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News of the Living

October 22, 2020

This past weekend I heard four poets from New York City read a few of their poems out loud for a zoom audience. Mervyn Taylor’s slow and calm delivery showed me more about how to read his measured cadences in his volume of poems about the coronavirus, News of the Living, published by Broadstone Books.

Centered on spring 2020 in and around New York City, Taylor’s poems also evoke other places and times, like South Africa under apartheid in “Lockdown,” which ends with people who “help turn the sick/face down, so all the patient sees are/the plastic covers on the doctors’ shoes,/the bin in the far corner, overflowing.” The poem shows more than one way of being isolated and “locked down,” and anyone who has ever been in a hospital can remember what it’s like to be so helpless.

The image of New York City as “Corona City” is also a powerful one, beginning with the “wind blowing through windows,/ down corridors into deserted rooms” and ending “high in the lookouts of trade/centers and skyscrapers” where “sensors/scan for planes that never come.”

My favorite poem in the volume is a short one entitled “Bird’s-Eye View:

As a field hospital goes up in Central Park,
a hawk feeding her babies stops to look

at ambulances unload their cargo, and
doctors follow stretchers into dark interiors.

And tired interns look up to see
the hawk, tearing at an animal’s insides,

her babies squealing. Only last year,
a crowd of tourists flocked to the

building on Fifth Ave. where she built
her nest, high among the gargoyles.

I like the way it captures the feeling of living through spring 2020, that feeling that we didn’t expect to be confronted with issues of life and death just then–that we thought the world had left plagues behind, in the world where people made gargoyles, and that we could celebrate and show our children a wondrous wild animal without having to get a close-up look at what survival entails. Those feelings are also part of “The Exhibit,” in which black bears enter an art gallery “upstate” and find their way into “an/office someone left hurriedly,/ a Covid-19 notice on the floor” and “Signs of the Pandemic” in which a “doorman keeps goats from entering/the lobby.”

There’s even an urge to necromancy in one of the poems, “How to Grieve,” when “a woman/straddles the coffin/of a dear one in an attempt/to love him back to life.”

Each of the poems in this volume is a window on the world no matter where you’ve gone to ground, showing you images of transition and potentially giving you the strength to face a new era in which we learn how to live with our grief and isolation.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 22, 2020 7:48 am

    Oof, yeah, that does really get at the mood in Spring 2020. Not that I am so wild about Autumn 2020 either, mind you! I have reached the point of feeling achy-nostalgic for the Before Times and how we could just! Go to places and buy things at those places and talk to people, including people we didn’t even know, just for chitchats! I miss that.

  2. Monika @ Lovely Bookshelf permalink
    October 23, 2020 2:53 pm

    Thanks for sharing about this collection. I’m interested to read the other poems you referred to. They sound strangely profound.

  3. October 24, 2020 2:43 pm

    So much sadness. I don’t let myself stop to really think about the enormity of all the people who’ve died, and how many could have been saved if we had coherent and human leadership.

  4. October 26, 2020 9:45 am

    This sounds really good but I am not sure I could handle it right now with COVID cases on the rise like they are. I will place it on my list for another time though. Oh, say, did you know the Dodge Poetry Festival is all virtual this year? You can see some of the stuff for free online. I caught a fantastic reading and Q & A the other day with Natalie Diaz and Ada Limon.

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