Cyril Dabydeen, Unanimous Night, Poetry. Black Moss Press: Ontario, Canada, 2009. $16.95.
Review by By Stan Persaud
Cyril Dabydeen’s new book, Unanimous Night, promises to garner further literary acclaim for Dabydeen. His poetry is “filled with the spirit of exploration, fused with the challenges of immigration and indignation at issues of political injustice,” says the publisher’s blurb, and “his language whisks the reader off in a whirlwind of iconic figures and exotic locations” as diverse as Guevara, Havana, Newfoundland, Shimla, New York, and Guyana. The epigraph juxtaposes iconic American poet Robert Lowell with Jose Marti, known as the father of the Cuban nation, which sets the tone for the wide range in the Guyanese-born Canadian writer’s poetic exploration. Of note is that this new book is the author’s twentieth, and his ninth collection of poetry; indeed.
Dabydeen began his writing career with poetry in Guyana after g winning the Sandbach Parker Gold Medal for Poetry before he was 20, and not long after he won the first A.J. Seymour Lyric Poetry Prize. More recently, in 2007, Dabydeen was co-winner of the top Guyana Prize for Fiction with his novel, Drums of My Flesh (TSAR Publications, Toronto): a work with symbolic evocations of the narrator’s tropical homeland as Dabydeen splices time and space, Eastern and Western religions and philosophies with North and South polarities embedded with Jungian thought.
In this new poetry collection, following closely on his Uncharted Heart (Borealis Press, 2008), Dabydeen awakens us to his sense of social justice adumbrated in his first published collection in Canada, Distances (Fiddlehead Books, University of British Columbia, 1977). Then, it was pointed out that Dabydeen goes back “through consciousness or history to describe an original condition of unfragmented wholeness” (Fiddlehead magazine). That same vein is sustained in the new book’s first three sections, beginning with “Out to Sea,” with poems that deal with journeying, as the author writes, for instance, of Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator (after Dabydeen’s visit to Lisbon, Portugal in 2006), and links it to discovery of a presumed New World a la Columbus; but Dabydeen circumvents linearity with classical touches from Greek mythology as he invokes, for instance, Odysseus and Poseidon; and throughout the volume Dabydeen’s imagery is not without the sense of irony in history’s inexorable march.
Dabydeen also introduces us to the yearning for solitude or meditation after 9/11 in the USA with his ambitious poem “Cross-legged in Moonlight” which introduces to the wide range in the poet’s thinking of classical thought as he introduces us to Manu (Indian) and Socrates (Greek), East and West, in his wide sweep. Other poems, like “On Meeting Her Excellency Ram Devi”–Governor of Himachel Pradesh, India, he touches on language itself, as in the title poem, “Unanimous Night,” an evocation of Dabydeen’s take on famed Argentine writer Borges, the source for this particular poem dealing with the interiority of poetic language and what’s lost but yet sustained in translation, if only by escaping “the solitude of the labyrinth” in authentic Borges’ manner.
Dabydeen is keenly aware of language and its poetic use as he writes in “On Liberty Avenue,” by quoting Derek Walcott, that a poem is “perfection’s sweat...fresh as raindrops on a statue’s brow.” References to key figures such as Franz Fannon, Joseph Conrad, and Nelson Mandela give the book a focussed socio-political status. Dabydeen avoids needless self-reflexiveness or solipsism in sometimes minimalist expression. A poem such as “Revolution” is also about language in the context of metaphor or motifs and change occurring all around us with rap music and ghetto violence often being hand in hand. In the third section of Unanimous Night named “A Dim Moon,” Dabydeen deals with immigration and the fate of personae from the Third World being universalized with their angst, especially in a poem such as “Niece,” as Dabydeen works back through memory in his longing for a “condition of unfragmented wholeness.” The final section titled “Simple Pleasures” deals with love where Dabydeen’s tonality maintains its ironic tone by touching on love’s elusiveness in often simple but deft lines, even as he captures the penumbra of Indian mythology in the god-figure Shiva in one of the most arresting poems in the volume, “Cosmic Dance” (remarkable for its conversational tone and idiomatic rhythms), as well as invoking cultural icon Marilyn Monroe in contextualizing popular myth with its human foibles and tragedy.
Unanimous Night is a numbered publication of Black Moss Press’s Palm Poetry Series, specially designed, according to publisher-poet Marty Gervais of the University of Windsor, who adds that the series is structured along the lines of beat-generation poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s City Lights Books in San Francisco. The Black Moss series is a hit with libraries and regular readers of poetry, according to the book publisher; and Cyril Dabydeen’s Unanimous Night is no exception for its sustained vision.