My Personal Favorite: Keith Taylor

Today this might be my favorite among the poems I’ve written:

Infant Baptism

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

perched

in a tree

like a gigantic, puffy, pure white songbird

peering down on us, 

yellow-eyed, 

frightened or curious

or vaguely wondering if my daughter

might be food

when I lifted her toward him—

See? See?

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


Bio:

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 ObserverThe Beloit Poetry JournalBirdingCalibanThe Chicago TribuneThe Detroit Free PressThe Fourth GenreHanging Loose, The Iowa ReviewThe Los Angeles TimesMichigan Quarterly ReviewMondo GrecoNew LettersThe Notre Dame ReviewPhoebePivotPoetry Ireland ReviewPoetry GreecePoets and WritersThe St. Louis Post-DispatchThe Southern ReviewStoryThe Sunday Telegraph Magazine (London), WitnessThe 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.

My Personal Favorite: Caroline Maun

Caroline Maun

At this moment in time which of your own poems is your personal favorite, and why?

Ornament

Imagine the tangle of filament,

the complexity of loops and knots.

I couldn’t gauge the length wound

round the branch, or what strange

force could produce such a fierce,

irrational record.  In the center

of the lines was the body of the sparrow

who had struggled, the circuit

of flight dwindling with each launch

from the branch, with each push,

each angle attempted.  Maybe he bathed

in lake’s shallows, wings churning

a tiny spray when he was caught

by the shiny, idle hook.  Like an ornament

nested in a milky macramé of sunlit cords,

he was desiccated, yet whole,

an artifact at the center of a shimmering 

testimony of foreclosure.

 

Why Caroline Chose It:

When I saw this scene in real life it was so striking and complex that it arrested me.  My spouse, who was walking with me at a nearby park, asked me to stop staring at it and keep going — how macabre — who wants to dwell on a dead bird who had fallen victim to stray fishing line? It was sad to think about this avoidable, premature death and the way some aspect of the bird’s panic and suffering was so explicit in how the fishing line was tangled in the branches.  As I wrote the poem, I also began thinking about the body of work a poet writes over a lifetime and how in some ways the lines of writing are winding around what will be our idea of the poet after he or she is no longer able to write — when the body of work and the writer’s voice are foreclosed by death. The poem also draws some of its inspiration in dialogue with W. B. Yeats’s poem “Sailing to Byzantium,” which ends on a different note when the persona says he would, after death, choose to return as the golden ornament of a bird rather than taking the form of any natural thing.  Here, I am attempting to contemplate the natural thing as a remarkably striking ornament or artifact– with the corollary thought that it is not a good thing to leave fishing line and hooks to inadvertently harm living things. 

 

Bio: Caroline Maun is an Associate Professor and Chair in the Department of English at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. She is the author of Mosaic of Fire: The Work of Lola Ridge, Evelyn Scott, Charlotte Wilder, and Kay Boyle. She is the editor of The Collected Poems of Evelyn Scott, author of the poetry collections  The Sleeping and What Remains. She has published three chapbooks of poetry–most recently Accident with Alice Greene & Company. http://www.carolinemaun.com

Her launch party will be at the Cabbage Patch Saloon on October 11th at 6:30pm. See here for more details.

Available at Alice Green and Co here: as well as local bookstores and Amazon.