Oregon Ferry Review   Richard Taylor  Rain Shadow


Richard Taylor. Rain Shadow. Frankfort, KY: Broadstone Books, 2014. 978-1-937968-11-3. Paperback. 96 pages. $18.00  

Rain Shadow     Richard TaylorRichard 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 expectation.”  

          This divide also delineates
          the wide continent of the heart,
          the razory spine of loving/not loving.
(“Rain Shadow”)

The book examines this divide in carnal and familial love, in grief, and in love of the natural world.

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

          Somewhere between campaigning
          to purge exotics and the extreme
          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 while driving.

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.)

          Again and again, what must be instinct
          or feathery workings of its avian brain
          dictate a pattern of flight and resettlement—
          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 the currents.
                    (“Great Blue”)

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 Manifest Destiny,
          philosophers as inexorable Fate, mammals
          as a desperate groping toward primal warmth.
                    (“Continental Drift”)

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 snow,

          sensors in its vascular memory
          persuaded like the bride in Browning’s

          My Last Duchess — warm, impetuous,
          trusting —  . . .

          the Duke is winter —

          his haughtiness of tone,
          the clench of his fingers, ice.
                    (“Global Warming”)

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 possibility
          runs the duration of the fence.

Grief is hydrangea stalks sticking out of the snow

          They seem to chafe in dissent.
          They waver but persist.
          As we do.
          All there is left to do now
          is put more flax seed in the feeder.

And “The Way of Things” is a restaurant where the trade is steady, people come and go, and

          You are in deep conversation
          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 cold.
                    (“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.

— Sherry Chandler