Sunday, October 3, 2010

Review of Richard Allen Taylor's "Punching through the Egg of Space"

Review of Punching through the Egg of Space, by Richard Allen Taylor
Main Street Rag, 2010, 75 pages, $14
ISBN: 9781599482385

Sometimes it’s easy to make singular statements about a book of poems. Perhaps the poems in the book cohere around a single narrative, theme, or style. Such singular statements, however, while convenient, usually accurate, and sometimes even helpful, often belie a vital variety and richness in the poems that make them much less artificial than the critical singular statement suggests.

The poems in Richard Allen Taylor’s new collection, Punching through the Egg of Space, vigorously resist any such singular classification, which is not to say that the volume lacks cohesion. There are several currents that run throughout the poems. There are, for example, a significant number of poems about food, writing, and aging. But it would be grossly misleading to say that the book is about any one or even all three of these topics. There are also a number of poems about being Richard Allen Taylor, which within the literary historical context of Confessionalism the reader understands as being about being human. In fact, one of the many strengths of this text is the seamlessness with which Taylor makes us recognize ourselves in poems that seem to be about him. Nevertheless, to say that Punching through the Egg of Space is Confessionalist would also be unfairly and unnecessarily reductionist.

Tony Abbott says this “is a book of joyous affirmation.” Ann Campanella says it is “a song of joy.” And Anne Hicks says “these poems contemplate the role and responsibility of the individual in this world.” They are all right, of course, but neither life nor these poems are simple enough to be described in such singular statements, and recognizing this, Campanella adds that the book is about “the paradox of the human heart” and presents “a constellation of humor, gravity, and exuberance.” It is exactly this combination of qualities that makes Punching through the Egg of Space such an enjoyable read. These are poems written about what it feels like to be alive in the 21st century, a topic immediately relevant to any reader today. As such there is often humor, sadness, irony, philosophical musing, conviction, the loss of conviction, complete uncertainty, surprise, sentimentality, and throughout it all an unmistakable humanity.

Speaking of one friend to another recently I said of the former that he is “a real guy.” I couldn’t possibly explain what I meant by the phrase, but from these poems I suspect Richard Allen Taylor embodies exactly that quality, a real guy who happens to be very good at finding the perfect word and the perfect image to help the rest of us understand what he means.

I thought I would quote a number of poems to make my points in this review, existential lines about the value of effort in “Landing” and “Outbound,” about the irony of success in “After the Moonwalk,” lines illustrating Taylor’s remarkable imagery in “Moonrise -- North Buncombe County, NC” or “Fancying I Know More about Soil Erosion Than the Artist,” lines revealing Taylor’s perspective on writing in “Obscurity,” “White,” or “Token Rebellion,” but lacking the space to give all the deserving poems, lines, and images their due, I will instead conclude with an excerpt of “Playing Catch,” my own favorite poem from the collection and allow it to serve as a teaser to encourage you to read more:

Watch this kid. He throws the ball
across the plate, chases it to the backstop,
hurries back to the pitcher’s mound,
throws the ball again and again, shouting
gentle encouragements.

A munchkin in a Yankees cap, she just stands there,
never swings the bat, shows no interest in hitting.
. . . . . . . . . . //

I try to remember what it was like
to be learning the fundamentals--
love, heartbreak, sacrifice.

This kid makes all his errors
on the giving side, and I root for him.

1 comment:

  1. and what can't be said in the review? Richard is one of the nicest men in poetry :)