willie
Who lacks the conflict of a Waugh or Lawrence
And whines with his creator’s self-abhorrence
Naipaul was too busy insulting people at the Hay Festival in Wales (he informed one audience they were "ugly") to comment immediately on Walcott’s salvo. Naipaul seems to be on some sort of government grant to develop the most obnoxious personality he possibly can, so it seems unlikely that he’ll remain silent for long.
The British literary tradition, which Naipaul has ensconced himself with unseemly insistence, has a way of slapping its most odious practitioners upside the head. Alexander Pope seems to have written these lines from "An Essay on Criticism" (1711) specifically for Naipaul:
Of all the Causes which conspire to blind
Man’s erring Judgment, and misguide the Mind,
What the weak Head with strongest Byass rules,
Is Pride, the never-failing Vice of Fools.
Whatever Nature has in Worth deny’d,
She gives in large Recruits of needful Pride;
For as in Bodies, thus in Souls, we find
What wants in Blood and Spirits, swell’d with Wind;
Pride, where Wit fails, steps in to our Defence,
And fills up all the mighty Void of Sense!
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