In reading Shelly Taylor’s brilliant new book, Black-Eyed Heifer, I was struck by the dramatic contrast in the blurbs on the back between Brenda Iijima, who sees the work as a “mighty anthem to down home local culture—the deeply rooted—the feisty sustaining rhythm that saturates the land,” and Jane Miller, who sees the book more as a series of late surrealist “hell-bent, mad-cap adventures,” that “poke through your eye & go straight through your head.” So one question I’d like to ask, but not answer, is: why does Shelly’s writing make such diverse interpretations possible? One thing I understand from knowing Shelly is that she doesn’t wish to think in terms of an academic discourse, and that she claims her work with language is largely intuitive, the voice she hears inside her head. Yet at the risk of completely overinterpreting Shelly’s original and fascinating work, I feel like I’ve heard this voice before, or perhaps it’s in my head too, or it’s out there somewhere available to all of us, and it invites our participation and our acts of projection and introjection as if we’re squinting at something blurry which is gradually becoming more clear as we get to know how this speaker from inside her head better. Another way of thinking about the dense texture of Taylor’s prose, which seems to channel literary precedents from Stein to Joyce to Dahlen to the New Sentence, is that she has discovered a way of working that takes a local idiom and rearranges it for a context specific to poetry. That is, Taylor has slightly dislocated dialect from its original language games and is using it to play other ones, or even to perversely (and delightfully) play the wrong ones. This tension opens a space to explore what Wittgenstein would call a private language, and she brings us along for a wild ride. Taylor’s delightful ear is like no one else’s, and the spirited, disruptive rhythms of her prose grab you by the collar and won’t let go. I’m pleased to welcome my friend Shelly Taylor to the EOAGH Reading Series today.
October 25, 2010 **Thank you, Tim. Lots of love!