Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Richard reviewed


A couple of months back I posted the positive writeup Titus writer Bill Direen had received in Dunedin student mag Critic. Now Critic's new book reviewer Naomi Caldintsky has taken on Richard Taylor's Conversation with a Stone, which Titus launched back in April beside titles by Will Christie and yours truly.

I don't think it'd be unfair to say that Caldintsky seems unaware of some of the more arcane avant-gardish literary models Richard's book employs; I think it's a good sign, then, that she was still able to enjoy a number of his poems. If you're intrigued by Caldintsky's gloss of 'Hospital', you can find out more about the making of the poem here.

Richard Taylor, Conversation with a Stone, Titus Books, Auckland, 2007

Taylor's collection of poems opens with a bleak, almost painful to read series of excerpts of time spent in a hospital ward. He engages with biblical commentary in 'Hospital 13', as he repaints the scene at Mt Sinai:


With Moses (the boss) away, the characters catorge in ecstasy: nakeds
copulate nakeds and savagely they sacrifice: then come the Tablets. Ho!

This is upset by Taylor's resort to a shameless 'I could ring for a hooker, throw away the tablets, get the orgy on, but I'm broke, as usual'. His poetry is real and blunt, and his obsession with death as a 'project to be worked on piece by piece' reveals a fear of not being heard.

In 'Hospital 39' he toys with the possibility of never having been born. 'Hospital 46' opens with playful imagery - 'a glass dragon on the windowsill - /and the clock by the kitchen on the wall' and closes with a memory of his father's friend, and 'the day he came and had so much fun with the fireworks...' However, this opening series is so infused with sickness and death that it is almost unbearable for the reader.

In 'Lookout' and 'The Innocent Age' Taylor's observations are, like those of all good writers, right on cue and in tune with the happenings of the outside world. His play with words and rhythms in 'The Red' is mildly amusing. He then provides a series of 'shorts', some of which are amusing, but many of which are almost child-like or even apoetic. In 'Patchworks' Taylor describes a pear with 'a red yellow husk which blooms as though she could a hundred things at one time', with words descending along the page. In 'Litany' he provides us with a quick and easy programme for happiness: 'eat your egg, and have a happy life'.

Imagining possible worlds in 'The Infinite Poem', Taylor examines the beauty of a bridge in its ability to leap the 'gap of time and space'. The poem's phrases are scattered and impressionistic, straddling childlike, amateur writing and moments of clarity and brilliance. 'Poem for Tamasin Taylor' ends on a high note, with 'lovers who are glad as new-born Gods', but 'You Are reading' is a sorry shot at attempting to hold the reader's attention. Taylor's poetry would appeal to a select crowd.

Verdict: thumbs up.

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

'The poem's phrases are scattered and impressionistic, straddling childlike, amateur writing and moments of clarity and brilliance.'

That's the point. It's a cento: a poem made up of quotes that contrast interestingly.

'He then provides a series of 'shorts', some of which are amusing, but many of which are almost child-like or even apoetic.'

Again, that's the point. The tradition of writing sequences short anti-poetic poems, often in prose, goes back at least to Frank O'Hara and the New York school. That's where Richard's sequence 'Bricks' is sourced from. It's not like he's trying to write sonnets in that sequence. You can't judge one genre by the standards of another.

'You Are reading' is a sorry shot at attempting to hold the reader's attention'

No apparent awareness here of Gertrude Stein and the tradition of writing radically repititive highly rhythmical prose poems that she arguably started.

'Taylor's poetry would appeal to a select crowd.'

At least, it's likely to appeal more to someone with a basic knowledge of modernist and postmodernist poetry. I mean it has been a hundred years since the likes of Stein, and fifty years since the New York poets.

Stephen Creek

10:05 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard sold two books at David's launch and now the review - maybe it's the start of great sales and stardom

10:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pity he's going to prison soon for a major blunder.

10:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is Richard Taylor reall facing a jail term? Whatever for? He always seemed to me to be a mild-mannered man.

Simon F

11:14 pm  
Blogger Skyler said...

no he isn't! I fear it's may be Maps' anonymous alter ego's sense of humour at play :-)

11:26 pm  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

It's interesting to see the review - the reviewer seems to know very little about poetry - almost not to have even read the poems very closely. (The reviewer can always take courses and do a reading programme to improve her knowledge. )But it's o.k.

The Infinite Poem is in fact "from The Infinite Poem" which was started in 1992 and is full of many quotes as well as my own work (yes it can be seen as a kind of cento) - it is really radically different from anything I know of being done in NZ (it is EYELIGHT or EYELIGHT is the I.P. - transformed)- although it harks back to Pound and other writers of long poems.

Chains is sequence of statements responses and also full of quotes and my own writing. It - in fact the whole book - is also humoresque in tone ... (Raewyn Alexander finds much of it hilarious) (as I do!) (Litany is the title of a poem by Ashbery, there are quotes from Chaucer, Witter Bynner, Chldren's books!, instructions on a special egg boiler, Swinburne, Iain Sinclair, there is also a description of sealing a lead telephone cable joint, and much else...'After Dinner Speech' is from the last story, the Dead (also a great film) by Huston, in James Joyce's 'The Dubliners'. 'Try' - which was meant to be shaped like an arrow head as something strong and 'anchored', is a rugby try (also it is about trying, struggling, and so on) - hence it is a great moment of triumph and not dark at all - is full of yes yes as is Molly Bloom's monologue at the end of Ulysses and so on...The reviewer doesn't seem to know very much.

If she wants "difficult' get her to review FQ by the (sadly) late Alan Brunton!! I am currently reading some of that...

But the reviewer means well I suppose - at least it got reviewed.

I think the "being in jail" because of a "blunder" may come from chess playing poetical person as blunders are what are made in chess - my other big hobby - and I make a fair few as do all chess players no matter their strengths) (a bad blunder is a bit like going out for duck in cricket).

BTW Hospital was - I didn't feel particularly dark...there were some hard moments but it is overall just musings and it is not all when I was in hospital..it is not really about being in hospital.

I am not unhappy either - these days I a very happy.

1:58 am  
Blogger Richard Taylor said...

I didn't mean to offend the editor - I got bit carried away - for what it was - the Review was o.k. - Mr Creek more or less summarises a good response.

Maybe her area of reading is quite different to mine (I thought the reference to and very considerable influence of Stein - possibly one of the writers I value the most in the history of English literature - was very obvious (and the NY Poets are of course hanging in there with Ashbery, Schuyler, O'Hara, to Berrigan etc)(and the ubiquitous Langpos sneak in also) ) - and possibly she thought Hospital was an attempt at a "single work' whereas it is not really unified - looking at Hospital last night - seen by someone who doesn't know me there is a lot about death there - but it is still not morbid. These are just realities I was dealing with.

The Chains section has been misunderstood as separate poems it is series of linked poems. I thought perhaps I did need to put an explication of that sequence on my My Space Blog; and an intro to it may have helped in my book and I could have done without 'Bricks' - which section is perhaps not very good.

It is good to see criticism - and it's perhaps understandable my book wouldn't be easily received by many people.

But that's the way it is.

10:42 pm  

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