New Book: The Journey to Le Repentir by Mark McWatt


This is my song of the universe, of the past
that is now and the future that is never, but
mostly about a place and a mind inter-
penetrated through a membrane of wonder,
a dark fistula of dream through which flows,
back and forth, a boy and the palpable matter
of his first and widest world… Think of a garden
invaded by a black creek, its flowering orchids,
grown in coconut husks, floated off the trunk
the grapefruit tree and trundled down to the river,
to bob among the palm seeds and the driftwood
and the anxious ripples of the tacouba, half-
submerged in the eye of the frantic bow-man,
dancing with his big paddle and signalling
the steersman to keep hard right. And that night,
in the flooded garden at the tide of the full moon
the blue bunderie crabs march like a helpless army
into quakes and baskets, into steaming pots,
into the widening eyes of children, as sleepless
as Christmas eve. It is the North West district
of Guyana (before there was ‘region one’);
it was the 1950s (before ‘massa day’ done).
It was that hill of red earth, those misty mornings
of wet grass and Wellington boots, those rivers,
creeks, stellings, that dark Rubber Walk… that
wrapped themselves around my hopeless heart
and, to this day, have not let go…
So the first part
of my poem’s life tells of that universe, of memories
of its magic, in the compound at Mabaruma, in
the schoolhouse, where teacher Stephanie’s chalk
drawings on blackboards never to be erased
helped define for me the life of books, of competitive
learning, of the sensuous adventure of knowledge
that has never let me go; the only school before
university where I sat in the same classroom with girls
and loved them, and longed for them and got my mouth
washed out with soap because the nuns told my parents
the unspeakable things I said I would like to do
with Cecilia Joseph, with Olinda Santiago…

But I always knew that world did not begin
with me: I was told that red hill contained bones
older than our dreams, and later, when I had read
my universe into a different context and could see
its links to other worlds, I dreamt for it my own
moment of genesis, when a vessel from another
adventure sailed into the Barima in rainy season…

About MarK McWatt

This is an immensely ambitious collection of poems, the fruit of more than a dozen years’ work since the publication of Mark McWatt’s Guyana prize-winning collection, The Language of Eldorado in 1994 (his first collection Interiors won the Commonwealth Poetry prize in 1989). Strands of autobiography, a deeply sensuous ecology of place, historical narratives; the inner world of imagination and the often difficult realities of the postcolonial nation are interwoven in the collection’s bold but carefully worked out architecture.

The four parts of the book represent at one level linear phases of a life: childhood; adolescence and young manhood; maturity and the first intimations of ageing. Within each section there is an intersecting narrative sequence that sometimes complements, sometimes expands and sometimes run counter to the ‘personal’ narratives.

In Mercator, poems in the voice of a nameless Elizabethan sea captain searching for Eldorado intertwine with semi-autobiographical poems about a boy’s discovery of self and world in the remote northwest district of Guyana. In The Dark Constellation, poems about love and awakening sexuality are connected to a series of poems about Guyana’s vast and powerful rivers. The Museum of Love features a wholly imaginative narrative about the restless spirit of a young black boy, murdered by a plantation manager, who inhabits a sculpture in a museum and with his ragamuffin followers wreaks havoc on the works of art during the night. This is intercut with a sequence of poems on the theme of independence in life and politics, poems that reflect on the contrary impulses of creation and destruction. The final section Le Repentir (which is the name of the main cemetery in Georgetown), explores a historical (and true) story of an accidental fratricide and the themes of guilt and expiation. This narrative connects to poems about mid-life and thoughts about old age and death.


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Rob and Mandy said…
Greetings from the Island of Cyprus, enjoyed the blog, Regards

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