This is a late collection of essays by the Nobel Prize winning novelist VS Naipaul, who was of Indian descent, from Trinidad, and who wrote in English. The poet in the title of the essay (as Naipaul tells us “the reader may have guessed”) is Derek Walcott, who forms a kind of rival and mentor figure for the young Naipaul as a fledgling writer and thinker. Naipaul was not a poet and tells us he didn’t really like poetry that much either. So having his small island nation find its way into international prominence of a way through Walcott’s poetry was mixed. Both writers have won the Nobel Prize and I wouldn’t want to weigh on who is better (though I’d argue that Naipaul is more well-known — especially as he wrote in a more accessible and commercial field). This opening essays sets the tone on the collection which doesn’t seek to analyze or critique a lot of literature so much as chart and catalog literary life of the 1950s through the 1980s in Anglophone life.
He talks a lot about his friendship with the novelist (and prolific book reviewer) Anthony Powell, about the cultural iconography of Gandhi (who I found out wrote a book in 1909 that Tolstoy wrote a review — a weird clashing of worlds I didn’t expect), and a lot of other literary topics that occur within the perspective, context, and life of Naipaul. It’s a minor if interesting book particularly colored by Naipaul’s laconic prose and sharp attitude on the books and writers he’s discussing.