Erin Taylor’s oooo
A couple things about hugs that are worth noting before moving onto the review proper: 1) hugs last as long as either party wants them to (or doesn’t want them to), 2) hugs establish a connection between the body and the mind that precedes any thought on either party’s part, 3) hugs can come at the perfect time.
The opening poem “a letter to the Beijing Metro” introduces a key theme used skillfully throughout the chapbook – the connection between the reader (you), the “you” of poetry, and the author/speaker. (The authorial connection to the speaker is a strong point in Taylor’s poetry, and she uses it throughout the chap wonderfully.) Immediately, a spark is created between “you and I and our/ humanity”, creating a pitch that doesn’t let up until after the end of the poem when Taylor has offered a seemingly life-or-death injunction to “say something with meaning!/ say something with longing!” (4). If that wasn’t enough to convince you of her argument, she connects it back to her own experience brilliantly by saying, “I too have that longing/ you know what I speak of.” (4). The poem works better as an introduction to the chapbook than as a standalone poem where it can feel disembodied and a bit pushy, but here it works wonders, ending with the word “yours” to remind you of your human duties to love others (discussed in the first half mostly) and yourself (discussed in the second half mostly).
“the oceans are rising” is the perfect second poem to a severely loving and commanding first poem: a lithe and seemingly effortless extended meditation into our birthright to love and be loved and to honor ones parents. (It’s said better than that of course, but you get the idea.) This poem establishes the connection between the affecting and the colloquial that is one of the hallmarks of Taylor’s engaging style. In the first half of the chap, pitch doesn’t matter because the subject matter is at once so engaging and relatable. This has something to do with the way the poems are laid out on the page: a stream of perfectly short or long lines down the page without stanza breaks. Erin Taylor is talking about things of such importance that your silly stanza breaks would only interrupt their urgency and render them meaningless!
The poem that opens up the chap thematically for the amazing second half is the dead-center “perth, australia. december 22nd 2015.” If the first half introduced themes of longing, loneliness, the ineffability of human contact, love, and sex, the second half complicates things by both getting more personal and broadening the frame a bit. The Perth poem locates all this longing and personal statements until right before a fever pitch, and the second half is the breath out from the first half’s long inhale. (And how fitting is it that the poem immediately before the Perth poem is an extended reflection on personal connections plus or minus sex – this comprises the final ecstatic breath in.)
Although the poems I’ve mentioned are the most fully realized in the collection, the way these poems wind around each other is a thing of beauty. The chap wears its dense structure lightly so that it can better move around its human themes. What at first seem like simple declarations of love become something larger than life – well, larger than just yourlife. One of the most powerful poems in the collection adds powerful social commentary to the chap right before the last couple of poems. “i wish i could give bell hooks a hug in trying times” comes before the gorgeous last few poems (wherein the poet alights on the consciousness like a helpful and memorable afterthought). This poem lends the collection moral seriousness and provides an example of love being twisted and taken advantage of, the negative side of what she’s been speaking of this whole time. (But to say they are sides of the same coin would be to miss Taylor’s point entirely. These moments of abuse interrupt the normal flow of the stanzas and all the mental and emotional progress the speaker has made on their journey towards being a more loving human being.)
One of my favorite things about Erin Taylor’s writing is the blending of impermanence and permanence until the terms no longer matter (“we all chose to forget our impermanence/ until we felt solid again.” from “a day before everything got cold”), until the things you thought you knew no longer matter and you are left with the naked fact of existence (“with you”). Although this may strike some as less than liberating, Taylor lifts the nature of this revelation into something a friend would say to you nicely and at the right time, so that the episode you’re experiencing can not only expire quicker but make a more lasting impression (“a friendship in symbols”). The hard-fought lessons in OOOO also eliminate the need for lessons in the first place, something life teaches you but only later, this ultimate lesson coming after a requisite attachment to sitcom finality and immature bow-tied resolution (“I love lucy meets night of the living dead”). This is the after-effects of realizing there is no after, and it’s reassuring to be told this from someone who truly cares. What can be more loving?
OOOO is now available from Bottlecap Press.
Blake Wallin is the author of the chapbooks Otherwise Jesus (Ghost City Press, 2015) and No Sign on the Island (Bottlecap Press, 2016) as well as the microchap The Lucidity of Giving Up (Ghost City Press, 2016). He is the Reviews/Interviews Editor for Ghost City Review.