Review of Shelly Taylor’s Black-Eyed Heifer

6 mins read

The man chooses not to see outside of, says my mood’s this, whisks the eggs. An otherwise performance would be a negation of hands into birdcage from which the rose trees grow & so might I, two feet alliance. Fail there & the aster is red sleeper; asters can be red & all October her laden. Since forever is today & today my horse a bike, I call her person, ‘we’ – we go to visit the Brooklyn Bridge. It is ten miles or so roundtrip & since I’m country I smile at everyone, dust off my wheel hoofs & think winter similar to marriage…  when you sell a horse he will not come back.

from Keylight

Shelly Taylor’s first collection Black-Eyed Heifer (Tarpaulin Sky) inhabits the possibilities of language, indigenous in its diction, but radically unfamiliar in its jagged syntax and extended lines. This is neither an experimental or pastoral poetry, but a fusion of speech and intellect that reflect a poet who is deeply rooted in the earth, its dirt and concrete, its horses and cats, but speaks in a rhythm that explodes into space, taps into the pacing of a 21st century phantasmagoric, recollected, American landscape and self. If you made Robert Creeley write lines the length of Frank Stanford’s The Battlefield Where The Moon says I love you, gave them both the sensibility and precise diction of a contemporary Emily Dickinson riding on a horse fast enough to get from Athens to Brooklyn in 10 minutes, then you’d get something like Taylor’s poems. The pacing is high octane, pyrotechnic, but the discursive function of the content is old school, familiar, and impressively defiant.

Gibraltar, I give you away so easy, shekels, for you are just a baby-/girl I husband myself, still think on. Herein this grand sash/ around her waist, this part of the/ ‘the’: the street kicks, my teeth grit & someone lets out a holler more rebel than get/ yourself on over to my yard sale

From Drowning miss g

Corruption, the loss of innocence, and the perversion of a southern culture and landscape take center stage, but a woman, if she be a poet, rebels against what taints, what comforts, what distills an ideal world into a fallen country. This is no book of nostalgia, but a future battle cry against what was lost and those who remain apathetic.

So I dam up those that need/ a sand-swirling – save the precious – come to change the earth awhile;

And later

And for G,/ whom I know would be wearing a blue bathing suit out on the street pulling hair & kicking as I did, kin of biters, two little broken selves. Blue/ like my first mare Sissy’s eye gone cancerous or blind or worsening like cataracts do, or, a blue for her blindness & mine all the more. Elphin orphan/ child in a honey pot that learnt stir, that against her best learned stay when I said/ it’s time now.

From Drowning miss g

There is a tension and violence to this work between men and women that is paralleled in our relationship to nature. What one discovers in nature is a peace in loneliness. In cityscape, to cultivate that peace, the speaker often alludes to a fantasy spinster version of herself as crazy cat lady, queen of the feline.

damn this man & now that all the street cats have eaten by my hand, I know no more than lonely women who talk the cats up, is how it goes. If I had home enough I’d bring them all in, talk to them Sunday-to-Monday, feed them; self-loathing, you owe the truth.

And later

Men with guns all/sizes, sad now because the city-wide/ordinance, no guns. This is the modernity./ Sons believe I’m a witch done cursed/the field of its deer, by morning/ come home empty-handed. Land voodoo,/ we women love four legs. Tell me now how fine/ mine are.

From For Love

Perhaps what will save us from each other, and from our own ‘self-loathing’ is imagination, is play. Taylor’s greatest gift to us as poet is her ability to revivify words, conjure up a past language and renew our affiliation with it. She uses sound as a way to build intimacy, seduces us by it, and pushes us away just at the right times, just enough to keep us wanting more. In that push & pull we fall in love, and for that this book is a triumph.

keep your flashlight still, this bear / he just might choke me. Anyone can/ save a frog though certain animals are more or less tricky. Along came / a spider & sat down beside ‘er. I engage myself with & as the photographer, / & with & as the photographer I dress my red lips rightly.

From Call the thing til it returns unbothered

-Jake Levine