An Interview with Derek / nigel beale

Interview with Derek Walcott – Nigel Beale, 2006

Editor’s note: Following the initial call for submissions, I received an email from Nigel Beale, author of the Canadian litblog Nigel Beale Nota Bene Books. Was I interested, he asked, in publishing his interview with Derek Walcott?

What could I say?

The interview in question was conducted in 2006 for Mr. Beale’s radio programme The Biblio File (which airs on CKCU in Ottawa and which is podcast around the world). It is being republished with permission.

Here is Mr. Beale’s introduction:

Several years ago The Guardian reported on a mental health study which found that ‘artists’ have many more sexual partners on average than the rest of the population.

The research found that artists and schizophrenics scored equally high on “unusual cognition”, a trait which gives rise to a greater tendency to ‘feel in between reality and a dream state, or to feel overwhelmed by one’s own thoughts.’

According to the study’s authors, results suggest that the creativity of some artists is fuelled by the unique world view mental illness can provide, but without the completely debilitating aspects of the condition. Instead, the artists are able to direct their creativity into artistic projects.

The survey also found that artists claimed to have had twice as many sexual partners since the age of 18, compared to the general population, and that the number of partners increased with the seriousness with which they pursued their art. Attention is apparently drawn to those who stand out. The fact that they are doing something different can be a big aphrodisiac. Because it is so disruptive Schizophrenia isn’t common in very successful people. But if you have some of the traits, such as this unusual way of viewing the world, without the debilitating social withdrawal, and you find a way of channeling the creativity that gives you, it can be very attractive.

***

Over the past several years I have presented these findings to various male poets. In virtually every instance it has been admitted that yes, getting laid plays, if not a pivotal, then certainly an important role in their decision to pursue poetry as a vocation.

I had no intention of querying Derek Walcott about this. I had decided that ours was to be a dignified, refined encounter. Until, that is, we were in the elevator on the way up to the room where our interview was to take place. The doors opened and a glorious, radiantly attractive young woman entered.  Giddy at the prospect of engaging with one of the world’s most celebrated wordsmiths, and less reserved than usual as a result, I blurted out: “So how does it feel to be in an elevator with a Nobel Prize winning poet? The response was good natured, silent indifference. “Would you like me to introduce you to him? More bemused silence. Who cares about poetic accomplishment when you are a Goddess?  She smiled as she exited, divinely unmoved.

I turned to Mr. Walcott. If beauty is unimpressed by one of the greatest, how on earth are the rest of the world’s poets supposed to succeed?

•••

Nigel Beale (http://nigelbeale.com) is a freelance writer/broadcaster based in Ottawa, Canada, who specializes in literary journalism. His work has appeared in numerous publications including The Washington Post, The (Manchester) Guardian, and The Globe and Mail. He also writes fiction, with a novel (working title: A Mere Madness) currently in progress.

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