Ausable Press, 2006
Reviewed by D. Antwan Stewart
Within the past two years alone I have encountered a number of first-book collections that suggest a flourishing talent of younger American poets: namely Ilya Kaminsky’s Dancing in Odessa, Randall Mann’s Complaint in the Garden, and Richard Siken’s Crush are collections that caught my attention. Of this emerging talent, Sam Taylor’s Body of the World is the latest in this boy’s club list of new American poetry. Taylor writes in the poem “Walking”:
Perhaps because I ordered the vegetarian meal, or
because I didn’t
bring my seat all the way to the upright position,
the plane drops me off on a landscape of clouds,
mountains full of yeast and sunlight . . . (70)
These lines suggest that the desire to reconcile the human condition with the mechanics of the natural world is, indeed, a quandary we all face. Taylor’s collection is brimming with such speculations. As reader, one inhabits the speaker’s skin, and, what is best, one arrives from such experiences better informed of the world (s) revolving around us because Taylor reuses to undermine the human condition within the matrices of the physical world. It is the opposite that is true. There are no pretentious contexts or subtexts for the ways in which the physical body interacts with the physical world, but there is the understanding that one must recognize each are inextricably bound, one to the other. This makes for marvelous verse because, also, Taylor does not posture as a poet of discursive rhetoric, philosophizing in the existentialist vein in order to extrapolate what so much philosophical verse has told us already. “I am past all that,” Taylor writes.
Taylor’s project in these verses is to consider: “Where is the doorway into this impure world?” (72). It is not a world that is impure due to some grudge Taylor is carrying, but impure in the sense that nothing of this world is easily comprehensible. More importantly, Taylor desires access to this world. He will not consider becoming a vain seeker of glory (“The Gospel of J”). Of course, to seek such a place where one is pitted against the undesirable is another of those quandaries that Taylor suggests is inevitably human. “The Undressing Room,” for example, gives one access to one of the many doorways to the impure world:
. . . And maybe there never really is
even in the arms of our beloved, wife or husband,
even when we’re licking
a coconut sno-cone or chocolate torte,
walking into a movie with our popcorn
or driving, window-sealed, through the poor
side of town, where a black girl turns
and slaps us with a look (57)
The quotidian experience of watching a movie is juxtaposed with the stark reality of a world fraught with racist tension because these are examples of two of the varying degrees of difference we, at once, suffer through and delight in everyday. Taylor does not convey a world such as this through rose-colored lenses because what would be the point? Again his assertion, “I am past all that,” becomes critical to our negotiating between the worlds of delight and despair that Taylor focuses our attentions.
In another poem, the final moments of “Human Geography,” Taylor writes:
If we walk on from here, it will be without words
that are meanings, only movements and pictures.
Like a village that has taken what is essential.
The hands that built those ovens are gone now
which means they are in our hands now.
Dig, build, pray. Do. Whatever you can with them (39).
Taylor’s collection is indeed a village where we must take what is essential. That is to say we take what is essential to circumnavigating around the inevitabilities of the physical world while maintaining the dignity of our naturally human inclinations. Taylor may have grimly prophesied a world in which words will lose their meanings, he has, fortunately for us, suggested that there are tools we may find to rebuild this world. There is hope that whatever it is we must do to rebuild (digging or praying) the body of the world, it will be a reconstruction that will both enlighten and exact a more formidable body.
SAM TAYLOR currently lives in the mountains of Northern New Mexico, where he teaches at UNM-Taos and caretakes a wilderness refuge. A graduate of Swarthmore College and a former Michener Fellow at the University of Texas at Austin, he has published poems in numerous magazines, including Many Mountains Moving, AGNI, Midwest Quarterly, and Mid-American Review. He also writes non-fiction.
D. ANTWAN STEWART is a James A. Michener Fellow in poetry at the Michener Center for Writers. Also, he is the author of a chapbook, The Terribly Beautiful (Main Street Rag Press, 2006). Other poems appear or are forthcoming in Bloom Magazine, can we have our ball back?, Poet Lore, the Seattle Review, Pebble Lake Review, Lodestar Quarterly, New Millennium Writings, and others. He serves as poetry editor for Bat City Review.