Tuesday, September 30, 2014

No End In Strangeness, New and Selected Poems - Bruce Taylor (Cormorant Books)

Today's book of poetry:
No End In Strangeness, New and Selected Poems.  Bruce Taylor.  Cormorant Books Inc., Toronto, Ontario.  2011

You read some books of poetry and you still have little sense of who the poet is.  This does not happen in Bruce Taylor world.

Taylor gives us an encyclopedic open book to his world and how he sees it.

No End In Strangeness is not strange at all.  Taylor mines a very rich seam of the on-going conversation he is having with the world.

The Waterfall

Here the river, in a rage
of fury and self-hate,
annihilates itself.
It tears itself to pieces like a page,
and leaps from its own rocks,
a thousand times a day.
Then, in the smash and mist,
it shudders up again
to hang there like a fist,
shivering with self-disgust,
impatient to be done
and failing, as it must.

It roars like something in a cage,
scraping the walls with its nails.
Even as I lie not-sleeping
in my tent, it pounds and chafes,
milling itself to a fine rain.
Yet in the morning it is there again,
tall as a pinetree
but weaker than pipesmoke,
and always producing that roar,
a sound like everyone alive
talking at once.

I have come a long way
to watch this water fail.
I have paddled down rapids,
through keepers and sweepers
and carried my boat on my head.
I have punched through waves,
walked around logjams
and peeled out from the oil-black calm
into the rushing hydraulics
of the main channel
where the dark water flexes
and slides right under itself.
I came without capsizing once
to the place where the river
spends what it has in one throw,
and my plan is to stay for a while
with a plume of hysteria
rising inside me, as spray
cools my cheeks and my shirt
becomes drenched and just stare
at this collapse that lasts all day,
this demolition dangling in the air
as if caught in a tape loop.
And I can't tell if those are
fluted columns of long white hair
or whether this thing is strong
or effete, steadfast
or fleet. It slides
but abides, sways
but stays. One moment it is trembling
like an Edwardian maiden in her filmy dress,
pressing the back of her hand to her head,
and the next it's as stable as marble,
older than letters,
stiff as the bone in my arm

and standing before it
with shame and self-love
plunging and recirculating
inside me, I can't seem to tell
if this is a wise thing
or a foolish one, a teacher
or an idiot child,
a beginning or an end.


It's hard to tell you how gentle I found these poems.  When I tell you there is a gentle nature to Taylor's vast gaze I want you, the reader, to know it is a high compliment.

It's always easy to crack the whip, but a little wisdom and experience, a well placed word, will always get the job done better.

William Wordsworth, Dwight D. Eisenhower, St. Thomas Aquinas, Theodore Roethke and Samuel Taylor Coleridge all stop in to chat over the course of No End In Strangeness.  There are also orangutans and fireworks.

Checks in the Horn Timer,
and a Hogged Sheer

What the would-be
boat-restorer bought
for half the value of its wood,
was an unused future,
which had stood
for five years
in a quiet spot
behind the builder's widow's
           and what he got,
apart from a pretty good trailer,
was a new supply
of fresh, unsampled days,
and also the builder's
hope that, by and by,
he would be loading up
the thing he'd made
and sailing it away
to where the sky
is interleaved with orange
like a mixed drink,
and happiness arrives in waves
of salt and fronds
and green volcanoes wafting
in a horizontal haze.

That's what the builder thought.
But where he ended up with
was a brownish spot
that never went away,
and there is his Fiji,
flush with rot
in the long grass,
seedy with dreams,
the sun's heat slowly
opening her seams.

Meanwhile, the buyer
has a nautical
vocabulary to acquire,
a trampled field
to learn it in,
a patch of well-packed dust
on which to pour his liquid hours,
and make is own damned
ocean, if he must.


Taylor is a steamroller poet.  Steady and certain.  All of these poems take place within some fairly formal constraints Taylor insists upon.  As a result this collection reads with a remarkably consistent tone, Taylor keeps the temperature constant.


A cougar will attack from behind,
I'm told, and it will feel
like somebody cracking a two-by-four
over the back your neck.
Later, you may show the reporters twenty-nine
neat metal staples down your spine,
and what you will say is: I guess it just wasn't
my time.
And later still, in the deep night,
you will be alone with the uncontrollable
shaking, but that isn't you being afraid
of a lion, it is only your body,
that great confused baby,
attempting to figure things out,
too simple to know
that the past
has passed.

Anyway, it is something to think about
as I walk too quickly
up this gravel road, alone.
Except, it is regret
that is stalking me
with quiet steps,
while the past keeps pace
in the steep bluffs and dark foliage
on either side.


Bruce Taylor's No End In Strangeness reminds me of the great Raymond Souster.  Both eloquently simple and covering grand ground.  It's not that Taylor sounds like Souster, it is more the feeling the poetry inspires.  You always feel like you are part of an intelligent conversation with the world.

These are stories of the true human heart and who doesn't want to read those?  These are poems about that journey to understanding and happiness, love and loss, all that universal stuff that makes us so bleeding human.

Bruce Taylor

Bruce Taylor is a two-time winner of the A.M. Klein Award for Poetry. He has published three books of poetry: Getting On with the Era (1987), Cold Rubber Feet (1989), and Facts (1998). He has been a teacher, a puppeteer, and a freelance journalist. He lives in Wakefield, Quebec.

Bruce Taylor reading his poem "Life Science
For the Biblio File"


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