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.
Mark McWatt is the recently retired Professor of West Indian literature at UWI, Cave Hill. He is joint editor of the Oxford Book of Caribbean Verse(2005).