If you haven’t treated yourself to Kei Miller’s work — poems, essays, novels — you need to remedy that immediately. This prose poem is a brilliant snapshot of what he’s all about, and his musical, moving narration is riveting.
Kei Miller was born in Kingston, Jamaica. His poem ‘The Law Concerning Mermaids’ is from the book A Light Song of Light, a collection of differently-shaped poems that blur the lines between song and poem. There are ghosts and bandits and other creatures of the night. And this one, inspired by an obscure British law about mermaids.
There was once a law concerning mermaids. My friend thinks it a wondrous thing — that the British Empire was so thorough it had invented a law for everything. And in this law it was decreed: were any to be found in their usual spots, showing off like dolphins, sunbathing on rocks — they would no longer belong to themselves. And maybe this is the problem with empires: how they have forced us to live in a world lacking in mermaids — mermaids who understood that they simply were, and did not need permission to exist or to be beautiful. The law concerning mermaids only caused mermaids to pass a law concerning man: that they would never again cross our boundaries of sand; never again lift their torsos up from the surf; never again wave at sailors, salt dripping from their curls; would never again enter our dry and stifling world.
Kei Miller was born in Jamaica in 1978. He completed an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and a PhD in English literature at the University of Glasgow. In 2014, Miller was named one of the 20 ‘Next Generation Poets’ by the Poetry Book Society. In 2018, he was awarded the Anthony N Sabga Caribbean Award for Excellence in Arts & Letters and was elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.
Pssst… Hear Mel talk about why she loves his book The Last Warner Woman in our podcast episode Jamaica: Let’s Get Together and Feel All Right.
Top image courtesy of Nsey Benajah/Unsplash.
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