Wednesday, August 27, 2014

lions review / interview in 'the tavern lantern' / blog of literary orphans (will be reposted here as well in next issue) / big thank you to mike joyce for such a thoughtful review of the work / love it

click here to read it on the web


Review [and Interview!] with Poet Shelly Taylor re: Lions, Remonstrance

PUBLISHER: Coconut Books
REVIEWER: Mike Joyce
lionsrIf you’ve heard Shelly Taylor’s Lions, Remonstrance mentioned, you’ve likely heard the phrase “war poetry” mentioned with it. This isn’t the half of it; Lions, Remonstrance explores the broader context of soldiers’ lives and the romances those soldiers leave behind. It is not didactic, but instead an intensely personal meditation on the stories we lose in CNN newscasts. We hear these stories from the soldier’s voice, the left-behind voice, and from the no-voice of the omniscient. You won’t find many dead combatants mentioned–nor will you find any white flags. What you will find are the heartbreaks wrought from trauma, from burdened minds, from looking back.
When Shelly Taylor’s book arrived in the mail, I opened it and was a bit startled. The cover took me back immediately to a childhood spent playing with toy metal rifles and camo jackets and roasting beef jerky over Bic lighters underneath plywood forts. The cover is a dangerous green, with military surplus stencil painting on the title and name.
To read this book is to have an experience; increasingly these days I’ve come to appreciate book design and structure and the path a poet or writer can take us on in a collection. Everything in here connects thematically–and indeed some pages exist (in this Editor’s opinion) solely to further our reading of others–it’s a fantastic craft. Shelly Taylor has left out the titles to the poems, and we move between them as if underwater.
Textually, Shelly Taylor has broken this book up into a three act play. You’ll feel this abstractly more than through the content. We start with the first act, the leaving to, the before, the dreams of glory. The second act is has a “to be-ness,” a present feeling of poetry in action and the tension of the outcome still in flux. The final act, subtitled “What have you become to ask/ what have I made you into” is half reflection and half fever dream.
Contentually, the first thing you need to know is that Taylor is a master in the use of negative space. The second thing you need to know is that the story hides there. Her prose telescopes the expanse of years into a seven line stanza. Dilates a moment to Beckettian eternities. We’ll get details like memories induced by smell or sight that will tell the tale of a year–this is especially prevalent in the final act of the book. Almost every poem in this 72 piece anthology contains expertly broken spacing; giving you birth, passage, or reflection from line to line. The dramatic . . . pause is used for this effect as well–this negative space is key here and connects the fragmented line–lines that often read as whole in their own right, as Taylor spits them out in machine-gun music that ricochets back to the lines around before it.
So Taylor has some excellent paint and paper here–or if you’re more of a poetry pedestrian like me, these are some good cuts of meat and aged cheese we’ve got here, but so what? What about the sandwich, what about the story? That reader, is ultimately what will leave you feeling full. The characters of Lions, Remonstrance are shifting and often out-of-time. We see the soldier reoccur–we see the girl with red nails, red shoes, red lips reoccur. We see Arizona take it’s place in the cast, as well as Taylor’s swampy Georgia, and we remember Iraq as it looms. There is a frustrated sense of desperation here, of hopeless anger, of things getting messed up to the point that you can’t fix them–all told via a cast of nameless character memorable by their idiosyncrasies, color choices, and pickup trucks.
I had the opportunity to ask Shelly Taylor three questions on my mind after being filled with the beauty of her work, please read her responses below:
1. What was the inspiration to write this poetry collection?
Shelly Taylor-7-photoby-andrew-brownAfter my debut collection Black-Eyed Heifer (Tarpaulin Sky, 2010) came out, I wanted to earnestly try my hand at fiction. Let me say that I had zero intent to write another poetry book as my second collection, much less one on the subject of loss and war. I even got about sixty pages into a novel-ish thing when the verse took over, as I imagine it will always try its best to do (cause it’s happening again now…grrr.).
It seems to me a weird thing to set out to write a specific book because the subject matter will always get out from under your feet, but this one, Lions, is one-hundred percent not a book I wanted to write. Four years later I am still having interior debate with the subject. I continually wrestled with the question of what right do I have to write a book mediating on war having never served myself and knowing what I knew only from living with and loving a solider post-three tours, all of this after the relationship had ended. In the end I believe the book chose me because of what was literal in my life at the time. I have always written in order to process and work through things. So it’s ultimately not a remonstrance of war because I don’t dare go there—it’s simply a statement of the speaker’s grief, how she deals with her loss.
2. Is there a story behind the cover?
Bruce Covey, Coconut founder and editor extraordinaire, brought on Atlanta-based artist Stephanie Dowda to design the cover. The photo is from Dowda’s photography series titled “Natural State” in which she spent two years of weekends investigating Georgia State Parks. All of this made sense to me as I am from rural southern Georgia.
The photo is flushed in a deep green hue and is a stark forest scene of brambles and stillness that I think gets close to the general timbre, the interiority of the book. There is something for real sad about the cover to me. I mean the deep green filter brings me back to that Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est” poem I love, love to teach to students, that “thick green light, / As under a green sea” the soldier succumbs to so violently because he can’t find his helmet when the company is gassed, that “old lie” of go to war for your country—such glory in war!—that gets blasted by Owen with such legendarily sick imagery not at all for the faint of heart. And the salmon color of the title pops out in a manner that seems to contradict. It’s almost too cheery. And this also seems to mimic something of the book’s feeling—the whole thing a nod to something about the nature of war in general, one big green gloom, one big contradiction.
3. Do you find yourself drawn to particular words?
I am naturally drawn to soft l-sounds: liminal, quell. If I had to live with but one letter it’d be an l. But this is not what you are meaning here I’m guessing…
During Lions, words often began to repeat themselves as I free wrote my way into shaping the thing. Both title words became symbols, ideas that I latched onto that became larger than life, though I had the title right from the beginning of the writing process, something that always seems to happen for me. The image of the lion became everything, the addressee the book muses over in its grief—remonstrance, this statement of lamenting in all its many shades. Phrases also like “to stay the magistrate” and the image of seagulls became repetitive as I wrote one summer in northern Florida and the next in Key West.
To get outside of my head during writing I obsessively watched the old 60/70s TV show Bonanza. Da-duh-da-duh-da-duh-da-duh-daaa-daaa! These characters, especially Ben and Adam Cartwright, found their way into the work and rip and tear at the streamline narrative as a point of reference for me to make sense of my own life stuff. Ben Cartwright (Lorne Green) became the godhead figure whom I looked to for wisdom to justify man’s behavior, odd as that might sound. He is fatherly and oracular and I needed him to shepherd, whereas Adam seemed to resemble the book’s subject, always leaving, troubled, and unsatisfied, though handsome, handsome.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

these days of happy / end of summer


three of a kind

Friday, August 15, 2014

my friend nishta (whose book i arrived at my house yesterday) wrote this open letter to her son, shiv : / it gets me. i have a hard time thinking straight when the world goes this mad / here & globally / looking forward to talking about all this with my new crop of freshmen in a week / they help me make sense

August 15, 2014
Dear Shiv,
We took you to your first rally tonight, a peaceful protest.  We put on red shirts (yours new, acquired at Target just an hour before), held a homemade sign that read “With liberty & justice for all,” and stood in a public park with Houstonians of all shapes, sizes, ages, and colors.
THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE | Blue Jean Gourmet  #Ferguson
You didn’t know what was going on, of course—I had told you on the way there that we were going to see a lot of people, for something important—but you were content to watch from my shoulder as half-a-dozen individuals got up to speak and tell their stories.  You peeked and flirted with nearby faces.  You made friends with a little girl and chased her around a tree.
When we got back home, I held you in your room and we sang “This Little Light of Mine” before going to bed.  You have always loved listening to music, but only in the last few weeks have you really begun to sing, renditions of tunes recognizable enough for us to join in.  Tonight, you kept repeating the line “I’m going to let it shine,” over and over and over again, your enthusiasm bending the words to sound like I nama nennit SHINE!
You didn’t understand why I started crying, fat tears rolling down my cheeks while I kept singing along with you, my mind a mirror that sees not my own face, but that of Lesley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, tears rolling down her own cheeks as she deals with a reality that I’m terrified may some day be my own.  You didn’t know any of this.  But when you saw my tears, you held your hand up to my face, palm cupping my cheek, and said Mama.  Mama, heart.
Before you came into our life, when you were just an abstract notion, the sentence “We’re hoping to adopt,” I worried about becoming the mother of a black son.  I worried because I wasn’t sure if I were the right person to do it.  Could I do right by you?  Would you someday wake up and thinkWhat the hell am I doing with these people?  More than anything, I was determined to not be ignorant about the world in which we live, this world in which we would be raising a black son.
THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE | Blue Jean Gourmet  #Ferguson
I am not an essentialist; I do not believe that your blackness defines you any more than my brownness defines me.  But I knew that, in the sight of so many, your color would define you, would become the only thing that people saw.  Black male equals threat, equals thug, equals less than, equals other.  I knew that you would be forced to reckon with realities that no one should ever, ever have to explain to their child.
I didn’t know the half of it.
Still, when it came down to actually filling out the forms, the one where they ask adoptive parents to mark which babies they’re willing to adopt, with boxes for gender, race & ethnicity, possible drug exposure, I didn’t think twice.  I was the one with the pen, and with your Gigi looking over my shoulder, I checked all of the boxes.  Every last one.  And then, against every odd & adoption industry statistic, your birth mother, Mama D, chose us to be your parents.
Tonight, I am heartened, if only for the briefest moment, as public outrage seems to have brought a shift to the situation in Ferguson. There are many people fighting the good fight—and so many people paying attention—that I can’t help but have hope.  That our tweets and our journalists and our witnessing and our solidarity can actually affect change—this has always been the promise of America.  It is a promise I still so desperately want to believe in.
THIS LITTLE LIGHT OF MINE | Blue Jean Gourmet  #Ferguson
My son, I can’t promise you that things will get better.  There are so many layers of hate and injustice and willful ignorance and systemic inequality that I don’t even know how to realistically envision improvement at this point.  Here’s what I can promise you, though; I will shout, shake with anger, write, pray, petition, protest, cajole, debate, inform, disseminate, rally, cry at my desk, and whatever else is within my power to do, for all the rest of my days.
And you, my son?  Promise me you’ll keep singing.  Nice and loud, so everyone can hear.
Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

all has been bumble / hick po deadline of aug 15 / erstwhile it rains & friends help you out & i got my girl nishta mehra's first book in the mail / congrats, lady! so excited to read!

grita, monsoons

this boo went w/ me to phx in the middle of the nite to get joe

few things are cooler than receiving your friend's first book in the mail.  makes going mfa school worth it!

thanks so much, nish.  can't wait to read.

Friday, August 8, 2014

friiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiday / just found out i will be teaching 4 classes at the U this fall / love you tucson

i like this carolina ebeid poem from colorado rev reprinted in po daily
You Ask Me to Talk About the Interior

it was all roadside flowers & grasses
            growing over the cities

was made of wilderness & sky
            with God washed out of it

was the foreign prayer-word
            it was a list of missing persons

was the solid bronze charging
            bull on the famous street

was like the Roman method for making bees

was its taken-down carcass
            & its bed of apple branches & thyme

was a new anatomy, a beaten hide,
            a skeleton sweetening to glowing fluids,

& the bee born out, & the grist of them born
            glistening as coins

it was anthem
            was the listening,

the way a searchlight listens over a lake
            it was the prayer-word out of your mouth
your thousand-noun request
            it goes up up to the florescent weather

was an ivory box,

was hurdle & burn, burning through

            the infinite, your overbright comet

was made of stones, made of berries & box tops & eggshells
            it was like the word having reached the ear

& the words pollinated the dark, there was darkness there,
            like the after-hours inside a library

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

gettin out / & back in / town / delite delite

me and poet carolyn hembree

best mom and dad award goes to... /  thank yall infinitely for coming to help me get out of town (yes, just a year later)

following lo out of town

how we do it

west tx flow

thas right

if you find the red door you have found my new home

i make magic in a backyard

ranch mustang

big nose kate

my people on the ranch

denim and diamonds bootscootin

me and my german lil sis ellie

az inn tues afternoon

hard pressed to find a happier girl