Keith Taylor's Fidelities
by Stephanie Douglass
From the May, 2015 issue
Just inland from Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the Upper Peninsula, a field of jagged, white stumps named the Kingston Plains stretches as flat and bare as the nearby cliffs are high and crowded with tourists. Most people who happen to see the Kingston Plains do so from their passing cars. At a glimpse, it's a bleak landscape that does not trigger awe.
In his poem "Kingston Plains: The Ghost Forest," Keith Taylor gives a recent ecological history of this clear-cut forest, which was "charred into immortality" by a hellish fire. "Little but lichen grew here for 130 years," writes Taylor in prose. He then shifts into the focused and spare style of the poet William Carlos Williams, narrowing the poem's scope and magnifying a return:
and now,This is a moment worth savoring, suggests the poem's slowed pace and direct gaze. This is just to say: life, awe.
a clump of small,
In addition to the Kingston Plains, Taylor illuminates several other ignored and forsaken subjects in his latest collection of poems and prose, Fidelities: A Chronology, including a horned grebe soaked in oil, a dying nilgai (a sacred Indian antelope), and Ann Arbor's underground Allen Creek. It would be easy to present these struck-down and struggling subjects as stark snapshots of ruin, or to elevate their plights to lament, but Taylor chooses a subtler, more grounded approach that relies on narrative and description, showing us a broad and nuanced world with remarkable clarity. He accentuates this thoughtful, open perspective with occasional splashes of humor, as well as beautiful and haunting images. The nilgai attracts hungry jackals and hyenas, whose howls sound "like surprised cries / from children in pain."
InFidelities, Taylor takes us on personal journeys to places near and far--from Drummond Island in northern Lake Huron to the Greek island of Aegina. Born in British Columbia, he traveled abroad for several years before landing in Michigan. Taylor is many things: a former bookseller, an avid birder, and a longtime
resident of Ann Arbor who currently teaches creative writing at U-M, directs the Bear River Writers' Conference, serves as poetry editor of the Michigan Quarterly Review, and regularly contributes reviews to this publication.
As his hobbies and career suggest, Taylor is deeply connected and committed to both the human and natural worlds, and much of Fidelities explores overlapping zones between the two spheres. In the poem "Bird Rescue," the oil-soaked grebe is cleaned and released by an experienced bird rehabilitator. "No One Dared Call It Beautiful" guides us through the aftermath of the devastating Duck Lake fire in the U.P.--which in 2012 destroyed forests, homes, and businesses--pointing out new growth sprouting from the char. Clearly, Taylor possesses a gift for locating instances of strength and resilience amid devastation, for opening our eyes to wonders where we'd least expect them.
Taylor reads from Fidelities at Literati on Friday, May 1.
[Originally published in May, 2015.]
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