Our featured publication for November is Dressing for the Afterlife by Maria Taylor, published by Nine Arches Press.
Dressing for the Afterlife is a diamond-tough and tender second collection of poems from
British Cypriot poet Maria Taylor, which explores love, life, and how we adapt to the passage of time. From the steely glamour of silent film-star goddesses to moonlit seasons and the ghosts of other possible, parallel lives, these poems shimmy and glimmer bittersweet with humour and brio, as Taylor conjures afresh a world where Joan Crawford feistily simmers and James Bond’s modern incarnation is mistaken for an illicit lover.
Consistently crisp and vivid, these poems examine motherhood, heritage and inheritance,
finding stories woven in girlhood’s faltering dance-steps, the thrum of the sewing-machine at the end-days of the rag trade, or the fizz and bubble of a chip-shop fryer. And throughout, breaking through, is the sense of women finding their wings and taking flight – “and her wings, what wings she has” – as Taylor’s own poems soar and defiantly choose their own adventures.
‘Maria Taylor’s new collection is exhilaratingly bold. These imaginative poems strike at the edges of form and emotional experience to uncover glittering seams: ‘Winter made me a Wall-Street crash’ announces one speaker while another finds herself ‘ice-skating / into someone else’s life’. They are consistently surprising, a horse revealed as Dustin Hoffman, a married woman irritated at discovering Daniel Craig in her bed. It’s also a beautifully structured book, the film stars who people its pages forming a cohesive gossipy backdrop. By turns hilarious and stirring, Dressing for the Afterlife is a cinematic gathering I know I’ll replay again and again.‘ John McCullough
‘Taylor’s art is surefooted, with a quiet command of line length, a gift for choosing the right detail to illuminate her slyly weighty subject matter and an unsentimental but affecting directness of address. Her poems are firmly rooted in the day-to-day complexities of familial ties and duties, but her extravagantly vagrant thought paths lure us on to follow fancy into unsettling and exhilarating territory.’ Kathy Pimlott
I Began the Twenty-Twenties as a Silent Film Goddess
On the first of January I threw away my Smartphone
and wrote a letter to my beau in swirling ink.
I bobbed my hair, wore a cloche hat and shimmied
right into town for Juleps. I became Clara.
I became Louise. When I became a vamp, the boys
fell dead at my feet, I threw petals over their heads.
I dined on prosperity sandwiches and sidecars,
leaving restaurants with a sugar-rimmed mouth.
In summer I was a night-blooming flower.
By autumn I was a hangover. Winter made me
a Wall-Street Crash. Talking pictures were my ruin.
At last I had a voice but no-one wanted to hear.
Forgotten sisters. Oh Vilma, oh Norma, oh Mae.
A musty headdress of peacock feathers. Defiant silence.
I took up running when I turned forty.
I opened my front door and started running
down a filthy jitty and past my parents’ flat.
I ran through every town in which I’d ever lived.
I ran past all my exes, even a few crushes
who sipped mochas and wore dark glasses.
I ran in a wedding dress through scattered confetti
and was cheered by the cast of Star Wars.
I ran through the screaming wind, rain and cloud.
I ran through my mother’s village and flew past
armed soldiers at the Checkpoint. I ran past
my grandparents and Bappou’s mangy goats
with their mad eyes and scaled yellow teeth.
I ran straight through Oxford and Cambridge,
didn’t stop. I saw a naked man in Piccadilly Gardens.
I ran through high school and behind the gym
where gothy teens smoked and necked each other.
I passed an anxious mother pushing a pram
and a baby that kept throwing out her doll.
Seasons changed; summer turned into autumn,
I couldn’t get as far as I wanted.
The lights changed. My ribs, my flaming heart
and my tired, tired body burned.
Maybe time moves like a figure of eight,
surging forwards then back on itself.
Light returns from exploded stars.
A grown woman could turn a corner
and see herself crying as a girl.
Newsflash: our world ends again.
The disappearing forests of childhood
……………………………………………The path curves.
It takes the woman back to a dimly-lit bar
where she meets the same lover again and again.
She risks everything once more.
They’ve already met
before they’ve said a word.
Like the ghost who never realised
he was dead, or the unending record
stuck in a groove, or the comedian
who forgot the punchline, or the bud
spoiled by frost, or the last Rolo,
or the half-painted living room,
or Beethoven’s draft of his tenth
chucked out by the cleaner,
or the bottle of fizz never opened
for a special day, or the rainy day
that rained all year. Who’s sadder?
The man waiting at the bar,
or the woman who won’t walk in?
Previously published in The North
Maria Taylor is a British Cypriot poet who has been highly commended in the Forward Prizes for Poetry 2020. Her poetry has been published in Magma and The Rialto, among other publications. Her latest collection Dressing for the Afterlife, is out with Nine Arches Press.
Dressing for the Afterlife is available to purchase from the Nine Arches Press website.