Taylor. Rain Shadow. Frankfort,
KY: Broadstone Books, 2014. 978-1-937968-11-3.
Paperback. 96 pages. $18.00
Richard Taylor’s poetic voice is so restrained, so
easily learned, with so dry and self-deprecating a wit that the reader
must slow down, breathe quietly, and pay calm heed. Only then can one
appreciate just how incisive these poems are. Rain
Shadow gives us passion recalled in tranquility by a mind Maurice
Manning describes as “wholly arrived at peace.”
A rain shadow is a condition of drought on the lee
side of a mountain range. In the very first poem, the title poem, we are
taken to a mountain top to look down on “a riot of green” to windward
and parched earth to the lee, a place that “thirst[s] in sullen
This divide also delineates
the wide continent of the
the razory spine of
The book examines this
divide in carnal and familial love, in grief, and in love of the natural
The poet invites us to share a deep reverence for
nature but he is not a crusader, does not offer answers. Rather “I more
often stand as Darwin’s witness” (“Homeland Security”). In poems
with titles like “One Fine Day at September’s End” and “Water
Hauling on Sunday Morning,” we’re given a portrait of an Everyman
distracted by the necessities of living and making a living, with “no
language” to warn the doe of the impending hunting season. He exists
to purge exotics and the
of floral laissez-faire . .
Often he shows us the busy routine disrupted,
transfixed by a vision of the natural world: stopped in his tracks by a
flock of wild turkeys while rushing off to the dentist, counting birds on
a wire while filling his water tank, seeing a fractal flight of starlings
Encounters with nature are sometimes used as wider
metaphors, almost as parables, as in “Great Blue” in which a kayaker
on Elkhorn Creek repeatedly disturbs the heron of the title as both bird
and boat move downstream. (The bird “aggrandizes into motion,” a rare
use of flashy language in this book that delights me.)
and again, what must be instinct
or feathery workings of its
dictate a pattern of flight
the ritual of refugees
following, like water,
a path of least resistance
. . .
realizing finally that most
of us are prisoners
who will never dare defy
This device Eliot called the “objective
correlative,” evoking emotion through sensory experience of the external
world. With or without the label, Taylor is deft at couching his
philosophy in the language of the real.
One of my great pleasures in reading Taylor’s work
lies in watching him extend a metaphor, whether it be in comparing a
bedfellow who steals the cover to continental drift
. . Physics affirms
that it is the nature of
things to move.
Historians write it off as
philosophers as inexorable
as a desperate groping
toward primal warmth.
or seeing global warming in terms of Browning’s
“My Last Duchess”
. . .Three months early
these feathering wands [of
forsythia] are mismatched,
a blind date of silk and
sensors in its vascular
persuaded like the bride in
My Last Duchess — warm, impetuous,
. . .
the Duke is winter —
his haughtiness of tone,
the clench of his fingers,
Taylor gives us wisdom found in life’s small
moments, uncovering a snake in piled lumber, rousing up at night to set
hanging ferns out in the rain, trying to interest bored students. Love is
a “ribbon of snow” sheltered from the winter sun by the top rail of a
fence “like an inverted shadow”:
This strand of purest
runs the duration of the
Grief is hydrangea stalks sticking out of the snow
They seem to chafe in
They waver but persist.
As we do.
All there is left to do now
is put more flax seed in
And “The Way of Things” is a restaurant where the
trade is steady, people come and go, and
You are in deep
with someone who means
something to you.
. . .
And you have said all that
needs to be said.
And the coffee at the
bottom of the cup
has puddled, muddy and
(“The Way of Things”)
Richard Taylor bio:
Richard Taylor, a past Poet
Laureate of Kentucky, is Kenan Visiting Writer at Transylvania University
in Lexington. He was named Distinguished Professor of English at Kentucky
State University and has been awarded two creative writing fellowships
from the National Endowment for the Arts. Taylor has written two novels
and several non-fiction books. Rain
Shadow is his ninth collection of poetry.