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Troping the Voice-print: Derek Walcott’s Rhetoric of Performance

Marta Dvorak
p. 45-56


This essay investigates Walcott’s dynamics of textualized orality, in which print is disguised as speech so as to ostensibly efface itself. The poet uses the visual to suggest the oral, in effect performing orality with a full range of rhetorical figures using resemblances of sound and form to alter meaning. Walcott’s highly rhetorical poetic oeuvre demonstrates a seamless collaboration between word as text and word as sound, generating meaning through musication or imitative harmony all the while emphasizing the iconic variations of the page.

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  • 1 Since, as Walter Ong posits, sight isolates, while sound – the chanted word of poetry – incorporate (...)

1Critics such as John Thieme and Maria Cristina Fumagalli have brilliantly explored the intersemiotic relation between writing and painting in Derek Walcott’s oeuvre, the marriage of writer’s pen and artist’s eye ostensibly seeking to produce, through the telescoping of page and canvas, a full representation of the world1. Other critics have focussed on the manner in which Walcott’s work straddles scribal and oral cultures, concretizing the translation – in the etymologically original sense of trans-latio, or bearing across – between the two. Walcott’s textual space does make generous room for the visual on several levels. Leaving aside for the moment discussions of Walcott’s mental pictures – images or metaphors – as loci of mystery, “delivering the word as simple signifier back to its numinous position as object” (Barbour ) in the manner of the Imagists, one encounters notably a referential, intersemiotic play with strong self-reflexive undertones: not only multiple heterosemiotic allusions to Boucher, Fragonard, Chardin, Gauguin, or even the as-much-quoting as quoted Grant Wood, but also a metatextual disclosure of the catachretic nature of certain tropological denominations. In the poem Midsummer XVIII, for instance, tranche de vie [slice of life] and nature morte [still life] are defamiliarized, recontextualized, and concretized when the former is associated with “a French kitchen’s sideboard” and the apples, cheese and home-baked bread ready to be sliced, and the latter with death, which, like the canvas, “is only another surface”, the red bouquet of chrysanthemums coming to stand for the “still[ed] life” of the young soldiers slaughtered at the Somme and Verdun (Collected Poems, 478). On another level, in Midsummer XIX, entitled “Gauguin”, the preoccupation with the painterly process (“Cézanne bricking in color, each brick no bigger than a square inch,/the pointillists’ dots like a million irises” [479]) clearly stands for a self-reflexive preoccupation with the creative process in general, albeit through the arguably more sensual medium allowing the artist to “stroke” the backs of the figures he depicts (480). On yet another level, both lyrics XIX and XVIII are ekphrastic or iconic poems, verbal representations of a real or imagined work of graphic representation. The ekphrastic way of ordering experience and establishing a double distance – the ‘real’ scene re-imagined as a painting, but given existence through the pen, not the brush – lays stress on the negotiation of time/space and movement/stillness rather than of voice/silence. Yet the lower case isolated letter i in italics separated by a slash from the name of the painter and incorporated into the title of lyric XIX (“Gauguin/i”) is a strong indicator that the poet invites us to read the poem in terms of voice. The i is arguably the marker of iotacism, the rhetorical term designating a specific form of cacophony, notably tautophony or excessive alliteration, the oldest, most dominant phonemic pattern in English language verse. Iotacism predominantly involves the sound [i], clearly discernable in the lines already quoted: “Cézanne bricking in color, each brick no bigger than a square inch./the pointillists’ dots like a million irises” [479]). As the additional plosives demonstrate, Walcott deploys as well the device of parachresis, or the combination of abundant consonantal as well as vocalic tautophony, as in “horns of a helmet…crumpled colon” (479) or “I have baked the gold of their bodies in that alloy… I have felt the beads in my blood erupt/as my brush stroked their backs… patient as the palms of Atlas, the papaya” (480), the battering effect of which are reinforced by the combined powers of duple meter, rising meter, and masculine end-rhyme (“find your fate…I left too late” [479]). I posit that the alliterative overkill serves not simply to provide tone colour and to reinforce meaning, but to generate meaning, or rather to generate the production of the subsequent lexemes through the dynamics of musication or imitative harmony – the privileging of the sound patterns of a text over its other aspects, notably its meaning.

  • 2 Walter Ong stresses the empathetic and participatory psychodynamics of orality, which he argues is (...)
  • 3 I am grateful to Paul Breslin for reminding me in an e-mail message (29/03.2006) that he, like many (...)

2Critical discussion which has not engaged with Walcott’s attachment to poetry’s traditional, metaphoric trope, allowing the poet to paint images with words, has tended to engage with the collision of the scribal and the oral in his oeuvre. Arguing that the most exciting developments in West Indian poetry have “come out of the interplay of speech and writing as models for the production of poetry”, and that this phenomenon in turn is an outcome of the 1950s “Caribbean Voices” BBC programme which “inclined poets to think in terms of voices, rather than print” (Breiner 186), Laurence Breiner ignores the fact that the radical basis of poetry has always been speech, or rather song in any case the chanted word, the heard word. Much has been made of the influence of performance-oriented dub poets who lift poetry from the page, emphasizing its direct engagement with the audience through the power of sound2. It is easy to overlook, however, that apart from “poetry slam” events involving improvisational composition and competition, performance poets like Louise Bennett, Bongo Jerry, Valerie Bloom, or even Romaine Moreton, an Aboriginal poet from Australia, that – unlike Mikey Smith who drafts texts on a tape recorder – all do write in colloquial idiolect for oral presentation, essentially basing their vocal performance on an inscription in ‘cold print’. Moreover, if the work composed and recomposed in performance and passed on orally can be termed orature, then the oral work that has been transcribed or technologically mediated is a secondary form of orature that Susan Gingell designates as textualized orature (Gingell 3). Whether the transmission of the performance be a printed broadsheet or an audio cassette, either a technological mediator or a scribal annotation – like a musical score – calls for an interpretation other than that of the performer. The relation is not that of direct emission/reception, and the question of authenticity – that of original/copy – arises. Certain poems by Walcott, such as “The Spoiler’s Return” or “The Schooner Flight”, have close analogies with the voice-print of dub poetry or reggae, notably the use of echo and systematic upbeats, rhyming couplets or alternating rhyme, driving tetrameter (4 beats to a bar or line, or rather twice two beats separated by a breath)3, and blend of trochees and sprung rhythm corresponding to dub’s cluster of small note values, all discernable in the opening lines, in which my upper-case signals the strong stresses:

I sit HIGH on this BRIDGE in LAvenTILLE
WATCHing that CIty where I LEFT no WILL
But my OWN CONscience and RUM-eaten WIT,
And LImers PASSing see me WHERE i SIT,
GHOST in brown GAbardine, BONES in a SACK,
And BAWL: “Ay SPOILer, boy! WHEN you come BACK?”
And THOSE who BOLD don’t feel they OUT of PLACE
To peel my LIMEskin BACK, and SEE a FACE
With EYES as COLD as a dead MAcaJUEL,
And if they STILL can TALK, i ANswer: “HELL.”
(“The Spoiler’s Return”: 432)

  • 4 Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich discloses the indissociability of language and power in the deliciou (...)

3Yet a closer investigation reveals that Walcott works rather within the dynamics of what Gingell terms textualized orality (Gingell 6-7) – works not composed orally, but which represent the vernacular of a particular group, and which arguably often help to legitimate the speech practices of the group in the eyes of a mainstream culture4. Writing the oral through code-switching, through the incorporation of culturally specific rhythms and syntactical structures from non-Standard English are features which interestingly are not specific to African or Caribbean traditions, but go back to the nineteenth century outrageous pseudo-oral storytelling of Thomas Haliburton and Mark Twain, with their markers of extensive dialogue and non-standard orthography and syntax (often, we should note, mimicking to mock). Haliburton deployed intricate rhetorical devices couched in an unpretentious sociolect, such as the following extended syllepsis concerning the Irish: “They are always in love or in liquor, or else in a row; they are the merriest shavers I ever seed” (Haliburton 69). Similarly, Walcott deploys the punning device of metaplasm – the alteration of a word by adjunction, suppression, or inversion of letters or sounds – when the persona of Spoiler, the calypsonian composer and performer who has come back from the dead to sing the truth, indulges in gallows humour and makes a gruesome play on words through the adjunction of two letters: “Tell Desperadoes when you reach the hill,/I decompose, but I composing still” (432). This polyphonic virtuoso performance – conterminous with the voices of both poet persona and poet author – positions itself within the framework of textualized orality, in which print is disguised as speech, with no mediation needed (the reader is the interpreter), ultimately to give the impression that print has effaced itself (as it does in Part III, in French creole, of the poem “Ste Lucie”, subtitled “Iona: Mabouya Valley”:

Ma Kilman, Bon Dieu kai punir ’ous,
Pour qui raison parcequ’ous entrer trop religion
Oui, l’autre coté, Bon Dieu kai benir ’ous,
Bon Dieu kai benir ’ous parcequi’ous faire charité l’argent. (314)

  • 5 As Marshall McLuhan argued in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and Counterblast (1970), oral culture is (...)

4The dialect representation, accomplished through the use of direct speech, elision, infinitives in lieu of the third person singular, redundant relative pronouns, hyperbaton – the artful staging of syntactic and semantic disorder – and an orthography reflecting non-standard diction, ostensibly reproduces a “St. Lucian conte, or narrative Creole song, heard on the back of an open truck travelling to Vieuxfort, some years ago5 (314, my emphasis). So although Walcott recurrently works on the verbal to suggest the visual, we see that he also uses the visual to suggest the oral, in effect performing orality. Moreover, as I shall argue, his performance is grounded in a full range of rhetorical figures using resemblances of sound and (especially) form to alter meaning – figures which poets and rhetors have been deploying since Antiquity. My investigation of some of these tropes, from epitrochasmus, metaplasm, and musication to hyperbaton and synchisis, will serve to show that far from bearing traces of the antagonism which critics, or more generally cultural theorists, tend to set up between word as text and word as sound, Walcott’s highly rhetorical poetic oeuvre demonstrates a seamless collaboration between the two. Or, if either sound or icon can be said to constitute the underlying bone structure giving shape to the fleshed out form, it is arguably the visual icon. This predilection for the visual shape of the word on the page is, I suggest, poles apart from that of the West Indian writers engaged in an African aesthetic of transient performances, energizing their work, as Breiner points out, by situating it in relation to improvisation, to oral composition, to orature, to poetry written as a script for performance (Breiner 186). No, this is poetry meant to be seen. Not that it is meant to be seen and not heard, but rather seen so as to be better heard. An analogy can be drawn with Linton Kwesi Johnson’s “Five Nights of Bleeding” (1974), for which, Breiner argues, “silent reading emphasizes the repetition of rhetorical structures visible on the page, while to the ear those structures constitute a background against which sign variations occur” (190).

5Tea with the British Council Representative is staged iconically in the autobiographical mock-epic Another Life. Assisted by imitative harmony, the central trope is the rhythmical figure of epitrochasmus, an accumulation of short words, entailing – as the etymology linking it with the tailless trochee would indicate – swift movement and the virulent, concise expression of notions. The polyphonic segments of direct speech and free direct speech attributed to Mr. Winter, the representative of the metropolis, but overcoded with the authorial voice, generate satire: “a rubicund, gurgling consul, “keener on music”[than on visual art]/but capable of knowing talent when he sees it” (248). The phonic symbolism of the imitative or echoic word “gurgling” ushers in the onomatopoeic lexemes of the epitrochasmus:

I am hoisted on silvery chords upward,
Eager for the dropped names like sugar cubes.
Eliot. Plop. Benjamin Britten. Clunk. Elgar. Slurp. (248)

  • 6 Interestingly, the logician and philosopher Charles Saunders Pierce was interested in the visual an (...)

6The counter-onomatopeia of the phonic intensive “gurgling”, whose sound suggests its meaning, effectively turns a word into a sound-effect, while the onomatopoeia of plop, clunk, slurp, turns sounds, or even noises, into words. The encounter between the two categories, heightened by the slant internal rhyme sugar/Elgar, is further intensified by the graphism or visual layout of the epitrochasmic units6. These sets of one phonetic word are lined up in print like little sentinels standing at attention, for Walcott has taken care to capitalize them and separate them by the arresting dots of full stops, creating a rhythm of starts and stops, braking or breaking the articulation then speeding ahead, interrupting and suspending only to accelerate, through the paradoxically visual acoustic marks of expressive punctuation – the affective variables of periods guiding the reader to a particular type of enunciation corresponding to an intonation of intense finality.

7The tea scene begins with a paronomasia whose play on sounds interestingly depends on the eye. In the enumeration “tannin, calfskin, gilt and thank you vellum much”, the amplifying deployment of the materials of the artist’s trade, in particular the calfskin on the left, allow the receptor to ‘hear’ or rather read the vellum as required, even before the torsion of the “much” on the right wrenches the interpretation toward a transference of noun to adverb. The required jolt of the eye is even more fundamental in Walcott’s deployment of metaplasm and antanaclasis. The oft-quoted line from “The Schooner Flight”, “I had no nation now but the imagi/nation” (350, my emphasis), is an audacious self-reflexive metaplasm, both echoing and anticipating in an admirably innovative way the theoretical investigations of imagined communities, such as Max Weber’s Economie et société and Benedict Anderson’s Imagined Communities. Linguistically audacious, its homophonic play opens onto a daring sequence of satire on scattered territories with no political existence – the Federation of the West Indies as a failed political entity. It echoes the scathing, alliterative, metaplasmatical denunciation of corrupt politicians in Another Life “measure[ing] skulls with callipers/and pronounc[ing] their measure/of toms, of traitors, of traditionals and Afro-Saxons” (270, my emphasis). In “The Schooner Flight,” the narratorial voice debunks binaries and foregrounds the mulatto predicament in what amounts to a postcolonial backlash:

I had no nation now but the imagination
After the white man, the niggers didn’t want me
When the power swing to their side.
The first chain my hands and apologize, “History”;
The next said I wasn’t black enough for their pride. (350)

  • 7 Cf. Aristotle, Topics 2.23.1397a 20.
  • 8 Cf. Francis Ponge, “Je propose à chacun l’ouverture de trappes intérieures, un voyage dans l’épaiss (...)

8An equally admirable metaplasm can be found in the line in driving tetrameter from “The Spoiler’s Return”, “I decompose, but I composing still” (432, my emphasis). The syllabic juxtaposition can also be identified as a form of the rhetorical figure of isolexism by derivation, classified in Aristotle’s Topics7, and a recurrent device found in the metaphysical texts of the French modernist poet Francis Ponge, who – seemingly anticipating Walcott – proposed a journey through a trapdoor to the thickness of things through the thickness of words8. At work here is the juxtaposition of words (decompose/compose) which are derived from the same lexia or etymological root – in this case the Latin componere, to put in place – but whose adjacency generates a conceit, the extravagant bringing together of two notions.

9Viktor Schklovsky’s ostrenie, or making strange, is visibly at work in Walcott’s metaplasm, and the jarring vision of a decomposing corpse composing is at the interstices of Imagism and lettrism, the former according absolute priority to the visual, and the latter – a movement in French art and literature c. 1945-57 – granting absolute priority to sound, even over sense. Walcott’s metaplasm impedes and foregrounds the means of expression (de/com-pose), forcing the words to the centre of our attention and making them opaque to the concepts behind them, which, prior to the defamiliarization process, overshadowed the words to the point of making them imperceptible. Elsewhere, in the poem “North and South,” Walcott foregrounds both the physicality of prejudice and the materiality of language through a punning repetition that reduplicates the signifier “singe” but transforms the signified radically by subsequently interpolating the same letters into a French phrase and placing the wrenching under the dynamics of a second metamorphosis blurring cosmic satellites and human currency:

I collect my change from a small-town pharmacy,
The cashier’s fingertips still wince from my hand
As if it would singe hers – well, yes, je suis un singe
I am one of that tribe of frenetic or melancholy
Primates who made your music for many more moons
Than all the silver quarters in the till. (409, original emphasis)

  • 9 Elsewhere in Another Life, Walcott pursues the play with the same letters S-I-N-G-E in a different (...)

10While the pairing of decompose/compose, as we have seen, is in conformity with their propinquity in relationship – both deriving from the same etymological root – their propinquity in place nevertheless startles. On the other hand, “singe”, deriving from the Old English term sengan and the French “singe” deriving from the Latin simius are homonyms only in the sense of homographs, and their adjacency is a violent torsion. The heteroglossic pun singe/singe is an antanaclasis, or homonymic pun, only to the eye, while to the ear it is a metaplasm (an alteration in the sound), which discloses an ontological difference. The metonymic gap of the subtly glossed words, “Je suis un singe, establishing a distance between black, French creole culture (the ‘Je’) and white, english/English culture” (the cashier but also the Anglophone reader), places the punning repetition in the realm of metamorphosing metaphor, which adroitly configures empirical chronotopic experience and shifting belief-systems, just as it denaturalizes perception and the process of seeing9. The mournful, conflating metaplasm in Another Life, “No metaphor, no metamorphosis,/as the charcoal burner turns/into his door of smoke” (257), anticipates Salman Rushdie’s assertion that “metamorphosis, the knowledge that nothing holds its form, is the driving force of art” (32).

11Reduplication with slight variations stage what Rushdie has identified as “the eternally warring myths of stasis and metamorphosis” (291). In “Sainte-Lucie”, the voice names objects, lists things, in a heteroglossic refrain-like manner that turns to hypnotic litany:

Pomme arac,
Otaheite apple,
Pomme cythère,
Pomme granate,
The pineapple’s
Aztec helmet,
Pomme (310)

12The signifier “apple” is doubled by its French counterpart pomme, and its presence simultaneously multiplied (identifiable even within the lexeme “pineapple”) and intensified – both visually, by being framed by the military image of pineapples/ananas in their headgear, and aurally, through musication. It seems to be the desire for sound-repetition that generates the passage from pomme to pineapple, and which calls up the image of the Aztec helmet echoing the double [z] of “z’ananas” and “pineapple’s”. One can discern a form of enumeration that the French rhetorician Fontanier christened conglobatio, which accumulates in apparent disorder the components of a situation in which we nevertheless grasp the unity or perspective:

The cherry,
By the crisp sea-bursts,
Au bord de la ’ouvrière.
Come back to me,
My language.
Come back,
The scissor-bird (310)

13Walcott’s conglobation obeys the laws of enumeration, functioning as a type of amplification. The voice switches back and forth from French creole to Standard English, and lists the fruits of the earth in an order devoid of apparent logic, a logic that reveals itself to be that of the text’s sound-patterns. More than any visual image belonging to spectacularity, such as that of the scissors invoked on account of the French creole designation for the martin, it is rather the sibilant [s]/[z] sounds of cerise/sea-almonds/sea-bursts/solitaire/ciseau which provide the unity behind the eclectic components, and the [k] of the reduplicated “come back” produces the subsequent choice of “cacao”. A trance-like effect is generated through musication, and the succession of one word lines on the page heightens the predominance of magic over meaning.

  • 10 The “calm waters” moreover clearly evoke the “still waters” of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd: (...)
  • 11 “nommer un object, c’est s’arracher à ce qu’il a d’individuel et d’unique pour voir en lui le repré (...)

14That Walcott, like Ponge, is groping for the ontological core of existence in the materiality of things is rendered even more clearly in the lyric “A Sea-Chantey,” whose title already calls up the metarhythm which Antonio Bénitez-Rojo identifies as preceding music and percussion in the codes of the Caribbean, a metarhythm that evokes origins, as “something that was already there, amid the noise” (18). The litany of proper nouns of the incipit, “Anguilla, Aduina/Antigua, Cannelles,/Andreuille, all the l’s,/Voyelles, of the liquid Antilles,/The names tremble like needles/Of anchored frigates” (44), generate the text through both spectacle and voice. The simile of the subsequent line, “Yachts tranquil as lilies,” containing both triple [i] and triple [l] sounds, is constructed from the aural materials previously announced: the “l’s/Voyelles” – we note the interpolation of the French term rather than that of the more l-less English “vowels” – and the doubly liquid Antilles, for both containing a double liquid consonant and contained by water. The names trembling like needles catalyze a series of sewing metaphors (“strait-stitching schooners,/The needles of their masts/That thread archipelagos/Refracted embroidery”), but the image at the origin of the imagery is not the idea of a needle, but the icon of the “i” or “l” – that slender, erect, one-legged vowel or consonant. In the beginning was the Word, Walcott seems to say, beginning as he does with an epigraph from Baudelaire (“tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté”), evoking the beauty and order which for the ancient Greeks was synonymous with the cosmos or world. The chantey takes the form of a prayer, beginning with an invocation performing the phatic function of establishing contact, followed by a celebration or litanic benediction enumerating an anaphoric accumulation of conceits (the alphabet of church bells, the pastures of ports), and ending with a triple utterance containing the marker of liturgical language, “The amen of calm waters” (46)10. The liturgical ending is performative, in that it arouses a certain affective disposition in the receptor, that of contemplation, veneration, or gratitude, and creates a participatory community of speakers/listeners. By naming the world and the objects that compose it, Walcott with his ontological vehemence (re)creates them. For as the French philosopher Merleau-Ponty pointed out in Phénoménologie de la perception, the simple act of naming an object is to tear it away from the dimension of the individual or particular, and to see in it the representative of an essence or category11. Walcott’s enumeration is indeed a form of what the philosopher Paul Ricoeur has named ontological vehemence (La Métaphore vive, 313). Ricoeur argues that to say “This is”, is the moment of belief, of ontological commitment, which gives the affirmation of Being its illocutionary, even performative force. When Walcott announces “that exists”, he is (re)creating the being of the object. In poetic texts, according to Ricoeur, such a practice of vehement affirmation contains the ex-static moment of language, when language is outside of itself, expressing a desire to efface itself, to vanish within the confines of the being-said. Interestingly, the lyricism of “A Sea-Chantey” and “Sainte-Lucie” brings us back to language itself (“come back to me,/My language” and “the alphabet of church bells”), and conflates with the anti-lyrical dynamics of Black Mountain and L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets such as Bob Perelman, Charles Bernstein, and Susan Howe, emphasizing the arbitrariness of sound, alphabet, syntax, and typographical forms which are the building blocks of poetic texts. The performativity of Walcott’s highly constructed pages are less related to African or Caribbean oral forms than they are to the world of sound poetry, with its roots in the theatricality of chant, nonsense verse, and Dadaism. “Foquarde. Coquarde” ([181, chants the voice in Another Life, the name of the sea captain generating through wrenching rhyme the notion of cuckoldry (cocu: cuckold) through the lexeme of a black eye (coquard), to which the torsion of the feminine rhyme is applied. Such practices dovetail with those which have grown exponentially since the 1960s at the antipodes of the Caribbean in that utterly northern clime that is Canada, with bill bissett, bp Nichol, Raoul Duguay or Penn Kemp, and their performances of sliding syllables and crafting meaning out of pure utterance.

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1 Since, as Walter Ong posits, sight isolates, while sound – the chanted word of poetry – incorporates (Ong 72), the conflation of the two would make for a complete experience.

2 Walter Ong stresses the empathetic and participatory psychodynamics of orality, which he argues is agonistically toned (Ong 43-46).

3 I am grateful to Paul Breslin for reminding me in an e-mail message (29/03.2006) that he, like many other critics, sees the predominant metre of “The Spoiler’s return” as iambic pentameter, pointing out that the lines have ten syllables, and arguing for the pull of the lines incorporated verbatim from a 17th century poem. I argue that because of strong post-Renaissance tradition, we have all been trained to see iambic pentameter, but that the deliberately oralized “The Spoiler’s Return” strains towards accentual tetrameter, which since Anglo-Saxon times has always been the dominant pattern of popular verse, from nursery rhymes (often alternating four-beat lines with three beats followed by a silent stress) to ballads. While there is a pressure towards an accentual syllabic metre, I hear the older accentual tetrameter as the central framework.

4 Yiddish linguist Max Weinreich discloses the indissociability of language and power in the deliciously provocative rhetorical question, “What is a language but a dialect with an army?” (Cf. Richard Flanagan 175).

5 As Marshall McLuhan argued in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and Counterblast (1970), oral culture is collective, simultaneous, auditory, and oriented towards the present, while written culture is individual, signed, linear, visual, and under the control of the past.

6 Interestingly, the logician and philosopher Charles Saunders Pierce was interested in the visual analogue of poetic onomatopoeia, and among his unpublished papers, there is a copy of Poe’s The Raven, written in the expressionist manner of figured, visual poetry which he called art chirography.

7 Cf. Aristotle, Topics 2.23.1397a 20.

8 Cf. Francis Ponge, “Je propose à chacun l’ouverture de trappes intérieures, un voyage dans l’épaisseur des choses… O ressources infinies de l’épaisseur des choses, rendues par les ressources infinies de l’épaisseur sémantique des mots !” (“Introduction au galet”, Proêmes, p. 176).

9 Elsewhere in Another Life, Walcott pursues the play with the same letters S-I-N-G-E in a different manner, as if aiming at exhaustivity: “A schoolgirl in blue and white uniform…/a fine sweat on her forehead,/hair where the twilight singed and signed its epoch” (187) The word play here is that of antimetathesis – placing together two words which differ in the order of succession of some of their letters and so in their meaning. We can note how the desire to conform to a perfect inversion incited Walcott to resort to a preterite form that allows a perfect parallel between the two like but unlike terms by requiring an additional “e” on the part of the verb to sign all the while requiring an elision of the extra “e” in “sign”.

10 The “calm waters” moreover clearly evoke the “still waters” of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters” [King James Version].

11 “nommer un object, c’est s’arracher à ce qu’il a d’individuel et d’unique pour voir en lui le représentant d'une essence ou d’une catégorie” (205).

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Bibliographical reference

Marta Dvorak, “Troping the Voice-print: Derek Walcott’s Rhetoric of Performance”Commonwealth Essays and Studies, 28.2 | 2006, 45-56.

Electronic reference

Marta Dvorak, “Troping the Voice-print: Derek Walcott’s Rhetoric of Performance”Commonwealth Essays and Studies [Online], 28.2 | 2006, Online since 15 January 2022, connection on 21 June 2024. URL:; DOI:

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About the author

Marta Dvorak

Université de Paris III-Sorbonne Nouvelle

Marta Dvorak is Professor of Canadian and Commonwealth literatures at the Sorbonne Nouvelle. She is outgoing associate editor of The International Journal for Canadian Studies and current Editor of Commonwealth Essays and Studies. She has authored chapters in The Cambridge Companion to Canadian Literature (2003) and The Cambridge Companion to Margaret Atwood (2006). Her publications include Ernest Buckler: Rediscovery and Reassessment (Wilfrid Laurier UP, 2001) and Thanks for Listening: Stories and Short Fictions by Ernest Buckler (2004), and she has edited books on Canadian culture (Canada et bilinguisme, PU de Rennes 1997), on Nancy Huston (Vision/ Division: l’oeuvre de Nancy Huston, University of Ottawa Press, 2004), Margaret Atwood (Lire Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 1999), and Carol Shields (forthcoming, McGill-Queen's UP). She has published articles on writers who — for historical, regional, intercultural, or aesthetic reasons — have been marginalized or canonized, including Leonard Cohen, Katherine Mansfield, Alice Munro, Mavis Gallant, Thomas King, Arundhati Roy, and A.M. Klein, notably in the special issue of Mosaic 29.3, Idols of Otherness: the Rhetoric and Reality of Multiculturalism, chosen Best Special Issue by the Council of Editors of Learned Journals.

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