RSS Feed

Not Here – There by Andrew Taylor (Shearsman Books)

Not Here – There by Andrew Taylor (Shearsman Books)

The poems in Not There – Here are somewhat more relaxed and conversational in tone than Taylor’s earlier books, but are still in the vein of minimalist, compressed writing typical of his work, in which close observation of the external world is mixed with a collage of texts and discourses. For this short review I want to focus on a single poem which I think is representative of many of the poems in the book. Here’s the poem in full:

Larch

The larch has been felled

                                         Phytophthera ramorum

let’s drive the different route 17 miles

cattle grids

                    empty feedbags

                    strung like scarecrows

Railway at times runs parallel

ballast plumb line straight

Our single track

                                      Passing place

Signal stagnant

            inactivity

signpost navigation GPS

                    unnamed road

follow the quietness

valley empty      it looks like a bomb’s gone off

toward the estate there is cover

thirty five years ago

we took this drive       tracks remain

for supplies

milk bread

tea

the forest is weak it is halved

      the lochs become visible

their tracks evident

above the grey house

commands

The poem opens with a blunt statement which recalls other poets mourning felled trees; Hopkins ‘airy aspens’ or John Clare’s ‘Fallen Elm in a metonymic manner typical of this collection. The Latin name which follows (in a characteristically abrupt switch) brings us back to language and reminds us of how it affects our perception: the Latin name conjures up a very different image to the Anglo-Saxon ‘Larch’. We are then given a description of a drive (is it on Route 17, or a route of 17 miles?) in what seems to be a rural area of single-track roads. The phrase “follow the quietness / valley empty” is followed by the jarring phrase “it looks like a bomb’s gone off” which recalls bomb sites in post-war British cities and is immediately followed by “toward the estate there is cover”. Is this a country estate of a big landowner, or a housing estate associated with deprived communities? It appears to be the former, but a suggestion of the latter is there, and it’s this ambiguity, this leaving lines open to interpretation, which gives the poem a feeling of large scope and of horizons beyond the specific details that it focusses on. After this moment of uncertainty, we are back on the rural drive, slightly altered after its collision with the urban, in which “the forest is weak it is halved” and where the word “loch” situates us for the first time in a precise landscape, that of highland Scotland. The final lines are:

above the grey house

commands

The verb ‘commands’ is left without an object; does it command a view? Or is the house that of a landowner who commands the surrounding land and its people, invoking the British class system and thus linking the rural Scottish landscape to the deprived communities hinted at earlier? Either way, the ending of the poem is open, leaving interpretation to the reader rather than to a commanding poet-persona; this openness and lightness of touch being a feature of the poems throughout this collection.

The poems in this book, like the one above, have individual moments of stillness which shift rapidly to a different perspective, sometimes (but not always) because the text is a collage. This makes reading even a short, apparently imagistic poem, into a disorienting experience. In a sense these poems are cubist, presenting multiple perspectives of a scene or an event without privileging any single one. The poems deny a single, omniscient self. It’s a natural human tendency to impose a narrative on experience, and these poems seem to be trying to strip that away and present experience as it is. This would be in line with Taylor’s influences in the music of John Cage or the notebook poems of Jack Kerouac, both of whom, espousing Zen thought with its denial of single controlling Self, preferred to be open to an unbounded connection with the world.

Alan Baker 28th October 2021

One response »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: