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THE PROBLEM WITH POETRY STUDENTS, AND OTHER LESSONS FROM DEREK WALCOTT

Repeating Islands

walcott.jpgRachel DeWoskin for the New Yorker.

One night in the fall of 2002, I was out to dinner at a Mexican restaurant with the poet Derek Walcott, who had been my professor in the graduate poetry program at Boston University. Another of my former teachers, the poet Kenneth Koch, had died recently, and in my purse was a remembrance of Koch that I had written for the journal Teachers & Writers. I had agonized over the text, wanting to render real Koch’s difficult wit in class, the terror and inspiration he inspired in his students, his occasional cruelty in the intimate workshop he ran, and his unusual ability to demystify poetry. I took the pages out and passed them across the table, holding my breath. Derek liked to say that any prose we wrote was a waste of lines that might have been better used for poetry, but…

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