June 1, 2007

The Artist and the Tragic Muse

on DrummondDon Drummond was a musical genius. A founding member of the Skatalites, Drummond was an accomplished composer/arranger and jazz trombonist. Unfortunately, his life became a tragic cliché--the solitary artist falling in love with an unavailable woman. In this case, the unavailable woman was an exotic dancer and singer named Anita "Margarita" Mahfood. Drummond suspected that she was cheating on him and he killed her. At his trial, he was declared mentally unfit and was interned at the Belle Vue Asylum where, as the story goes, he was not allowed to play his trombone and this led to his suicide. Such is the life of legends and many Jamaican writers have fallen for the lure of the Don Drummond's story.
One of the first poets to memorialize Don Drummond was Mervyn Morris and in his poem, "Valley Prince," the speaker in the poem laments about the relationship of the artist, his vocation and audience. The sound, music, and trombone become metaphors of the poet's craft and the woman becomes a symbol--a representative of a community that despite it's brutal history, prefers existence on a prosaic level. The betrayal is physical and spiritual. It propels the artist towards murder, mayhem, and mania.
Morris and Drummond know the betrayal of a community that refuses complexity. They know, "But straight is not the way; my world/ don' go so, that is lie," and as seekers they take the path of integrity and speak their truth: "Oonu giimme back me trombone, man: / is time to blow me mind."

Valley Prince
(for Don D.)
Me one, way out in the crowd,
I blow the sounds, the pain,
but not a soul
would come inside my world
or tell me how it true.
I love a melancholy baby
sweet, with fire in her belly;
and like a spite
the woman turn a whore.
Cool and smooth around the beat
she wake the note inside me
and I blow me mind.

Inside here, me one
in the crowd again,
and plenty people
want we blow it straight.
But straight is not the way: my world
don' go so: that is lie.
Oonu gimme back me trombone, man:
is time to blow me mind.

From The Pond


Unknown said...

I like the last line 'is time to blow me mind' '...blow me mind'like 'speak me mind' is just expressing myself using the trombone. Or 'blow me mind' could mean...go crazy.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear George,

Greetings & Welcome!

Yeah, I've always loved that quality in Mervyn's work.

It's what makes it reading over and over again. I've been re-reading Mervyn for 30 years now. And I've never been bored because I always find something new.



Complexity and its betrayal!! How poignant and interesting? It is good to re-read Mervyn Morris' Valley Prince.Funny,I always glean something new from this poem each time I am re-exposed to it.Nuff respect!!

Geoffrey Philp said...

Mervyn's poetry ALWAYS teaches me something new...