The Forage House

Tess Taylor. Red Hen (CDC, dist.), $17.95 trade paper (88p) ISBN 978-1-59709-270-8
The confessional and historical poems in Taylor’s debut chronicle family history that traces her ancestry to Thomas Jefferson in precisely devised lyrics. Through their close attention to the texture and sound of language, the poems negotiate personal and public history as well as poetic inheritances: “I have one word in their dialect: stime./ Long-ah, half-rhyme with steam, its meaning: not enough,” and elsewhere, a sprung consonance, “winds/ hold renegade voices: fugitive/ of the ravenous grave./ Roving, grieving, a confederate cry.” The speaker often adjoins landmarks and conflict-rich territories: “My parents had already made my life// near the mass grave/ of hundreds of Revolutionary soldiers,/ a cockeyed brownstone full of junkies...” Taylor’s occasional borrowing from other poets further layers her consideration of national and poetic legacy. “Hopkins in Winter” begins: “Grandma taught me ‘It is Margaret we mourn for.’/ I watch her sleep, catheter wobbling.” By evoking literary figures, the poems also take on a playful dimension, an approach to heritage that aims to keep the dead alive through writing: “Thoreau listens to the train at night,/ traveling with it in mind as our stewardess arrives with pretzels... I order tomato juice. He calls a mosquito a siren.” Though history and memory are treated with earnestness and exactitude, Taylor’s delight in language keeps the poems fresh and surprising. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/01/2013
Release date: 08/01/2013
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