First published by Dangeroo Press in 1994, this collection, McWatt’s second, has been recognised as an outstanding work of Caribbean poetry, winner of the Guyana Prize and now its selection as a CXC text for senior students. Its beauty lies in its ability to convey complex ideas through concrete images that work on the reader both sensually and intellectually. Its focus is the relationship between language, landscape and the history of human settlement in Guyana. The collection is dedicated to Wilson Harris whose challenging and paradigm-changing ideas on these matters deeply influenced McWatt’s own thinking.
At the heart of the collection is the perception of analogies between the still unknown -- because ever-changing -- nature of Guyanese interior and the unknowability of the human psyche, however much we are drawn to attempt to penetrate these hidden zones. For readers the way in to these speculations is through what McWatt reveals of his own process of growing consciousness, in the poems of a childhood and youth (UNDER THE CHILDREN) spent in the remote North-Western district of Guyana that touch on the riddles and mysteries of experience in that place. The power of dream, the recognition of what is seemingly inexplicable in one’s own behaviour, the awareness of the masks and impersonations that the people around one employ feed into a developing curiosity about the psyche’s hidden depths.
McWatt explores the relationship between place, history (personal and collective) and language in several ways. There are the brooding, meditative poems in the opening and closing sections of the collection (Rivers of Dream and A Potaro Quartet) and the title poem that acknowledge the strain to find a language adequate to what is intuitively sensed, and there are the poems in the section MASKS WITH VOICES that try on other poets’ voices, some named, some to be guessed at, as ways of exploring the relationship between language and perception – and the essential nature of masks in human affairs. As has continued to be a distinguishing feature of Mark McWatt’s work – as in The Journey to Le Repentir (2009) there is a meticulous craft in the placing of the individual poem in the architecture of the volume as a whole.