Poetry. It may be true, as often said, that journalism is the first draft of history. But to know how it felt to be alive at any point, to experience the world first-hand, poetry is the truest record. That's why the poems in this new chapbook from Mervyn Taylor are so important, as poetry, yes, but also as documents of a crucial moment in time. That specific moment was the lockdown in New York City in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, and many of these poems speak directly of and to that event, beginning with the opening poem that imagines the plants in the Botanic Gardens, blooming unseen. In another poem he writes of bears roaming an art gallery, an image of life as it might be without us, after us. This is news of the living, of a world from which we are excluded, hopefully temporarily, for which we are already growing nostalgic. But Taylor uses his time in isolation to give us other news of the living, a far less rose-colored view of a world outside rife with racial and economic injustice and inequality.
For some, the dislocations of pandemic are nothing new, as in the South African victim of apartheid who observes "Isolation is not new to us, we've been / locked down a long time." In his "Epilogue" he connects the simultaneous crises of Covid and police violence, "On an asteroid called Covid-19 / came riding the figure of a man / named George. Which, when // it hit, opened such a crater in / the conscience of mankind that / the protesters are marching still..." In the span of these pages, Taylor gives us news of a world that he misses greatly and longs to rejoin, but he also describes a world that needs very much to be reborn, to be made better. Maybe, just maybe, these poems suggest, our Corona moment of isolation will be a sort of chrysalis, a turning point, a realization that it's time to leave the old "normal" behind and emerge into a new one. And that would indeed be news.
Mervyn Taylor, a Trinidad-born poet and longtime Brooklyn resident, has taught at Bronx Community College, The New School and in the New York City public school system. He is the author of seven books of poetry, including The Waving Gallery (2014), and most recently, Country of Warm Snow (2020), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation that was listed for the Bocas Lit Prize. A chapbook, NEWS OF THE LIVING: CORONA POEMS, was published by Broadstone in 2020. Currently, Taylor serves as co-editor on the advisory board of Slapering Hol Press, Hudson Valley, New York.