Outside the Law and Honest A poet’s consideration of life in the America of Ronald Reagan BY BRYCE MILLIGAN WHAT DO YOU WANT, BLOOD? Poetry by Chuck Taylor Austin: Slough Press, 1988 112 pages, $14.95 CHUCK TAYLOR has subtitled his latest collection of poems, “poetry for people who feel poetry has forgotten them.” Indeed, this is bugle-inthe-ear-stuff -not exactly your “clarion call” to higher things, but then as the title asks, “What Do You Want, Blood?” Written mostly during the Reagan era, a lot of these poems scream out from the depths of fiscal and cultural depression, as if the subtitle should read, “poetry for poets who feel people have forgotten them.” Not that What Do You Want, Blood? is overly solipsistic; it is quite simply and unapologetically accurate in its recurrent theme set within a dozen different contexts that a creative persona in America is quite as likely to be asked for blood as insight. Taylor opens this collection with a manifesto of sorts, entitled “refusal to serve on committees,” in which he writes: Bryce Milligan is a freelance writer and editor of the literary quarterly Vortex. CIAR14113111 “Best Lodging Location for Fishermen & Beachgoers” Group Discounts P.O. Box 8 Port Aransas, TX 78373 Send for Free Gulf & Bay Fishing Information in a world that for centuries has convinced good minds to spend their lives engineering infinite and ingenious instruments for murder catapults to heat-seeking missiles someone must stop: listen to the earthworm chart its course, hear the woman in the other room weeping, make merry with the gods, and do the waiting. Taylor, even more than most uninstitutionalized poets, has done a little of everything. A veteran hippie, he has done time in the halls of academe, on construction sites, and in office typing pools. He has managed bookstores \(read: lived in bookand finally, as the lines above indicate, stopped everything to listen and to write. What the poet brings to us out of all that experience is a D’Artagnon-like intelligence an intelligence at once streetwise and at times willingly naive, yet combined with a truly educated appreciation of cultural realities. In the book’s second poem, Taylor stops to ponder the relevance of a total commitment to creativity. The stakes are high, extremely high he tells us, while he intimates that not to take the gamble may well produce equally painful ends. In this poem, “carpet and cereal,” he questions the spectre of one Maryse, the author of Give Sorrow Words who was murdered in Mexico while on a quest for the sort of experience that would define her to herself: Maryse. You got your book. Was it worth it, this Christ atoning? Was it worth it, the PR, when you could have laughed for years over cigarettes, poured milk on cereal for children, and vacuumed carpet, could even have joined a company, carried briefcase and served the corporate masters. Was it worth it? TAYLOR’S POEMS are punctuated with personas like Maryse, who exist so far out on the margins of middle class reality that most people do not notice them. But there are others. Judith, for example, a “mild-mannered librarian” to most people, whose poems burned with a passion for life even as she was dying of cancer. Or the Dallas secretary, who moves through her office “like any woman would / barefoot / 30 miles outside Nairobi / balancing / a water jug / on her head.” But while visions of beauty float like sugarplum dreams, the poet sees also the madness of the office corps: “i love my job i love my job” chants the chorus in “song of the typing pool.” The poet hears the refrain “over and over / orf the news in the papers / during soapoperas and from / the oval office, i love my job.” Younger than the poet by a generation, and older by a millennium or two, the typing pool mystifies one who is the child “of a former time of affluence / that gave us time and leisure / to be bohemian.” That line recalls one of Bob Dylan’s better aphorisms something of a credo for both reviewer and reviewee here: “To live outside the law, you must be honest.” Taylor has certainly lived outside the laws governing social conformity, and he is nothing if not honest. There is an ultimate honesty in these poems which tells of both personal and public pains and joys, and the transformational process whereby the former feeds the latter. Through such personal insights, we glimpse a microcosm of non-academic poetics common throughout this country; a nostalgic yearning for rural romanticism fused with a driving political will just this side of anarchism. This tug of war is graphically depicted in Taylor’s cartoon sketches scattered throughout the book. Taylor oscillates between’ these points, often within the same poem, all the while repeatedly amplifying the sense that there are more wrongs than we can right, yet that not to speak out is suicidal. “In the old days,” he tells us, poets could warn society through “subtle prophecies / indicating a doubtful future.” But it has gone beyond the power of poets. “But now the messages slap us in the face; / the air has grown teeth, / it chews the noses, ears and chins / of the statues of the Parthenon.” Even so, the message fails to stir us. “What do you want,” asks the poet, “blood?” 0 12 SEPTEMBER 15, 1989
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