Keith Taylor published two books in 2011: Marginalia for a Natural History, a chapbook of poems with Black Lawrence Press, and Ghost Writers, an anthology of contemporary Michigan ghost stories, co-edited with Laura Kasischke and published by Wayne State University Press. That title was selected as a Michigan Notable Book of the Year for 2012 by the Library of Michigan, and won a Silver Medal in the IPPY Awards.
His poems "A New Language" and "After She Was Sick" appear in Issue Thirty-Four of The Collagist.
Here, in an interview with Amber L. Cook, Keith Taylor peruses such topics as process, perspective, and place.
1. How did you first approach “A New Language” and “After She Was Sick?” Did these poems change much in revision?
“A New Language” was around for quite a long time. I have this reoccurring image in my mind whenever I try to work with a language I don’t know or don’t know well. This clean place behind a door that is not often opened. It certainly feels like a metaphor, and I’ve worried that it felt too much like one. Still, I’ve tried to write it often. This got closest. And even this was a fairly radical revision of its first attempt. I cut out almost half the words.
“After She Was Sick” is one of a series of poems that tried to capture moments of my daughter’s travels. She would tell me of these adventures, either in e-mail or on Skype, and I would worry about them. And then I would find certain images from her stories sticking in my mind. They became vivid and very personal. More mine than hers. This poem, too, shrank in revision.
2. Particularly in “After She Was Sick,” you have a knack for capturing a moment or scene with brevity, which I truly enjoyed. For me, this process is very much reminiscent of the imagist movement. How does this snapshot constraint inform what you write?
Sometimes. I have always been drawn to poems that present the world and leave the understanding of it to the reader. There are many other fine poems that redirect the reader onto the process of the poet’s meditation. I have enjoyed those poems, too, and have even tried to write some. But I like to think that if I find the right image, the moment will have its resonance. Pound said, rather famously, that “the natural object is always the adequate symbol.” I agree.
3. Through the enjambment in “A New Language,” you do a nice job of pacing the reader by revealing a new image in every line. I especially enjoy: “There’s a faint scent/ of lily-of-the-valley in the air/ or, perhaps of lilac.” Is this how you intend for the reader to experience the poem? What for you is achieved through this pacing?
I’m glad you see this. Yes, that was all very intentional in this poem. And in the stanzas too. You see, I’d recently finished a bunch of very formal poems, with exact line lengths governed by syllable count. I wanted to structure a couple of poems where the lines would each reflect precise moments, and where the stanzas would reflect slight movement or change of perspective. I found that it did slow things down, and got something of the other-worldliness I was hoping for in this poem.
4. Who are a few writers that you’ve recently read and envied?
I am always reading people who make me envious! I just read the Tracy Smith book that won the Pulitzer, “Life on Mars.” She did an amazing job combining so many different kinds of things, but doing it all to write an elegy for her father. She uses the whole range of emotions and a world of reference. I also just finished a rereading of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s novel “Once Upon A River.” She has taken a very specific, often overlooked part of the world and has invested it with myth. It’s an extraordinary accomplishment.
5. Are these poems part of a collection? Is there anything else you’re currently working on?
I’m thinking about a little chapbook right now about the idea of home, what it means to live in particular place or visit a place where you don’t belong. Of finding animals and birds that belong or don’t, are disappearing or reappearing. It’s a little book that mixes prose and poetry and will be called, I think, “The Sickness that Comes from the Longing for Home.” It’s another step along the way of writing the big book I want to write that combines a serious exploration of the natural sciences with the kind of image we associate with poetry. This chapbook will be 25 pages or so. We’ll see.