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Reviewed by:
  • Arrival: Poems by Cheryl Boyce-Taylor
  • David B. Green Jr. (bio)
Boyce-Taylor, Cheryl. Arrival: Poems. Evanston, IL: TriQuarterly Books / Northwestern UP, 2017.

Question: How does a black woman arrive, into a new year, into a space, at a place? More questions: Is her arrival a destined or a desired place? Is her arrival uncompromised by life? Is her arrival burdened by any one thing or person? Does her arrival lead to her being liberated and free? Does her arrival guarantee peace of mind and love? What motivates her arrival and why?

These questions undergird Cheryl Boyce-Taylor's newly published Arrival, a demanding and theoretically rich volume of poetry that finds its own powers (and perhaps perils) in movement and migration. In this way, there is nothing easy about these poems because their words and themes refuse containment. Nevertheless, without question—and without much warning—Arrival breaks your heart, tickles your core, and stuns your soul; and it does so over and over again. Some poems are tasty, others quick, and a select number superfluous. All the poems, however, reflect Boyce-Taylor's style: diasporic, fluid, and vulnerable.

Her imagery is precise, exact, and vivid. Her language is unapologetically "trini"—an island twang sweetened by the sugars of her native homeland and peppered with the innocence of a girlhood easily satisfied by "wild sorrel." Her stories, woven as they are "with the joys of its own geography," map her journey from Trinidad to New York with rhetorical delicacy and poetic elegance. Such delicate mapping reflects the stakes involved in her own immigrant crossings: maintaining, indeed, a sense of home, beauty, and pride in an unpromising America; an America that traps her mother as a domestic worker and reflects the country's unwillingness to forego its Jim Crow economies. In "Poodles and Sour Cream," Boyce-Taylor recalls her mother's painful existence in New York City as a live-in domestic worker:

in the cold New York Housemy mother spent three years eating mashed potatoesand sour cream doing sleep-in workwaiting for she green card to come

and every night crying for she beloved daughtershe could not care for while raising the white lady chiren.


In many ways then, Arrival is an ode to struggle, grievance, and heavy-heartedness. As the text moves, Boyce-Taylor reveals that black women do not arrive at one single place, [End Page 114] a manifest destiny. On the contrary, her "arrival" involves process, consumption, digestion, and bodily cleaning. It requires meditation, reflection, sharp perception, reading, and writing—of poems and people poets. In "Zuihitsu on Eating Poems" Boyce-Taylor writes:

At fourteenI learn the ways of poetryhow it enters your heart then hands full frameit works its ways down the torso then out of the mouththat glorious undeveloped mouth that only knows chap stick and girlish giggles.


The girlhood innocence of "that glorious undeveloped mouth," leads to a process of Boyce-Taylor naming herself "gyal" multiple times throughout Arrival. In this process, she arrives at the feminist-poetic of naming herself. This poetics of naming anchors Boyce-Taylor to her homeland, even as she reflects on numerous pre-migratory memories as an adult living in America. These memories include "Leaving Trinidad," "The Sea at Marabella," being "Gone," and carrying "Limes for the Journey." These poems recover diasporic memories of Jamaica from historical narratives overwhelmed by the tragedy of the US Empire. Poems such as "Independence Day," "I Name Gyal 2," and "Who See She"—which echoes, in structure and sentimentality, June Jordan's poem "Who Look at Me?"—confront and subvert the voyeuristic gaze of Western imperialism's colonial eye. Taken together, these poems archive memories of island joy, where we witness Boyce-Taylor in girlhood "dancing in rain under mango tree," and allow readers glimpses into her private, yet whimsical, travel diaries. In "I Name Gyal 2," Boyce-Taylor captures her arrival to America and her deliberate will to stay true to her island cultural roots.

November 1, 1964Day of the deadGyal Take flight from planet hummingbirdIbeji daughter born of ibeji motherGyal reach America.

Tanty Ena meet...


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pp. 114-117
Launched on MUSE
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