Today this might be my favorite among the poems I’ve written:
When she was six weeks old,
her mother exhausted, sleeping
and me dumb and clumsy
in my fathering,
I wrapped her and took her out
one late December night
in a snowstorm
to see a snowy owl
in a tree
like a gigantic, puffy, pure white songbird
peering down on us,
frightened or curious
or vaguely wondering if my daughter
might be food
when I lifted her toward him—
Snow fell on her face
and she didn’t cry.
I almost always respond to a question like this with something very recent. After all, I’m still working consistently and still get excited about the work in progress. You should see the poem I wrote yesterday!
This one is most of a year old but still feels fresh. It just appeared in Quarterly West over the summer (https://www.quarterlywest.com/salvage-selvage/taylor). I was really pleased when they asked to see some poems, and even happier when they took three of them. So I like where the poem first appeared.
But the poem itself: It was a story I cared around for 27 years, a story my daughter and I told about each other. It is a story I like, even though I realize the speaker (me!) appears more than a little silly. I kept cutting away at the first draft getting down to the simplest words to contain the tale. The quatrains just arose naturally during the work; I didn’t impose them on it. I wanted to make sure everyone could get the sense of a snowy owl, even if they didn’t care about owls. I liked the syntax of the first sentence going on and on through most of the poem, and then the contrast with the very short and simple concluding sentence. So it is something I wanted to write for a quarter of a century. When I finally got it down into some form I thought presentable, I liked it! I still do.
But you should see the poem I wrote yesterday! It’s about a bird, too.
As ever, Keith
Keith Taylor was born in British Columbia in 1952. He spent his childhood in Alberta and his adolescence in Indiana. After several years of traveling, he moved to Michigan, where he earned his M.A. in English at Central Michigan University. He has worked as a camp-boy for a hunting outfitter in the Yukon, as a dishwasher in southern France, a housepainter in Indiana and Ireland, a freight handler, a teacher, a freelance writer, the co-host of a radio talk show, and as the night attendant at a pinball arcade in California. For more than twenty years he worked as a bookseller in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Then he taught in the undergraduate and graduate creative writing programs at the University of Michigan, and directed the Bear River Writers Conference. From 2010–2018 he worked as the Poetry Editor at Michigan Quarterly Review. He retired from the University of Michigan in 2018. He lives with his wife in Ann Arbor; they have one daughter.
His poems, stories, book reviews, translations and feature articles have appeared in many journals, magazines and newspapers in North America and in Europe, including The Ann Arbor Observer, The Beloit Poetry Journal, Birding, Caliban, The Chicago Tribune, The Detroit Free Press, The Fourth Genre, Hanging Loose, The Iowa Review, The Los Angeles Times, Michigan Quarterly Review, Mondo Greco, New Letters, The Notre Dame Review, Phoebe, Pivot, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Greece, Poets and Writers, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, The Southern Review, Story, The Sunday Telegraph Magazine (London), Witness, The Wooster Review, etc. His work has also been included in anthologies and other books published by Michigan State University Press, Harvard University Press, Oxford University Press, The University of Michigan Press, W.W. Norton, Wayne State University Press, The Isle Royale Natural History Association, Milkweed Editions, and others.
Keith Taylor’s most recent book isThe Bird-while from Wayne State University Press. It won the Bronze Award from the Foreword Indies Poetry Book of the Year for 2017. His recent chapbooks,Ecstatic Destinations(2018), Fidelities (2015) and The Ancient Murrelet (2013), were published by Alice Greene & Co. In addition to larger and edited collections, he has published eight chapbooks of poetry. His collection of very short stories, Life Science and Other Stories, was published by Hanging Loose Press in 1995. With John Knott, Taylor co-edited the anthology The Huron River: Voices from the Watershed (The University of Michigan Press, 2000), which was a finalist in 2001 for the Great Lakes Book Award for General Nonfiction and was selected for the 2001 Read Michigan List by the Governor’s Office of the State of Michigan. With Artemis Leontis and Lauren Talalay, he co-edited the collection What These Ithakas Mean: Readings in Cavafy (Athens, Greece: E.L.I.A., 2002), which was picked as one of the “Books of the Year” for 2002 in the Times Literary Supplement. His book Guilty at the Rapture, which includes poetry, short stories and essays, was published by Hanging Loose Press in 2006, and was chosen as one of the Michigan Notable Books of the Year for 2007 by the Library of Michigan. His book of translations, Battered Guitars: The Poetry and Prose of Kostas Karyotakis, done with William W. Reader, was published in the Fall, 2006, by the Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman, and Modern Greek Studies at The University of Birmingham, in the United Kingdom.