art in all its forms

art in all its forms


Dalton Narine pens an open letter on Mervyn Taylor

Ah, Mr. Taylor, whenever I read a new book of your poems, why do you treat me as if I had plundered your pockets of small change?

There’s always one that comes flashing back. A rush of water that takes me over the shallows. It happens when I get stuck, a boat grinding to a stop in the muck in my head.

Mervyn Taylor has done it again.

You pick up a book of his and are so absorbed it kills you that a lone, mostly unadorned poem throws you off his merry-go-round of verses and drops you in the middle of the mas only to be confronted by a midnight robber wading in the sea.

Aha! Taylor seems to reduce the long-winded robber talk to that simple scary silly joke just to tease. As in ‘Not on Any Map.’

We read, re-read, read once more—and, strangely, we’re seeing things. All of them belonging to the truth coming out from a gloomy ocean, like Minshall’s Oil Slick character in Carnival of the Sea.

But this can’t be. Eventually, you catch Taylor’s drift. That’s the point.
Was it always like this,
learning the hard lesson.
Carib killing the Arawak,
landfall hard to make, looking
for mountains, three to be
exact, a bed of oil forever
bubbling? Who set me
adrift, I forget that too. (25)

Voices Carry engages your attention. You sense Taylor’s inspiration, see his experiences and imagination and craft reflected from the foam on a tall, robust glass of beer, the kind of mug you’re tempted to steal as you hopscotch the bars.

One gets that Taylor is a control freak the way he builds a mere word, a line, a paragraph into scenes. How he illumines them with your grandmother’s candles for natural light.

Taylor is an ol’ player from Belmont who’s as keen on the tricks of the trade in the mas as in verse where he looms with a smooth voice in your ear.

He had me right there with him in Charlotteville rummaging through ‘The Village Where Dreams Are Kept.’

I’d been through every nook and cranny of that otherworldly idyll of Tobago when he acquainted me with Sarah, that old black magic that he weaved so well among the crowing cocks, and the Nylon pool and the blackbirds tiefing from the fishermen’s nets.

Gang-Gang Sarah.

Oh, Lord! That old black-magic chick still has me in Taylor’s spell as we walk away from the sea near the forest.

Voices Carry is a work about adventure and of nostalgia for the romance of the shifting back and forth between two worlds.

An esteemed poet with great respect and gentleness, Taylor mines his work with equally rich and well-connected words. He tantalizes your experience with personal idiosyncrasies, such that they tend to immeasurably enrich learning and our understanding of his art. In his macoscope of exploration, there’s a matchup—and mashup—of society and human nature with our own blues, a collusion that doesn’t dent the book’s appeal. He ladles it out with dollops of agony and ecstasy and an extra few shakes of a roving sailor’s talcum powder.

Mervyn Taylor. Photo by Andre Bagoo.

‘Incoming,’ the first of a quintet of poems, reaches me as a war veteran in the trenches in the middle of the night, the sound of a mortar round leaving the enemy’s firing tube. Phafft! Yet, it’s about coming home. And it asks, “Which death might be better, in snow, or one where the heat cooks us quickly, till we’re done.”

Taylor offers us a feast in this, the best of his six books. He doesn’t chinks on his readers. It’d be wise to collect them all. An Island of His Own, The Goat, Gone Away, No Back Door and The Waving Gallery. Each in a class of its own inventiveness, all of them distinguished as pearls of wisdom. In Voices Carry, ‘Those Who Stayed’ have rank. Novel and unusual, them. A double-entendre chantwell that evokes the underworld lifestyle of Trinis for life.

“And the boy in America, for some reason hasn’t called,” a voice offstage worries.

Could it be that this Trini to the Bone rudeboy, whose records of his past remain zealously home-made and preserved, unlike the lifer mother whose new dress, bought on a whim, changes with the color of her mood?

What is Taylor telling us?

On the heels of ‘Those Who Stayed’, ‘Enough’ waltzes in, masked as Armageddon. The battle between crime and punishment will be fought back home. The nuclear race of our badjohns, wholesalers, sellers, dopers, criminals and killers are in the mix. ‘Enough’ is as spare as it is powerful. A most emotionally wrought scene, it arrives with rat-a-tat energy and a God-bless-you pat on the soul. It sings. It cries.

A poem can have different meanings to different readers. Taylor’s experience could either translate into a general situation or some private experience of his own. His poems stretch beyond ordinary speech. From poetry to ole talk to conversation to song.

And Taylor is singing it when he offers to walk Asami Nagakiya, the murdered Japanese masquerader, round the Savannah.

In ‘A Kind of Valentine’ you’re hanging out with him, and you’d hardly miss any of the vignettes that masks our daily lives as he and Nagakiya traipse around the Cyclop’s eye of Port of Spain.

I will walk you round this Savannah
because we’ve always boasted
of its beauty, because it’s where 
all our love and all our craziness
take place, where our horses have raced…(21)

Like Dante travels through Hell and Paradise, these poems take us from quiet moments to intense life experiences. Like Asami’s. Voices Carry is Taylor’s best work, a far cry from other scholarly stuff I’ve read recently. He gives us his lifetime of intense experiences. Yes. Observation and poetry.

Dalton Narine is a journalist, film producer and director. Mervyn Taylor's new book, Voices Carry, is published by Shearsman Books

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