Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: No End in Strangeness: New and Selected Poems, by Bruce Taylor

In his luminous and bewitching new collection of poetry, Bruce Taylor uses his artistic eye to find the big worlds contained within little things. In a suite of 30 new pieces that complement a selection of older work going back nearly 25 years, Taylor examines the macro complexities that exist inside small, everyday objects or experiences.

The title of the collection, No End in Strangeness, comes from the second poem in the book, a long piece called “Little Animals” (“And there is no end to them,/ no end in numbers,/ and no end in strangeness/ no end to their appetites…”) where Taylor writes about the clockwork machinations of scientific exploration and the bodily richness one finds in the animal world. The poem begins with

That old book has a million moving parts,
and when you open it to look inside,
they all spill out, like the escapement
from a sproinged clock,
spelling up the life and correspondence
of a Dutch cloth merchant called van Leeuwenhoek

and goes on to obsessively track the minutiae that connects the visceral discoveries of biology with the automations of the machine. This could be a metaphor for Taylor’s book as a whole. Indeed, this obsession with the small permeates many of these poems: from the glimpse the poet gets of his own heart in “Echocardiogram” to the experiment of growing mold in the opening piece “Nature”, the poet provides us with a window into the hidden worlds that surround us all.

Taylor is also adept at painting a picture of human behaviour inside a framed microcosm of experience. Anyone who has ever been trapped in a flame war on the Internet will recognize their ordeals in “Entities”, where the narrator goes online to get some simple gardening advice on tomatoes and finds himself embroiled in, among other things, mudslinging about the US Civil War. The dynamic is as hilarious as it is apt.

Not every poem in the collection worked for me. Sometimes the subject of a piece warranted a tighter, more concise execution, and a few of the poems—especially “Our Things”, a poetic personification of everyday objects—felt a tad overwritten.

As for the older poems in the selection, while they don’t hold together with as much of a common theme as the newer poems do, there are still some real gems here that stand on their own. I’m thinking specifically of “Tackle”, a beautifully descriptive romp through a fisherman’s box of lures, and “March 1”, a meditation on both time and Time as the author turns 35.

Taylor’s gifts are apparent in nearly every poem—a keen eye, a talent for metaphor, and a quiet, understated ability to lift an object up to get a view of its fascinating underbelly. No End in Strangeness will provide the reader with no end in treasure.

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