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.