Thursday, June 10, 2010

A New Volume to Celebrate--What I'm Reading Now

I've been enjoying Richard Allen Taylor's new volume of poems, Punching Through the Egg of Space (Main Street Rag, 2010). It has an wonderful mix of poems, all of them appealing.

I was drawn in by the poems that describe places around North and South Carolina, states where I've spent lots of time, have family living, and go back to on a regular basis. There are poems about the beach and the mountains and the havoc that ice causes in the South. "Charleston Crabhouse," "Gullah Woman," and "Return to Charleston" take me back to my own time in the Lowcountry, and make me hungry for the smells, the sights, the sounds of the Charleston area. "Charleston Crabhouse" includes a wonderful description of how wine interacts with food, far better than most wine aficionados would write (I'll put in slashes to designate line breaks, since they don't translate in this Blogger software):

"I sip a Pinot Grigio that tastes like an old shoe until it sinks /
into the tongue and the grape stands to meet the hearty meal, /
greets the creamy corn and the chewy shrimp like long-lost friends /
and wraps its vines like strong arms around /
their flavors. I order a second glass, which proves /
that first impressions, while lasting, are often wrong."

Delicious! In all sorts of ways.

You don't need to have lived in the Carolinas to enjoy these poems. Taylor includes a variety of intriguing poems that aren't rooted in place. I'm partial to poems that imagine characters from literature or pop culture in other settings. I love Taylor's poem "The Scarecrow: After Oz," a terrifying vision of being "again crucified in some godforsaken / cornfield."

Similarly, Taylor's poems are often inspired by other works of art or popular culture. "'Moonrise'--North Buncombe County, North Carolina" was inspired by a photograph. It makes me want to go to the mountains or some other spot with less light pollution, so that I, too, could stare at the night sky and be inspired to think about the moon. There's a poem inspired by a painting of an Italian vineyard which leads to an interesting contemplation of soil erosion. My favorite poem in this vein is "What I'm Doing with My One Wild and Precious Life," a response to Mary Oliver, a poem which thinks about that word "plan" and all the plans that get made and abandoned along the way.

Several poems talk about the writer's life. I found "Giving Advice to a Prose Writer Who Wants to Write a Poem" funny and familiar. "Writer's Block" is a wonderful poem, full of inspiration and comforting to those of us who might find ourselves struggling to create. Everyone who has ever struggled with or enjoyed the company of a writer's group will enjyo his poem "Dear Wednesday Night Poetry Group." His poem "Obscurity" explains his approach to his art and the types of poetry he creates: "I am not particularly fond of the notion / that obscure imagery is a good thing." His poems are gloriously accessible but not inconsequential--not an easy thing to accomplish.

I've been enjoying Taylor's work for many years, from his individual poems to his book Something to Read on the Plane to his work as a co-editor of Kakalak Anthology of Carolina Poets (a book which kept migrating from my desk, when I shared a joint workspace with a variety of Humanities instructors). Punching Through the Egg of Space is my favorite of his work so far.

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