Poems by Ian McDonald
Ian McDonald is Antiguan by ancestry, Trinidadian by birth, Guyanese by adoption and West Indian by conviction. He was born in 1933 in St. Augustine, Trinidad, and was educated in Port of Spain and at Cambridge University where he obtained an Honours degree in History. From 1955 he has lived and worked in Guyana where he was Administrative Director in the Guyana Sugar Corporation. A keen tennis player, he has captained both Cambridge University and the West Indies Davis Cup Team, and was for many years champion of Guyana.
His novel The Hummingbird Tree, first published in 1969 by Heinemann (when it won the Royal Society of Literature Prize for best regional novel) was re-issued as a paperback in the Heinemann Caribbean Writers Series in 1974 and is widely used as a text book in schools in the region. Ian McDonald is a fellow of The Royal Society of Literature. In 1984 he was instrumental in reviving the literary magazine Kyk-Over-Al which had been published in Guyana between 1945 and 1961. Ian McDonald’s poems have been published in a number of West Indian journals, particularly BIM, and in Britain and America, and have appeared in several anthologies. Eleven of his poems (not part of the present collection) were published in Poetry Introduction 3, Faber and Faber, 1975.
Mercy Ward is Ian McDonald’s first full collection of poems. The poems within it were produced in a burst over a period of not much more than a year and are the result of the poet’s imagination working on memories of scenes and people observed in the wards of a hospital “for the poorest of the poor” where Ian McDonald had been a frequent visitor. All human life is contained in Mercy Ward: it is a kind of Caribbean Spoon River in which Ian McDonald creates a range of memorable characters – Nurse Guyadeen, Hubertus Jones, “Big Bull” Cousins, Betty Kumar, Mother Tango, “Hook-nosed” Amoroso, “Runtee” Tang-Choon and others – and writes about them with compassionate sincerity in a variety of poetic forms.
Here is not for emergency
But sometimes there is overflow
And they have to bring them in:
Like this pretty girl in pretty party dress
And tall, young, handsome smashed-up man.
You can tell it’s month-end Friday night
Money in his pocket, a girl to court,
After rum and dancing, show-off time:
80 down the avenue by the old train-line,
Life good, the wind sweet.
They’re ugly now, butcher’s meat.
Try of course, hustle about,
But they’re dying, nothing to do;
They’re completely out of place too.
They make the ward restless
Barging in, no patience, such a mess.
Dying has rhythms, fast and slow:
The Ward is waltzing, they calypso.
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Cover illustration: Henry Daley, Petitioner, 1945. (National Gallery of Jamaica) Acrylic on board. (Photo: Jeffrey Ploskonka).
Publication: SUMMER 1988 (72 pages laminated paperback)