the horse and rider have to be together

Sarah Fay: How do you know when you’ve finished [a poem]? 

Jack Gilbert: If I’m writing well it comes to an end with an almost-audible click. When I started out I wouldn’t write a poem until I knew the first line and the last line and what it was about and what would make it a success. I was a tyrant and I was good at it. But the most important day in my career as a writer was when Linda said, Did you ever think of listening to your poems? And my poetry changed. I didn’t give up making precreated poetry, but you have to write a poem the way you ride a horse—you have to know what to do with it. You have to be in charge of a horse or it will eat all day—you’ll never get back to the barn. But if you tell the horse how to be a horse, if you force it, the horse will probably break a leg. The horse and rider have to be together. 

Fay: Is that why your style is unadorned and not ornamental? 

Gilbert: Oh, I like ornament at the right time, but I don’t want a poem to be made out of decoration. If you like that kind of poetry, more power to you, but it doesn’t interest me. When I read the poems that matter to me, it stuns me how much the presence of the heart—in all its forms—is endlessly available there. To experience ourselves in an important way just knocks me out. It puzzles me why people have given that up for cleverness. Some of them are ingenious, more ingenious than I am, but so many of them aren’t any good at being alive.

Fay: You once likened it to a poet giving birth without ever getting pregnant. 

Gilbert: Yes. A lot of poets don’t have any poems to write. After their first book, what are they going to do? They can’t keep saying their hearts are broken. They start to write poems about childhood. Then what do they do? Some of it is just academic poetry—they learn how to write the poem perfectly. But I don’t think anybody should be criticized because their taste is different from mine. Such poems are extraordinarily deft. There’s a lot of art in them. But I don’t understand where the meat is. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with this kind of poetry. It won’t change my life, so why should I read it? Why should I write it? 
By the time some writers—particularly poets—are twenty-seven or twenty-eight they’ve often used up the germinal quality that is their writing, the thing that is their heart. Not for the great poets, but for many poets this is true. The inspiration starts to wane. Many have learned enough to cover that with devices or technique or they just go back and write the same stories about their childhood over and over. It’s why so much poetry feels artificial.

- Jack Gilbert in conversation with Sarah Fay, for Gilbert's Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here


adult dreams

A couple of decades ago, I finished going all the way around the world. And after that I suddenly realized I had lived all of my dreams. I had lots of them and I’ve fulfilled them all. Now it’s time to live the adult dreams, if I can find them. The others were dreams from childhood—first love and such, which is wonderful. It’s interesting to discover that we don’t have adult dreams—pleasure and pride, but not really adult dreams.

Let me try to explain. I have a poem, “Trying to Have Something Left Over,” in which I’ve been unfaithful to my wife and she knows it and she’s mad. It’s the last night and I’m going to say goodbye to Anna, the other woman. She’s had a baby—not by me—and her husband has left her because he couldn’t take all that muck of a baby being born. This is the last night I’ll ever see her and I feel incredibly tender and grateful and loving toward her. And we’re not in bed—previously we had a wild relationship. Anyway, here’s the last night to say goodbye. She’s cleaning house quietly and sadly, and I’m entertaining her boy, her baby, throwing him up in the air and catching him. It’s a poem about that. Sad and tender. A truly adult dream. Profound tenderness.

That’s what I like to write as poems. Not because it’s sad, but because it matters. So much poetry that’s written today doesn’t need to be written. I don’t understand the need for trickery or some new way of arranging words on a page. You’re allowed to do that. You’re allowed to write all kinds of poetry, but there’s a whole world out there.

- Jack Gilbert, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here


done and undone by his own writing

Ronald Christ: You have written many reviews and journal articles. 

Jorge Luis Borges: Well, I had to do it. 

Christ: Did you choose the books you wanted to review? 

Borges: Yes, I generally did. 

Christ: So the choice does express your own tastes? 

Borges: Oh yes, yes. For example, when somebody told me to write a review of a certain history of literature, I found there were so many howlers and blunders, and as I greatly admire the author as a poet, I said, No, I don't want to write about it, because if I write about it I shall write against it. I don't like to attack people, especially now - when I was a young man, yes, I was very fond of it, but as time goes on, one finds that it is no good. When people write in favor or against anybody, that hardly helps or hurts them. I think that a man can be helped, well, the man can be done or undone by his own writing, not by what other people say of him, so that even if you brag a lot and people say that you are a genius - well, you'll be found out.

- Jorge Luis Borges, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.


a poet has maybe five or six poems to write


Ronald Christ: I have often wondered how you go about arranging works in those collections. Obviously the principle is not chronological. Is it similarity of theme? 

Jorge Luis Borges: No, not chronology; but sometimes I find out that I've written the same parable or story twice over, or that two different stories carry the same meaning, and so I try to put them alongside each other. That's the only principle. Because, for example, once it happened to me to write a poem, a not too good poem, and then to rewrite it many years afterwards. After the poem was written, some of my friends told me, Well, that's the same poem you published some five years ago. And I said, Well, so it is! But I hadn't the faintest notion that it was. After all, I think that a poet has maybe five or six poems to write and not more than that. He's trying his hand at rewriting them from different angles and perhaps with different plots and in different ages and different characters, but the poems are essentially and innerly the same.

- Jorge Luis Borges, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.


Strangers in the wild, pt. 2

Strangers keeps doing its little thing in the world! (You can read part one here.)

Jeremy Shepherd of the Tri-Cities Dispatch published a very generous profile of me and the book.

An excerpt which got me giggling:

"He was a student at Gleneagle when a teacher presented him with the poetry of William Carlos Williams (Taylor recently cultivated a poetry nerd following on Twitter by composing numerous tweets about eating icebox plums)... Since then, poetry has become a lifelong vocation."

You can read the whole profile here.

rob mclennan, whose eponymous blog has been much linked-to here, has provided a very generous review of Strangers. A quote:

“The poems exude grief and joy, enthusiasm and fear; at times, simultaneously, as though an emotional well has found new depths. When one first begins to have children, parallels present themselves quickly, offering opportunities to reevaluate one’s own childhood, often for the first time, and in new and unexpected ways. And yet, this is a book of multiple transitions, repeatedly asking how one might get there from here, and wondering how one might survive.”

You can read the whole review here.

Joseph Planta of thecommentary.ca was kind enough to take time to interview me about the book! 

We talked about all sorts of things, including how poetry can help us explore dark territory and keep us company during difficult times.

You can listen to/download that interview here.

Lastly, I posted last week that Chris Banks had provided a thoughtful review of Strangers for The Miramichi Reader. The good news has kept coming from their site, where Strangers was just longlisted for their "The Very Best!" Book Award for Poetry (alongside amazing titles by Shaun Robinson, Evelyn Lau, and others I have yet to have a chance to read). It's a heck of an honour (I love awards that are grassroots organized and have a sense of humour about themselves!), especially as the book has yet to even be officially "launched" into the world!

That launch will take place online tomorrow (May 27th, at 7 PM EDT/ 4 PM PDT) and will feature Luke Hathaway, Sue Sinclair and Sadiqa de Meijer. You can RSVP for the event via Facebook or simply click over to the YouTube page at the correct time.

Thank you - yeesh! - to everyone who's helped support the book so far, via reviews, interviews, profiles, etc. It means so much to me!


New Strangers Review

A second review of Strangers is in! This one meant so much to me because it was written by Chris Banks, a poet whose writing and blogging have meant a lot to me (as you can see if you check out my ten Chris Banks "quotes" here on this site, which reach back over the last twelve years!). As Chris mentions in the review, Strangers features a quote from Chris' second book, The Cold Panes of Surfaces

The quote accompanies the book's dedication to my father and two brothers: "For we are who we are, and more, all that is ridden within us / in the same way our fathers are not our fathers but someone / else’s inconsolable sons" ("LaHave River, Cable Ferry").

So I suppose Chris wasn't a fully unbiased reader, nor am I a fully unbiased recipient. Chris' attention being given to my book was an absolute joy. His observation that the book focuses on "grief for a larger world that is constantly passing forever into the past" echoes one of my favourite conversations, between Stephanie Bolster and Don Coles, on the"presentiment of loss" in Coles' poetry. I hadn't realized - slow as one is to see their own work - that I was in part drawn to that conversation because I think and write in similar ways. 

You can read the whole review here: 

Huge thanks to Chris and to The Miramichi Reader for giving the book this space and attention. TMR is doing such excellent work on the other side of the country. Do check them out if you haven't before.

And if you're interested in my book, my online launch of Strangers is less than two weeks away - May 27th! You can learn more (and sign up for an email reminder) here, and RSVP via Facebook here.


Strangers in the wild!

Strangers is officially out there in the world and making things happen!

The book's first review came in, a very thoughtful, generous one courtesy of  Bryce Warnes and The Poetry Question. An excerpt:

“Taylor’s explorations of personal grief are masterful… Strangers is not “just” about grief, any more than grief is “just” about feeling sad. Throughout, we see connections between people in all their tangled, tangling glory, the movement of love running down the lines like electric pulses… Love is immanent, and so is everything else. In Strangers, Taylor welcomes us into his world with open arms.”

You can read the whole review here

I've been able to do two interview for the book, too - one audio and one in print. The spoken one was for Andrew French's Page Fright podcast. Andrew has been good to me in the past, interviewing me last year (just pre-pandemic) about Best Canadian Poetry 2019 and What the Poets Are Doing. This time we talked about the new book, and all sorts of other stuff: creating community during a pandemic, how I like to read a poetry book, my superhero origin story, etc.

You can listen to/download/subscribe to the podcast here.

My second interview was with Michael Edwards, who runs the Red Alder Review. Michael has also been good to me in the past, publishing a haiku of mine just this January. We talked about both Strangers and haiku a good deal in the interview, among other topics. Most pleasing for me, Michael's questions reached back over all four of my books, allowing me to take a bit of a long-view on my writing, and how its led me to this current book. 

You can give that interview a read here.

I've also been delighted to have Strangers appear in all thee of the Quill & QuireCBC Books and 49th Shelf's Spring book roundups, and to see photos of the book appearing here and there on social media, the highest of these honours being Vicki "BookGaga" Ziegler handwriting a poem of mine in her journal (weighed down by the famous tiny pink dumbbell!) - a long held dream for any Canadian poet on Twitter:

I hope I'll have even more updates going forward, but this has been a tremendous start so far! We still have almost a month to go until my Strangers' online launch (feat. Luke Hathaway, Sue Sinclair and Sadiqa de Meijer) and even longer until my (hopefully possible!) in-person outdoor launches in the summer. You can learn more about those here!

If you're interested in the book, I encourage you to order a copy from your local bookstore, or on the Biblioasis website (or, ok, ChaptersAmazon, etc).


Strangers Summer Series

I'm very pleased to announce my plans for launching Strangers over the coming months. It will all kick off with an online launch on May 27th, featuring readings by Sadiqa de Meijer and Sue Sinclair, and hosted by my editor Luke Hathaway. The event will be co-hosted by Biblioasis and Massy Books, which will have books available for sale:

The online launch will *hopefully* **tentatively** ***COVID-willingly*** be followed by a series of small in-person readings in parks around the Lower Mainland, featuring guest readings by Jen Sookfong Lee, Tolu Oloruntoba, Diane Tucker, Tanja Bartel, Dallas Hunt, Shaun Robinson, Barbara Nickel and Molly Cross-Blanchard:

You can learn more about all the events, and register for them, on my website: http://roblucastaylor.com/strangerstour/

You can also RSVP for the online launch on its Facebook Event Page

I'd love to see you at any (or all???) of these events! And if you can't make any events, but are interested in getting a copy of the book, they're now available for order at your local bookstore, or on the Biblioasis website, or those other places.


intelligence has little to do with poetry

Ronald Christ: Did Eliot's work, his poetry, have any effect on your own writing?

Jorge Luis Borges: No, I don't think so.

Christ: I have been struck by certain resemblances between The Waste Land and your story "The Immortal."

Borges: Well, there may be something there, but in that case I'm quite unaware of it because he's not one of the poets I love. I should rank Yeats far above him. In fact, if you don't mind my saying so, I think Frost is a finer poet than Eliot. I mean, a finer poet. But I suppose Eliot was a far more intelligent man; however, intelligence has little to do with poetry. Poetry springs from something deeper; it's beyond intelligence. It may not even be linked with wisdom. It's a thing of its own; it has a nature of its own. Undefinable.   


- Jorge Luis Borges, from his Paris Review interview. You can read the whole thing here.