Mon | Feb 17, 2020

Poet triumphs with range, depth and timing!

Published:Sunday | January 18, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Glenville Ashby, Reviewer

Book: Merchant of Feathers

Author: Tanya Shirley

Tanya Shirley's The Merchant of Feathers is provocative, explosive and brutally imaginative. It is conscious, uncompromisingly pure and emotive. Her galvanising work seeps into the minds of readers and lodges there indefinitely. This is poetry that breathes and Shirley proves at ease and fluid in the myriad themes she presents. This is literary shape-shifting at its best. She can be loud and edgy; comforting and sublime; sacred and profane, while using colour, tone and cadence with precision.

In Flower Girl, and Recompense, Shirley journeys through history and the adverse psychological impact it has had on our generation.

Later, she explores the depth of love in Grace. It scores on multiple, diverse levels.

It is raw, lustful, sensual, platonic, selfless, even sacrilegious.

"On days when I cannot distinguish our bodies and even mirrors deceive me," she intones, and "when I remember God ... when His name is your name and afterlife is a place we create."

Her statement in Merchant of Feathers 11 is weighty and unmistakable. It is wrenchingly painful and speaks of the darkness of humanity. Here, she dissects homophobic behaviour. It's all about sexual identity, and violence and machismo must be used to remind the perpetrator that he is nothing like the victim.

She's subtle but unforgiving, capturing the woes of a mother who nurses her battered son, facing more brutality from his father. She writes: "... and when his father, who isn't worth two dry stones or a shilling and sees his son on the news and appears at her door to beat her son some more, she will turn herself into serrated edges, stand sharp and poised to kill ... .and if the father's thirst for blood is too great she will pacify him with what he needs to prove he is not like he son."

In the cryptic, When the World is Sleeping, Shirley is at her best, stirring the imagination of readers. Her words haunt: "She tells all men lined in pews down her thighs, the holy women tucked behind her knees, that loving is always the act of dying and only the determined few breathe themselves back to life. It's not her fault he couldn't pull himself up."

In the restorative, redemptive, sharply penned Beyond The AIDS Hospice, frailty is tamed. "... The spirit shocked by fire, leaps from your chest; it flies past the laden clouds ... showing men fat again their new home."

On social and economic issues and the failings of government, she pens in Waiting for Rain (Again): "There are poor people in this country who've never had running water, who carry pails full from the river on their heads. Sandwiched in pews, their only prayer is for rain ... poor people in thick circles dancing for rain. Obeah men getting extra business for rain. Still no rain ... Let them come and drink of me, my brokenness spilling in shards of tears."

Tivoli incursion

The People are Deading captures the stench of poverty and violence as she recalls the search for Dudus Coke. "... even teeth looked like dried blood and you couldn't see anybody's soul in the slant of seedy eyes. No one was dying or crossing over, passing or walking into the light, no one had the benefit of a benediction. The people were deading like language ripped from a tongue leaving clots of dry vowels in underground tunnels."

And in the riveting and driving Matie Shall Not Conquer, Shirley writes with the commanding exigency that desperate love affairs demand. Inject the wiles of obeah and you have a high-octane delivery that mesmerises.

"You are willing to use the wisdom of women long dead to keep his eyes in your skin," she writes. "Light three blue candles: the flickering will taper the conflagration in your blood; fight big fire with small fire. Write his name and your name on a piece of paper. Write her name on another; if you do not know it, be patient, he will whisper it in his sleep. On the third piece of paper write three positive wishes for your rival, all the time wishing the bitch well. Negative thoughts are returned to sender." And the instructions and admonitions continue, unabated.

The Merchant of Feathers proves a resounding success. It is biting, unique, indelible, and profound. Hands down, a captivating, intense work of art that will woo the toughest of critics.

Merchant of Feathers by Tanya Shirley 2014

Publisher: Peepal Tree, UK

ISBN 13:978 1845232337


Ratings: Highly recommended

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