There was a primed plastic water pistol, yellow or green, on every table at Derek Walcott’s 84th birthday lunch at the Ladera hotel on the west coast of St Lucia. The Walcott entourage had taken over the restaurant and after we’d dined on saltfish with green bananas, the staff gathered and the guests stood up to sing ‘Happy Birthday’. Then came the carving of a three-foot-square cake embossed with a likeness in icing of the poet’s head, his cautious smile carried on layers of sponge in blue and yellow stripes, two of the four colours of the island’s flag, blue for the sea and yellow for sunshine.
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[*] The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013 (Faber, 617 pp., £30, March, 978 0 571 31380 8).