Sun | Nov 18, 2018

'Peelin Orange' spans over half-century

Published:Thursday | September 28, 2017 | 12:05 AMMel Cooke
Professor Mervyn Morris

Professor Mervyn Morris says the earliest poems in his most recent publication, Peelin Orange, The Collected Poems of Mervyn Morris (Carcanet), were written in about 1960. And while he did not write with the specific objective of a particular poem being included in Peelin Orange, Morris said, "I was writing when I was putting the collection together, some quite recent poems are in it."

And with the poems spanning over-half-century, he said, "I decided that at age 80, I thought it was time to put them together."

Speaking about his process of extensive rewriting, he said, "Sometimes the poems come unbidden, almost whole. But I am a great tinkerer, I don't believe in leaving things alone."

This means that there are changes in poems from all of his previous poetry books which include The Pond, On Holy Week and Vestiges. However, when The Gleaner asks if Peelin Orange has the final version of a particular poem, Morris replies, "It may in a sense be the version that I may at this time think I want, but I may change it as well."

Still, he says, it is also possible to damage a poem. He laughs as he remembers showing a friend drafts of a poem in the writing process. She said: "You better stop now, before the poem vanishes up its own last line."

One of the poems he has left alone is from the earliest stages of his writing in the book, The Day My Father Died, Morris saying, "I haven't tampered with that."

At The Gleaner's request, he reflects on moments in his extensive interaction with - and influence on - the work of other established and developing poets, he says, "You get benefits where you don't really look for them. That is the way it is, sometimes.

"I wrote some of the pioneering stuff on dub poetry and I have been educated by them," Morris said. The Gleaner asks if he has written dub poems and he replies, "Not really, but I have written some poems which are like cousin, which dub poets would approve of."




He gives the examples of I Am the Man ("I am the man that build his house on s....t/I am the man that watch you bulldoze it"). Then there is Eve ("the garden/seemed/a proper/paradise/until/she buck up/on a serpent/talking nice").

The title poem goes even further with its use of Jamaican tongue, but Morris says, "It is not my predominant self. Predominantly, I speak standard English and in relaxed modes I will use a mixture ... I think I am comfortable writing on creole, but I don't do it that often."

There are other nuances to his use of language, Morris saying that there are times when he is writing something that looks like standard English but, upon reflection, is more like "a Jamaican speaking extra".

Morris offers as an example To an Expatriate Friend, which is "very, very English in tone", but there is a line which ends with the "sufferers". "If you are reading that as a Jamaican, you would know it is 'sufferas'," Morris said.

The choice is, language is always deliberate, as there is a rewriting process. Plus, there can be an alternate version, Morris saying that there is a standard English version of Eve, which "I would never publish." A key word change is 'buck up', instead of 'stumbled', Morris saying that the former "has more suddenness, but it is also, of course, more Creole".