by Megan Inbody
From the July, 2018 issue
In a 2011 interview with Michigan Quarterly Review, the poet (and Observer contributor) Keith Taylor explained his admiration for birds: "They fly. They sing. They go on long mysterious migrations and return to the same small spaces." The same could be said about the poems in his latest chapbook, Ecstatic Destinations. Although the poems are geographically limited to a "triangle formed by Dexter Avenue, North Maple Road, and Jackson Avenue," they are broad in scope.
Academically, it's not kosher to assume the speaker of a poem is the poet himself, but with this book, so rooted in Taylor's experience of Ann Arbor, I think it's a safe assumption. He portrays himself as an Old Poet in the vein of Yeats, most literally in the first poem, "The Old Poet, In Plein Air," which announces his age as a condition of his poetry. Age is a tone, a mood: paradoxically, as the aging body leads to a narrowing of traversed space, the speaker gains a more expansive view. This feeling of transcendence is a type of ecstasy. A walk by a skateboard park yields a vision of skaters as angels: "skateboarders glide silently through the air / their gossamer wings invisible." "The Sledding Hill," although a repository of "lost mittens / and piles of frozen dog shit," also preserves echoes of "laughter / and the possibility of delight." For Taylor, it seems that age is itself an ecstatic destination.
This isn't to say the aging process is romanticized. There's a wry mention in one poem of "imperious lifeguards" with "lanky summer bodies." In another poem, the poet is mistaken for a homeless person as he sits writing on a bench. Age has its indignities, but for Taylor, it has its compensations.
Nature, of course, is another major theme--it would hardly be a Taylor collection without an enduring attention to the natural world. The collection's sense of transcendence also comes from Taylor's interest in "volunteer" plants. Though none
of the poems directly deal with these plants that others may deem nuisances, they exist on the periphery of multiple poems, settled but uneasy. In "Therapy," the poet works to reclaim the lot behind his house, which formerly had been a vineyard: "By the time I was able to buy the empty lot, the grapes had gone wild and volunteer redbuds, mulberry trees, box elders, and little wild cherry trees had taken over."
"In a Corner" depicts
trees without edgesWith this volume, Taylor, a volunteer himself--a Canadian native who planted himself in Ann Arbor--shows that volunteers have the best sense of place because they make their own place. They also serve as a necessary reminder that our prosperous little burg (like the aging body) exists on nature's sufferance. Taylor revels in nature's beauty and relentless unintentionality, its determination to thrive in the midst of urban order.
blur around a landscape
nervous trees that don't
belong in town
Keith Taylor reads from Ecstatic Destinations at Literati Bookstore on July 27.
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