Tag Archives: Marginalia for a Natural History

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Keith Taylor

Hitchhiking and Immortality

I was not paying much attention

in those days but still recognized it

immediately: nightingale song—

full-throated and resonant drifting

out of the woods beside a highway

somewhere in central France, where no cars

slowed in scintillating evening light

and where I thought I might never die.

(Poem originally published in The Dunes Review.)

Q: Where is your favorite place to write?

A: My favorite place to write? I have a fabulous book lined study in my little house on the west side of Ann Arbor, Michigan, and I love to work there. But often the work I do there is the necessary revision work or the preparation of manuscripts. I write in my back yard, in the coffee shop I walk past on my way to work, in my car. But probably my favorite place to write these days is in a little cabin, way up north in Michigan, close to the Straits of Mackinaw, on the grounds of the University of Michigan Biological Station, where I spend two months every summer. It is quiet; loons call from Douglas Lake, right outside my window; when I talk to people, I talk to field biologists, who are genuinely puzzled by what it is I try to do.  It has become the ideal place to work.

Q: Do you remember the first poem you read that really blew your mind?

A: First poem that really blew my mind? When I was a kid in western Canada, I memorized things. The Bible, of course. Lots and lots of it. But the first poem I remember was Robert Service’s “The Cremation of Sam McGee.” I can still say big patches of it. I think I was 7 or so when I memorized it. Later, at 15, after we had moved to the States and as I was coming to more “serious” literature, I think I was first grabbed by Yeats. Which poem? Probably “The Lake Isle of Innisfree.” Even then, I realized the hope to escape, to find a cabin. Oh, does this become the same answer as the one above? 45 years later, I’m living it?

Q: What is the most interesting thing that has happened to you in the last 12 months?

A: The most interesting thing that happened to me this last year? Some good traveling? Some great books read? Two books prepared and accepted for publication? No. The thing that interested me the most, that got me the most excited, was back up close to that little cabin in answers 1 and 2:

Wolves have returned in number to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, spreading over from protected packs in northern Minnesota. In the last 25 years their numbers have increased from 3 to perhaps as many as 1000. There is population pressure. Last summer, for the first time in 125 years we had vivid proof that wolves had returned to the lower Peninsula of Michigan, and that they were successfully breeding. I knew where the den was, and I walked out several times to within a half mile or so, and simply sat in the woods reading and writing in my journal. It was tremendously exciting to do these ordinary activities in the unseen presence of large predators.

Keith Taylor is the coordinator of the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of Michigan and the Director of the Bear River Writers’ Conference. His most recent full collection was If the World Becomes So Bright (Wayne State University Press, 2009).

BLP Expands Its List

If you’ve been following the BLP blog, then you know of a few recent additions to the BLP family. In January, we announced that we’d accepted Killing the Murnion Dogs by Joe Wilkins and Instructions for Killing the Jackal by Erica Wright, two new collections of poetry due out in August and September of next year, respectively. In February, we announced that Carol Guess had become a part of our crew of poets; her collection Doll Studies: Forensics will be out in the beginning of 2012. Also in February we announced the acceptance of the novel/novel-in-stories/memoir/we don’t know what we’re calling it yet other than “rad” Pulled from the River by Jon Chopan.

There’s been lots of action since February and we are very pleased to announce that we’ve added a few more authors to the BLP family and also have new titles forthcoming from authors who have published with us in the past. Next fall we will publish Marginalia for a Natural History, a collection of poems by Keith Taylor.

We’ve also accepted two new books by Marcel Jolley, winner of the inaugural St. Lawrence Book Award and author of Neither Here Nor There. His short story collection, Priors, will come out in the spring of 2012, to be followed by his novel Milk Run in the spring of 2013. We’ve also got some new blood in our stable of fiction writers. Loving You the Way I Do, short stories by Ron Savage will be published in the summer of 2012.

We’re also very pleased to announce that our translation list is expanding as well. Daniele Pantano, author of the poetry collection The Oldest Hands In The World and the translation The Possible is Monstrous has two more translations coming out from BLP in the next few years: Oppressive Light: Selected Poems by Robert Walser (Spring, 2012) and The Complete Works of Georg Trakl (Spring, 2014). We’ve also got Dream Weed, a translation of Yvan Goll poems, by Nan Watkins coming out in July, 2012.

Those of you who are fans of T.J. Beitelman (Pilgrims: A Love Story) and David Rigsbee (winner of the Spring, 2009 Black River Chapbook Competition) will be happy to know that we have full-length collections from both poets coming out in mid-2012.

And, just so you know what you have to look forward to, BLP will release the following titles before the end of 2010: Every Bitter Thing by Hardy Jones, Perishables by Tina Egnoski, Pictures of Houses with Water Damage by Michael Hemmingson, The Consequence of Skating by Steven Gillis, Triggermoon Triggermoon by JuliaCohen, Speech Acts by Laura McCullough, and The Pilot House by David Rigsbee.

We’ve currently closed submissions until August 15th while we catch up on submissions. We’re hoping to have more good news by the end of the summer once we read all of the manuscripts in our queue. As always, thanks for reading!

-Diane Goettel
Executive Editor, Black Lawrence Press

P.S. Don’t forget that the deadline for the St. Lawrence Book Award is August 31st!

National Poetry Month Spotlight: Keith Taylor

AT THE LIVING CRECHE

A camel in the church yard on State
walked around the fence toward our car
(This is true! It really did happen
late Christmas Eve after I picked up
Faith and Christine from Mass) and he bent
down to stick his head in the window.
Snow collected on his pelt. The steam
and stench of camel breath filled the air.

Q: Do you remember where you were and what you were doing on the day you wrote the above poem?

A: The events recounted in “At the Living Creche” were—as the poem shouts—real. That camel really did stick his head in the car after Christmas Eve Mass, right here in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The snow was really falling. And we really did smell some foul camel breath in the car.

Although I didn’t take notes on it at the time (the way I did for most of the little poems informed by science or by observation of the natural world that are included in Marginalia for a Natural History), I certainly remembered the moment. I mean, it is just one of those wildly absurd moments where the things of the lived world seem beyond the powers of invention—comic and more than a little tragic (a camel in a Midwestern American snow storm?) all at the same time.

Months later, in July, when I was off at my wonderful summer job teaching at the University of Michigan Biological Station in northern Michigan, I was sitting at a picnic table behind the little cabin they give me, looking out over Douglas Lake, and trying to bring some of these eight line poems together. And I remembered that poor camel. It fell quite easily into the eight line form, went through three or four quick revisions, and I included it with some poems I sent to the journal Hanging Loose. It seems as if they accepted the poem almost immediately. When I began to imagine all of these as a unit, it fit in very neatly.

Q: What is the last book you’ve read that made you want to grab a pen and write?

A: I know exactly which book it is because I’ve just finished reading it (March 19, 2010)! But, sadly, it’s not a book of poems. It’s a wonderful new novel called Next, by James Hynes. It’s a great story about a middle aged man trying to get some sense of himself. It all takes place in one day, and it has a wildly unpredictable ending that once you get to it seems absolutely inevitable. I won’t tell you the ending. But Hynes moves in and out of his various stories so smoothly that the reader never knows he’s being led around. It is masterful. When I realized the novelist was doing this to me, my first reaction was to wonder if I could do anything like that quite as easily. I’m still going to keep trying.

Although I’ve read a bunch of poetry books recently that have moved me and that I’ve admired, probably none made me want to write as much as Merwin’s much praised The Shadow of Sirium. I know a few thousand other people feel the same way about the book, and I wish I could be more original. But it has clarity of language and a precision of perception that sets a standard for poets who write about the physical world.

Q: What is the most sublime meal you’ve ever eaten?

A: When I was young and penniless I spent a few years wondering through France. For much of one year, I washed dishes (paid illegally, of course) in a very fancy country restaurant south of Toulouse. I ate foods there every day that I had never heard of—oysters, steak tartare, artichokes, and on and on. I remember them all fondly. And I learned to eat like a Frenchman, even if only a poor Frenchman. When my best friend came to visit me, we hitchhiked down to the walled medieval city of Carcasonne. I remember sitting outside the back walls of Carcasonne, drinking very cheap wine, tearing off pieces of bread, cutting sausage and camembert cheese, ending with an apple and chocolate. Simple. But my friend died young, and I remember almost every aspect of that meal.

Keith Taylor is the author of Marginalia for a Natural History, forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press in 2011.