Walcott and Heaney, Part 1

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Description: Interview with St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott and Irish poet Seamus Heaney about the poetry of American poet Robert Penn Warren. Lydon, Walcott, and Heaney discuss the best format for the interview. Walcott and Heany comment on Penn Warren's appointment as US Poet Laureate. Walcott comments on the excellence of Penn Warren's recent work. Heaney talks about the significance of US history in Penn Warren's work. Walcott and Heaney discuss regionalism in Penn Warren's work, and the appropriateness of appointing a poet laureate. Walcott reads from Penn Warren's poem, "Caribou." Tape 1 of 2.
1:00:00: Visual: Derek Walcott (West Indian poet) and Seamus Heaney (Irish poet) sit among shelves of books, along with Christopher Lydon. Walcott and Heaney are studying books. Walcott and Lydon discuss which poem he should read. Heaney studies his book. Heaney and Walcott joke about whether a poetry reading can be "hot TV." Lydon, Walcott and Heaney discuss the format of the TV segment. Lydon tells the poets to discuss the work and life of Robert Penn Warren (American poet). Walcott and Heaney talk about how they will discuss his work. Lydon asks Walcott about the appointment of Penn Warren as US Poet Laureate. Walcott says that some find the idea of a poet laureate ridiculous; that there is a very old tradition of elevating a poet to represent his people; that the nomination of Penn Warren is in no way amusing or ridiculous. Walcott says that the nomination is the crowning achievement of Penn Warren's career; that Penn Warren has written his most powerful work in his old age. Walcott says that Penn Warren's recent achievements merit recognition; that Penn Warren's work should be considered for a Nobel Prize. Lydon asks Walcott to describe Penn Warren's poetry. Walcott says that he used to be cautious in his appreciation for Penn Warren; that he used to feel that there was too much of "the novelist" in Penn Warren's poetry. Walcott says that Penn Warren has found great vigor in his old age; that his recent poetry is noteworthy. Walcott talks about the clarity and elation in Penn Warren's work. 1:05:51: V: Lydon asks Heaney about Penn Warren. Heaney says that Penn Warren has not "broken faith with the historical experience"; that the American historical experience has been central to his work. Heaney says that the US could not have chosen a better poet laureate; that Penn Warren's work produces history and is a reaction to history. Heaney refers to Penn Warren's literary ambitions. Heaney says that American history and destiny is a large part of Penn Warren's work; that Penn Warren shoulders "large poetic responsibilities" in his work. Heaney says that it is proper for Penn Warren to be honored by the US; that Penn Warren has honored the nation through his work. Lydon asks Heaney to talk about the history in Penn Warren's work. Heaney talks about the relation between poet and region in Penn Warren's work. Heaney notes that Penn Warren was one of the Fugitives (a group of Southern poets); that Penn Warren carefully the relationship between "a literary career and a communal destiny." Heaney says that Penn Warren wrote as if his poetry had a responsibility to the larger culture; that there is "roughage" and "subject matter" in the poetry of Penn Warren. Heaney refers to the recent poem, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, which focuses on the treatment of Native Americans in the nineteenth century. Heaney says that Penn Warren does not "wilt in the face of history;" that many poets shy away from facing history. Heaney notes that Penn Warren's poetry has a "large voice;" that Penn Warren has risen to the challenge of history. 1:11:02: V: Lydon asks if there is a contradiction in appointing one poet to represent the diverse people and regions of the US. Walcott says that the image of a hawk is recurrent in Penn Warren's poetry; that Penn Warren is like an old hawk; that Penn Warren is fierce and gentle. Walcott says that Penn Warren is hawk-like in his observations of American culture; that Penn Warren writes about regions of the country which are familiar to him; that Penn Warren has observed those regions from a great distance and has contemplated their meanings. Walcott says that Penn Warren has a gift; that Penn Warren has used that gift to examine a fairly modest range of experience. Walcott says that Penn Warren is rooted in his region and personal experience; that he is able to examine the horizons of that experience. Walcott notes that Penn Warren has expressed the "guilt" and the "conscience" of the South. 1:14:27: V: Heaney notes that there is an "imperial" theme in the appointment of a poet laureate by the US government; that the government seems to be trying to "furbish its image." Heaney wonders if there is a political motive in the appointment of a poet laureate. Heaney says that a poet's power needs to be kept pure; that "the poetic intelligence of a country" needs to serve as an alternative government. Heaney wonders if the appointment is an attempt to co-opt the conscience of the "alternative government." Heaney changes the subject, saying that American poets are well-suited to be poet laureates; that American poetry has a tradition of "visionary writing"; that American poets are challenged to include the scope of the country in their writing. Heaney refers to the poetry of Walt Whitman as an example of "visionary writing" or "public poetry." He notes that the poetry of Emily Dickinson is more inward-looking. 1:17:21: V: Lydon asks each poet to read some of Penn Warren's work. Walcott chooses the poem Caribou. Walcott says that the poem exemplifies Penn Waren's clarity of vision. Walcott says that the voice in the poem describes the caribou and looks down on them from a great height. Walcott reads the poem. Walcott, Heaney and Lydon comment on the beauty of the poem when Walcott has finished reading it.