It takes a lot for me to love a book of poetry. I just don’t get most of those books, figuratively and literally speaking. The poems feel like loose panels in a tapestry that I want to rearrange and sew them together.
But I always enjoy and even savour Mervyn Taylor’s books. Each poem is a vivid narrative; each poem reflects the previous poem and propels readers towards the next poem. They are entertaining, thought-provoking and most of all, they leave readers with a feeling of knowing themselves and others better. Taylor’s latest collection, Voices Carry, does all of this and more. These poems represent the tapestry of life: the beauty and innocence we have lost; the horror and callousness that engulfs us now. In a world that reduces slaughter to statistics, these poems remind us that crime – in all its many manifestations – is about people. Like the poem Bad Dream, we cannot escape the horrors even in the dark of night; even in Carnival, which was once our great escape. When the scavengers enter the picture in Death in the Mudland, Prof Perry’s life, rich in knowledge, is reduced to chaos with thieves running through his house. The thieves are reduced to rodents: rats scavenging off grief.
There are snippets of joyful bygone days, small celebrations – like Incoming. Taylor writes, “We used to clap whenever we, landed, to sheer as the plane shuddered to a stop.” He contrasts this with Those Who Stayed, a heart-wrenching narrative of neighbours sitting in their yards and talking about crime as they wait for the phone to ring from a relative who escaped abroad. In Enough, he asks “What if, suddenly, the spate of killings were to end?” Would we be able to forget the blood flowing?
In Only Son, he describes the death of a young man – his body like wreckage on the highway. Alma’s Advice asks, “Who are the boys we’ll root for, when they’re all dead or gone away?” It is a chilling thought; a piece of realism that cuts like a shard of glass as we ponder how meaningless life has become.
One of my favourite poems is A Kind of Valentine. “When you come to the place in the world where you think you belong, how to you know?” Taylor asks in the preface of the poem. At first, it seems The Village Where Dreams Are Kept will offer a respite from the crime, but as readers let their guard down, they are hit with Tobago Love, which reminds us even Tobago is not spared from violence. There are poems about what we lost – peace in the night, safer Carnivals, police with integrity, races at the Savannah –all images of a time when integrity reigned. Snippets of the past are sprinkled like fairy dust in these poems, reminding readers of a time when we stood for something. I found Forged from the Love a haunting reminder of Marjorie Beepathsingh, who arrested a man for not standing at attention for the national anthem. As readers move deeper into the book, there are poems about people who have disappeared. One wonders if they are victims of The Dream Thief. Three from the Garment District offer three vivid images of lives unfolding like cloth. Here are dreams, lost and found, and places once noble, crumbling now. Through vivid imagery, nostalgia and honest questions, readers feel like they have a part in constructing Taylor’s tapestry that tells the story of people still clinging to hope and some semblance of goodness.