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Moving On

Written by Sheilah Garcia-Bisnott for Weekly Gleaner on no date provided

‘MOVING ON’ IS THE TITLE OF section one of the collection of poems. The reader begins with the short poem, ‘looking back’ and cannot stop reading. Except for a few poems, mostly in the middle section which a reader is likely to read through quickly with plans to return, the entire collection has the effect of holding one in its grasp. One does not read one or two poems; one becomes immersed in the whole. This must be one of the best credits that a reader might give to a collection of poems. Another relates more specifically to the quality of writing and experiences which place most of these poems easily in the hands of everybody - whether or not one is a poetry lover.

‘Looking Back’ interestingly opens the collection. It is the experience of drifting, searching, not finding. The section which it introduces is reflective - memories of people, personalities, social conditions; made real, interesting; and the ironies of life. Prejudices based on status and colour; hypocrisy, misdeeds, illicit love affairs, adolescent growing experiences: belonging to the earlier years of the century but only superficially different from those today are as familiar, real and engaging as are the speech rhythms in which they are expressed.

Uncle Seymour is all aristocracy, and this extends to his illicit affair with the servant girl ‘down on her knees, her brush/a dry coconut cut in half’-

‘No one saw the child. After the birth
a messenger came to the back door once a month
to collect a five pound note
tucked in a small, brown envelope -
unaddressed’

The next page (and next poem) helps us escape the summer heat as we go up to the rest camp for the British regiment, into the Jamaican rain forest to experience mist; kerosene lamps, ginger lilies, hydrangeas blooming (‘pale blue brains/shivering on the hills’), the wielding of power and the power of prejudice - almost casually mingled in much the same way as would have been the experience.
‘Goodbye Aristotle, So Long America’ is likely to become one of the most popular from the collection. It is the poet’s reflection on adolescent years spent in a Jesuit college in America. The 16-year-old boy steps on to a campus, ‘overripe with autumn, utterly indifferent to my presence’; lives through a selection of experiences clearly personal but almost certainly nostalgic for many readers - poetry, that the pages pass uncounted until the ‘final spring’: ‘spore and bloom, the germinating years spooling into thin, imperial diplomas.’ And the graduate must leave behind the ‘citizens of snow’, must respond to the call of his mother to return home (‘your roots are here’) to wed the hometown girl she has found him. The other two sections express other kinds of personal concerns with perhaps more obvious social connections, presented sometimes with barely controlled anger, a wry humour, and continuing sense of the ironies woven into the fabric of attitude and behaviour. Experiences with death of a relative, death of a don; gold chain, gun, ghetto, daughters, thief; are also part of the experience of a garden country where:

‘The people perish daily yet the island
blooms. The blood of those who die
seems to enrich the soil ... 
...How else explain the garden’s
new exuberance?... 

I do not pull the trigger, harbour no hate.
How fey of you, my dear,
to smuggle this apple
past the customs. Should I take a bite?’

Some poems provide more humour, though not for itself, as does the experience of the self-confirmed Doctor of Divinity; and in some the tone is decidedly, effectively, interestingly strident expressed in commanding poetry:

‘Here they come
generals blowing their own trumpets,
lawyers clad in their own briefs,
politicians
bloated with promises,
priests
bent under their crosses,
businessmen
holding ledgers
high over their heads
like trophies,
poets
dipping quills
into the wine dark swirl.’

Later ‘Third World’ presents a picture of ‘high rise hotels’, ‘barefoot handcart boys’.
And where:

‘Fences out of plumb lurch like drunken sailors to the sea. 
Even the horizon bent.
No wonder our foreign policy is nonaligned. 

It is exquisite poetry throughout. Images of ‘the sun turning cynical’, ‘the ocean, washing colonial guilt/like seaweed from an unrepentant beach’, of ‘albino hawks’ and ‘a black Clint Eastwood’ mocking; of ‘an awning pulled up like the lid/of an eye afraid to blink’ and of ‘the lip of the sea and the lip of the sky/zip-locked the horizon’ are pure art. Moving On is a feast.

This is a review of Moving On

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