Monday, 6 August 2012

Review: Melanchrini, by Maria Taylor

Maria Taylor is a poet with a keen sense of identity. By that, I don't mean that she's fond of attaching labels to herself. In fact, the opposite is true - she's only too aware of the shifting, ambiguous nature of identity, and her verse does an excellent job of exploring its vagaries.

Her first full collection is titled Melanchrini (Nine Arches Press, 2012), in itself a word - meaning "dark-featured young woman" - that hints at one of the book's main concerns. This is British poetry with a Greek Cypriot background. Copellas and levandes are juxtaposed with a park off the Uxbridge road, Pebble Mill and a dance at the Palais Hall.

Taylor explores the co-existence in her upbringing of two languages, two cultures and two set of social attitudes. At times, her husband is "English", at others "englezo", his acceptance into her family under scrutiny, as she portrays the blending and clashing of British and Cypriot ways of life. This double perspective undoubtedly enriches Taylor's writing, enabling her to write about both countries with a critical eye. She acts simultaneously as an insider and outsider.

The extra counterpoint is crucial to the development of Taylor's skill at exploring the ambiguous qualities of identity as mentioned above. In that respect, Kin is a key piece:

"...You won't need a passport or papers,
there will be a glint in your eyes
which is recognised or understood...

there was no second or third country,
just a place where people came from,
where once before maybe you did too."

This poem begins in an authorative tone, identity being clearly above mere documents. By the end, Taylor is purposely undermining all that came previously. The "maybe" of the final line is reminiscient of the "almost" of Larkin's An Arundel Tomb.

Melanchrini stands out among first collections for its coherence. Maria Taylor's achievement lies in having generated a deeply personal thematic and poetic drive that runs throughout the book. I very much recommend it.

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