Black-Eyed Heifer, by Shelly Taylor
Review by Geoffrey Olsen
Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2010
Opening myself to these poems in Shelly Taylor’s Black-Eyed Heifer, I feel the hinterland of inside. Movement into place, feeling the erasure of discrete and safe. The feeling that this work is exposed, that the land is wild, allowed fallow but alert to so much life. It feels pastoral in that one is here in this wild, but there isn’t the safety of distance. Its romanticism isn’t projected on the landscape. The landscape folds in out. It’s not stationary enough for mapping. It doesn’t want it. It bucks.
There’s an enactment here of memoir, memory as multiform, shifting open structures. Imagination interacts with the form of memory. Is it a political happening? Remembering body’s place in the structure, it’s enacted social. Sifting through memory – situating mind and imagination. The mind is all through the situated space, both in the south and in New York City. The presence is rich colors, flavor, scent, touch—sensory everywhere.
“If there was a road it did not symmetry” this is this farmland form-land. Open, this figure (Shelly?) meeting city/country. Language touching this or furrowing this field. This refusal of symmetry. Brooklyn, the south overgrown, density of language to growing into this geography. The self in these poems not mapped onto surface. Surfaces surge, life so animate wild. Poem foal foaming feral.
Docility as opposed core. It’s always opposed. The writer and writing and being not to be domestic.
Figures morphing. The man-pony hybrid sprints through it—all poem musculature. Bodied being flips between man animal. Who is the man? Man appears here. Erotics flux in and out. There’s a “he” that’s defining the terrain somehow, makes it “fine for walking”. Defines all, leaves no exit:
“The man chooses not to see outside of, says my moods this, whisks the eggs.” Inside/ outside divide assessed, sealing off blooming. How male is closed to these shifts and transformations. Man: “One day I’ll count on you to get a job and be comforted.”
The horse that shows up throughout the book. Shot on the race-track, we read it bleeding out it’s too much. Though you can’t look away, you are there too with the red-haired woman who wants to buy the horse. The market appears. Is this America? They try to buy it but it’s too late; the horse is dying. They have to shoot it. This is so painful.
“What got situated.” Writing the poem to be situated, but not. “this come here now (the desire to kneel, call the thing until it returns whole & unbothered) or back sans of it, away.”
“Sister/ I fear I nurse everything I’ve been told not to: all dark musculature of a two-sided outside face, mouth & jawline sculpting a bust protocol—even you, who are not.”
This showing the way, fearlessly. Fearless though feeling the local root structure. Not letting that go. I respond in these poems to the generation of the state that is called-up, situated, localized throughout this work. These states are momentary. The poem does not exist as a withdrawal, a return giving fullness. Possession is impossible. “On a lam through the woods there is never a safety net/ The briars! The briars!”
Taylor’s local as form. Local as place but also experience of language as localized. Points of the body where the language is enacted and engaged with so that Brooklyn and the South are spatial ranges experienced through Taylor’s personal idiom, but they are also localized language perceptions. They are through Taylor’s language.
The roads too of Brooklyn. It’s cold here in the winter. Taylor is exposed to the vulnerabilities of this climate, the words are open to that coldness –take it inward. A poem as relation to place is old old but ever language innovates when present with words as local. Surface, skin and body breathe into words and poems. There’s a warmth to this presentedness. The gestures are friendly “& since I’m country I smile at everyone.” Poem as open warmth but that’s vulnerable. Dangerous to be sincere in a city poem. There are aches the words can’t withdraw from the poem’s bones.
Constant bodily movement. The language is physical. It’s tough, stringy with muscles. You feel the language, but it’s physicality is also feeling you. The mind responds to the physical tactility. Haptic.
Horses tear out breakneck & moon-eyed
dark exposed carousel circling corewood horses
teeth-gnashed bodies reared against impalement
Dense: one seeks in then moves their way out.
Subterranean structure here: narrative skin, surface movement textures underlying deep musculature. Narrative massages thought form underneath. What does that look like? It’s building something under burgeoning depth. This is the response to the locale—it’s not its presented surface, but the mood, structure, life, love of there. One responds to that form, underneath, and gets glimpses. Though money, work, and all city/country entails intervene in the form, poem gets at the thing deeper. It’s something like the personal idiom of the locale, the form revealing gradually. Melancholic but celebration. Eerie how it slides between expectation, memory and desire.
It’s uncontrollable. The pony/poem not tameable.
Geoffrey Olsen lives in Brooklyn, New York and works at the Cooper Union in Manhattan. He is the author of the chapbook End Notebook (petrichord press, 2008). His chapbook, Not of Distends * Address Panicked, is available from Minutes Books at http://notofdistends.blogspot.com/. Photo by Lawrence Schwartzwald.