Possibly the greatest living poet and playwright to be ignored by the San Francisco stage in the last couple of years is Derek Walcott, 1992's Nobel laureate in literature. He flopped on Broadway 11 months ago with a musical called The Capeman -- co-written with Paul Simon and choreographed by Mark Morris -- but his earlier plays, like Dream on Monkey Mountain, The Sea at Dauphin, and the Don Juan musical The Joker of Seville, have established him as a genius of modern theater. Walcott's writing is colorful, raunchy, whimsical, grave; his poems and plays are populated with impoverished blacks living in salt-bitten villas and shacks on torpid West Indian islands like his native St. Lucia. But the author has lived here long enough to evoke the U.S. too, as the end of his poem "North and South" suggests: "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 and melancholy/ Primates who made your music for many more moons/ Than all the silver quarters in the till."
As part of the City Arts & Lectures Series, Walcott will speak on Thursday at 8 p.m. at the Herbst Theater, 401 Van Ness (at McAllister), S.F. Admission is $16; call 392-4400.