art in all its forms

art in all its forms


'My ambition was to become a writer'

Trinidadian-American poet Mervyn Taylor was last month honored for his contribution to education by the Trinidad & Tobago Alliance, at Brooklyn, New York. He shares with us his address on that occasion. 

Trinidadian poet Mervyn Taylor at the Bocas Lit Fest, Port-of-Spain, 2014

In high school I earned the nickname Teach. I came by it honestly, since I was always shushing the boys so I could hear what the teacher was saying. I would have preferred something more flashy, like Dancer, or Blade. But since I wasn’t bad, I settled for Teach, though once or twice I tried to throw it off, by doing something dangerous, or disrespectful. It just wasn’t in me.

My ambition was to become a writer, of stories, novels. In college, I turned to poetry. I was working at a publishing company, when a colleague from a writing workshop asked me if I wanted to teach. I said I’d never taught before. He said, of course you can. That’s how I got my first job in teaching, at Bronx Community College. And so it began. Since then, I’ve taught on every level, sometimes high school in the morning, college in the evening. High school is where I learned the most- about life, about people, about education, where I heard the truest excuses for not doing homework - my uncle and them was bagging weed in the room and I had to help them. Or, the whole building was in darkness because the inspector find the line we run from outside. Rough stuff. And it wasn’t like when Mr. Defour just cough in Belmont Intermediate and the whole class get quiet. I had to try tricks, like Hear nuh allyuh! And the accent would make them stop, and laugh, just long enough for me to distract them and bring them back to the lesson, to the line in the poem. Yeah, mon, is how they would mock me when they ketch theyself. I learned a lot from them, names like Jasper Lucky and Pazazz. African-American and Dominican and Puerto Rican and Jamaican and Guyanese and Trini all mix up, all trying to figure out what they doing here. Today I see them on Facebook, proud of how a daughter is learning to read, shocked at the behavior of those 'knuckleheads' on the train. Sometimes I remind them.

One of the best rewards for my years of teaching came when a good friend introduced me to his younger brother, who said that after seeing me at BCC, and learning that I was from the same Trinidad he was from, he decided that if I could be a teacher, he could be one too. He has just retired from a career of thirty years. He comes to my poetry readings all the time.

What’s in a name, you never know. It could bring you face to face with yourself. Hey, Teach! Whappenin dey, boy?

Mervyn Taylor