Saturday, July 28, 2012
The River Within By Ann Taylor
By Ann Taylor
Review by Dennis Daly
Heraclitus, the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, exclaimed “no man ever steps in the same river twice.” Ann Taylor goes one better and internalizes the river, punctuating each bend and turbulent eddy with her own riveting memories and graceful musings. Her faith in the legitimacy of her singular vision and her ability as a passionate observer sustains a measured tempo and delights with intelligence and occasional twists of wry humor.
In Jenny and Charles, Taylor portrays the historical obsession that Charles Darwin once had for an actual monkey named Jenny. As the poem progresses the monkey’s actions become comingled with the human observer’s. Darwin in fact is introduced into the piece as a “cagemate.” The cagemate is observed by the monkey scratching incomprehensible markings into a notebook. This neat twist the poet accomplishes in a seamless fashion. Jenny seems to evolve right before our eyes into a child. Here are the last three stanzas:
Darwin was entranced with Jenny,
housed himself with her, smiled, and wrote
when she threw a tantrum for an apple,
placed his gift of a mouth organ straight
to her lips, astonished herself
with her own image in a mirror.
At home, he was happier still to record
whatever she and his children had in common—
their monkeyshines, her humanness.
Jumping into history’s river again, unhesitant, Taylor grabs hold of Cleopatra, Queen of the mighty Nile and remolds her into a model of excess and consumption. Antony is left in the background with plain pancakes and peasant fare. Taylor’s queen knows her magical power and uses it,
She removes her huge pearl earring,
the largest in history, a king’s treasure,
richer than all roman banquets combined,
dropped it into her cup of wine vinegar,
and as it sizzled
Again the poet dares history in a poem entitled Annie Taylor takes the Falls. Here we are presented with another river queen, the poet’s namesake. Over sixty this schoolmarm took a terrifying chance and found fame tumbling in a four and half foot barrel over one hundred and seventy feet down Niagara’s magnificent Horseshoe Falls to find her place in this world. A true artist: Taylor the daredevil. Coincidently, this reviewer composed your present reading material standing in the mists of those same falls and he does attest to the crushing power of Taylor’s metaphor exhibited in the water’s cataclysm, first hand. A true artist: Taylor the poet.
The poem concludes by quoting the daredevil Taylor cautioning,
“No one ought ever do that again!”
She warned, quaking,
Propped from rapids across a shaky ramp—
A “Queen of the Mist,”
Numbered forever in the company
Maybe. Or was she just scaring off potential rivals who might diminish her feats by their future accomplishments, in other words protecting her immortality.
Sigmund Freud famously said that sometimes a pencil is just a pencil, nothing more. Our poet makes the opposite case in her poem, Pencil. Here this writing tool brims with generative powers. Taylor intimates,
I read that a pencil can write 45,000 words,
draw a line thirty-five miles long—
with its own verbosity.
The poet clearly makes this pencil, snatched from her river of memory, her own. Her first confession, a traumatic affair to begin with, as every Catholic child knows, included the theft of pencils. And now her husband’s personal use of them tie past and present together in her memories. The poem ends with very little ambiguity this way,
Less hungry, I love them still—
my glittery red stocking- stuffer
rolling to me across the desk,
my husband’s just sharpened
hexagonal yellow at the phone,
the one touting in green script
down its side a challenging
Dixon Ticonderoga 1388-3H, HARD
In the poem So much of my journeying has been with you, Taylor beautifully describes discrete incidents in her travels as if they were flowing past her, river-like. Each incident she reconstructs with details defining her companion more than the geography. It is, of course, a love story. Her lover leads her though the darkness in Oxford. He provides the cheese and wine in the Alps. The Taj Mahal exists only in shadows without the presence of her lover. The Great Wall of China exists only as her lover’s running course. Her lover in the heart of the poem appears as her classic protector against life’s physical threats. Speaking to her lover she remembers the scene this way,
My memories of Kenya bring you
Tugging my camera from the robber monkey,
Your breadknife protecting our tent
From the lion roaring just feet away.
In short the river of reality has been changed forever for this intertwined couple and the objective details of life have become, at least in this one poetic iteration, wholly personal and unique.