On Watching a Lemon Sail the Sea by Maggie Harris

A review of the poetry collection On Watching a Lemon Sail the Sea by Maggie Harris.

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Maggie Harris is a poet, writer and artist originally from Guyana, South America, who moved to England in 1971. After living in Wales for ten years, Maggie recently returned to Thanet in Kent, where previously she studied for a BA in African & Caribbean Studies and an MA in Post-Colonial Studies at the University of Kent. Maggie has also worked for Kent Arts & Library, was International Teaching Fellow at the University of Southampton and represented Kent in Europe. As well as this, Maggie Harris has also won a good handful of awards including the Guyana Prize for Literature twice, and the Kent University T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize.

On Watching a Lemon Sail the Sea is a collection of poetry that takes the reader on Maggie’s journey through life and the places she has lived. It is split into five parts: Wales, England, Guyana, Ireland and Elsewhere. Each part contains poems written about Harris’ time in these places, with the first part being Wales. The poetry in this section evokes loneliness, loss, and sadness, as well as a clear stubbornness in refusing to love a beautiful place because it is not one’s home. ‘Not Home’ in particular highlights Maggie’s feelings behind how she felt living in Wales. Despite this, it is clear that she still saw the beauty in this place, as Harris writes that “the cedars are whispering … through forests … [a] fairytale woodland” in ‘Driving Through Happy Valley.’

After Wales we are taken to England, where the tone of the poetry definitely changes; there is more of an English feel to them. However, I want to concentrate more on Guyana as this was my favourite part of the book. The first poem in this section, ‘Alphabet Shanty,’ is filled with the beauty and innocence of childhood as Harris takes her first steps into education. It seems that education was very liberating for Harris as learning to write becomes sailing “on slate of ocean” and “over the waves we[she] go[goes]” and continues to go as she grows and travels and ends up in many different places. This part of the book also has a foreign sense of romance, for me especially as I have no Caribbean roots and not much knowledge of the culture. I felt as though I was given an insight into a life that I would never know, these poems gave me a real sense of community, love, family, and home.

Reading this book was a great experience, however, poetry is written to be read aloud. I was amazed to be able to see Maggie perform some of these poems at a recent event. This is where Maggie’s poems really come alive; the room is filled with a sense of wholesomeness, love, and family, when Maggie reads them. Her words also evoke the overwhelming pressure that nature, life, and decisions can have. This collection of poetry is ultimately about life, Maggie’s life, but when reading or hearing these poems one feels as though they are really engrossed into the life on these pages. So much so that by the end it’s almost as though you have lived it too. I implore anyone who enjoys poetry to read this collection. It is elegant, beautiful, emotional, and touching.

Kirsty-Louise is a published author and poet with a BA hons in English Literature. Working as a Secondary English Teacher, dog walks on the coast, and reading books pass her time in Ramsgate & Margate.

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