Maria Taylor is a poet and reviewer from Leicestershire. Her debut collection, Melanchrini, is available from Nine Arches Press and was launched at the Ledbury Festival in July 2012. She is Greek Cypriot in origin and was raised in London before moving to the Midlands. She has had poetry published or forthcoming in a variety of magazines including The North, Staple, The Guardian and Iota. She has also reviewed for The TLS and Sphinx, as well as co-editing the magazine Hearing Voices. She teaches Creative Writing at De Montfort University and has also tutored young people and children.
“Melanchrini is a distinctive and assured collection of poems. The writing is at once clear-sighted and fully realised. In its mystery, precision and surprise, Melanchrini shows the truth of a powerful new writer.”
– David Morley
“Enjoyable, engaging, serious but unpretentious, confident and well-crafted, this is a debut collection that should attract attention– and ought to win Maria Taylor a lot of readers. Above all the book is full of life, of real lives. It has variety and surprise but is very clearly by one voice – a voice that it is good to listen to because it sees so much.”
– Peter Sansom
“Maria Taylor’s poems sing with the extraordinary in the everyday, full of those moments where something or someone is briefly transformed: a woman takes a merman home; a dead Aunt’s house becomes a museum where the main object is missing; the memory of morning coffee is full of birds’ wings. The power of these poems is that they constantly invoke the unexpected, and the colours and textures of both times past and yet to come. There is a richness to the work, which, combined with an honesty of tone, makes for an intriguing poetic voice – a voice invoking both the difficulty and the wondrous nature of being human.”
– Deborah Tyler-Bennett
“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.”
– Matthew Stewart
So, after a bit of spaced-out skinny-dipping in the Lethe,
we headed off for a smoke; heads light and stupid,
emerging from the water worse than an unmemoried babe.
I didn’t know the names of the others in our ragged formation,
though I reckon the man third from left, sculling and thrusting,
may have been my father. Forgetting’s harder than you think.
Lunch is always asphodel petals. We all long for Hades
where there’s red meat and wild parties that go on till daybreak.
Afternoons are unceasing here, clouds always bruised.
Idleness in the soil and seed of our souls, but being dead already,
nothing ever grows. I resolve to die again, exhaust the
of self-harm: pills, blades, hemlock, but nothing. I am still dead.
Now and then I hear them scream in Tartarus. I don’t pity them,
skies are red over their way, our fires wheeze ash and black,
dull smoke fills our rusting lungs. As in all things, we stand well
September. Someone hands me a copy of Larkin,
thirty eager teenage faces search me for clues.
I will love teaching Larkin, I will embrace Larkin,
‘A’ Level Syllabi, York Notes, Spark Notes;
we’re going to crack this Larkin like a walnut.
October. Larkin has moved in. My photographs
are all of Larkin, the face on the television
belongs to Larkin. In the crisp mornings
birds are tweeting Larkin! Larkin! Larkin!
It’s Sunday lunchtime, thirty essays on Larkin
scream at me. Was Larkin a misogynist?
Was Larkin a misanthrope? Was Larkin a joker?
I give up and go in search of food. Larkin passes me
the leeks and compliments me on my choice of wine.
The term ends. We have done our Christmas quiz
on Larkin. ‘I hate Larkin,’ says a small girl with eczema.
‘Tis the season to be Larkin. I go home with a suitcase
full of Larkin. On Boxing Day I drink brandy
and salute Larkin. I think I’m going Larkin.
Last night when I was asleep, Larkin was on top
of me again, grunting. His lenses were all steamed-up,
he enjoys the feel of the living, the way we move.
I fended him off with a hardback of New Women Poets
and woke up, relieved to see someone else.
You may turn over and begin. Mr. Larkin is your invigilator
for today. I raise my hand, ‘How do you spell MCMXIV?’
He clips the back of my ear with a shatterproof ruler.
I draw a Smurf in the margin, I have forgotten everything
there is to know about Larkin. He gives up on me and leaves.
Larkin’s shoes echo noisily through the gym.
August. Twisted. They’re opening little envelopes,
some smile, some cry. A photographer from the local paper
takes photos of students throwing Larkin in the air.
I’m better now, cured of Larkin. The girl with eczema
has a lighter. I find a charred copy of High Windows
behind the gym with a used condom and a can of Lilt.
Never such innocence, as I think someone once said.
When passing through the island
which was your only country,
take in the scent of benign jasmine,
speak softly to travellers on the path,
allow them to speak softly to you.
You won’t need a passport or papers,
there will be a glint in your eyes
which is recognised or understood.
They won’t be known from photographs
but you will have heard their names
spoken, whispered like incantations.
Eat with them, drink with them,
let them go. When the sun falls
and you must return, lay bellflowers,
take back their stories, and remember
there was no second or third country,
just a place where people come from,
where once before maybe you did too.
An Unremarkable Wardrobe
Some thoughts are like wardrobes.
It’s impossible to take them anywhere,
so much easier to creep inside, pushing
at the backbone of tigered rosewood,
finding a nook of permanent winter
and a Snow Queen making promises
of sleigh-rides over invisible hills.
And yes, I could leave, but I choose
her glassy world over mine. I breathe
and exhale frail mists of sugared icing,
play among her creatures of stone,
sleeping on bear-skin until I can’t recall
the scent of dead women’s clothes.
She tempts my lips with cool sweetness,
uneaten platters of Turkish Delight,
teasing almost, almost but never quite.
The girls pass us by, all volume and lilt
in their weekend tribes, hollering, invulnerable.
We call it a night to the scraping of heels,
sleepwalking through ring-shaped streets
far away from the jewel-box fronts
of shops and bars, into the city’s midnight.
We lost the way home under a sickle-shaped moon,
you and I diminishing with every footfall.
I wanted to turn back to the pinwheels of light
thrown from the centre of the city we’d left,
the snaking filaments of liquid electricity
and sticky crowds who shield us from ourselves.
Fable town; our halls of pleasure and distortion,
the absinthe-green light, hollowing your cheeks.
Instead we murmur sobering goodbyes
our voices weaving into the pallium of dark.
You fall into the calyx of my memory
and bury yourself under clocks.
Maybe it began with phone calls,
an exchange of photographs
hurried text messages, then lips,
the bright crimson staining
of beeswax, oil and pigment
over a greedy, wanting mouth.
You walk home through rain
trying not to think the obvious
as water trickles over your face
finding its way onto your tongue
forcing you to swallow deeply,
perhaps it feels like drowning.
from Melanchrini (Nine Arches Press, 2012).
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