“A mongoose charges dry grass and fades through a fence faster than an afterthought”. A beautiful line from pre-Calabash Walcott-- Calabash 2008 will always be remembered for Walcott’s stunning denouement: the reading in public for the first time of his poem, The Mongoose, written specifically with V.S. Naipaul in mind.
The audience was left waiting to exhale, an inaudible gasp hovering under the tent as the Poet laureate dissed and dismissed his fellow laureate and literary giant, V.S. Naipaul in a series of the most poetically crafted insults. Aspiring DJs might want to take note--this is the stuff of great clashes—
As Channer said at Jack Sprat afterwards “A Beenie and Bounti u know”. Then who’s Kamau Brathwaite, I asked. “Capleton” said Colin without missing a beat.
“The anti-hero is a prick named Willy” intoned the Laureate, going on to describe Naipaul’s “exhausted works” as “predictable, unfunny”.
I wrote as furiously as I could, managing to capture a line here and a line there, all of them memorable if somewhat random. “The mongoose keeps its class act as a clown”; “…just as if a corpse took pride in its decay”; “small, grey and beady-eyed”; “the mongoose takes its orders from the Raj”; “the mutter from a maniacal, bitter mongoose”; “reward them with the spit of benediction”; “he told me once sex was just friction”; “now it was time to bite whatever hands had helped him.”
Coming in the wake of an interview of Walcott by Kwame Dawes, a founding director of Calabash and a poet himself, “The Mongoose” was payback for a recent Naipaul essay called “Caribbean Odyssey” in which he casts aspersions on Walcott’s talent. You can read more about this at Geoffrey Philp’s blog: Moral vs. Ethical Writing: Naipaul and Walcott
Meanwhile down here at Treasure Beach we give thanks for sunny skies and prickly poets. Willing conscripts in the enactment of a first-class literary feud we await the unfolding of Day 3 at Calabash with some relish. A mongoose will never just be a mongoose again. More anon.
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