Poems by Ian McDonald
Ian McDonald is author of The Humming-Bird Tree, one of the most celebrated novels of West Indian childhood. His Mercy Ward poems, set in a hospital for the terminally ill, elicited a world-wide chorus of praise when they were published by Peterloo Poets in 1988. Mercy Ward is still available. Essequibo, his new collection, is a vivid and original sequence of poems which will add to this writer's widening reputation. The great Essequibo River, flowing through the mountains and green, deep forests of Guyana to the sea, inspires the poems. Incandescent natural beauty, and people of a wonderful variety who live in this magical region - their myths, history, adventures and simple stories - are reflected in a collection of poems certain to find a unique place in the literature of the West Indies and South America.
’Ian McDonald's Mercy Ward is a superb collection, a series of stories, character portraits and lyrics derived from McDonald's experience as a hospital visitor in Guyana. The ward is where the old and poor come to die, be it slowly or soon, and McDonald's recreation of the life of the place is by turns hilarious and moving as the loves and accomplishments, fears and furies of the inmates unfold. It would be very hard to find work from this country to compare in rhythmic attack or emotional directness.’ - Sean O'Brien, Times Literary Supplement.
’This is verse that is shorn of gestures. It's shorn of rhetoric. In other words, it's trying to be as clean and as decent and as direct as possible. And, in fact, I think that's a very, very subtle achievement - and a complex achievement . . . the poetry is strong and powerful and deeply moving.’ - David Dabydeen, Kaleidoscope (BBC Radio 3).
’Immortalizing this memorable cast of characters, Mercy Ward stands as a fine addition to McDonald's already impressive literary oeuvre.’ - The Caribbean Writer.
’Mercy Ward, with its unflinching honesty and astringent grief, restores death to its rightful stature, and in this way, paradoxically, affirms the seriousness of life. And for this it seems to me an important book.’ - Wayne Brown, Trinidad Express.
’. . . compulsive reading.’ - Stephen Wade, Acumen.
(from) Snail Painting
One night he closed the bar down early,
Beckoned me to stay and led me in the back.
A long room lit by lanterns set on barrels down each side,
Casting gold-black shadows on a strange display:
Long, unrolled sheets of black cloth tacked on frames
Nailed to rough gilt trestles four-feet tall.
Eagerly and soberly he explained it all to me:
It filled his inner life, it was important art.
From a jute sack, one of bundles in a corner,
Soaked in water, earth-encrusted, tied with golden ribbon,
He dipped both hands in and pulled out a score of snails:
Gleamed white and pale blue in the lantern light.
He put them on the black cloth one by one
At all the corners. We watched their silver scrawls.
He demonstrates most carefully, anxious to explain.
The slow trails glow, meander, cross and multiply:
The tangled veins of silver make maps he can decipher.
The craft is where he spaces out the snails along the frames.
The largest works use up a hundred snails or more:
The black cloth glows in complex mastery.
At first he used to mark the movements on the cloth
To make precise record for painting on huge canvasses
Stored for years, vast elaborate scrolls slashed with all the colours.
His soul being not at rest, he destroyed them all:
The snails alone are now enough for him.
Price £7.95 per copy post free (£5.30 post free to Associate Members)
Cover illustration: ‘Wai Wai Body Adornment’ by George Simon
Publication: SPRING 1992 (64 pages laminated paperback)