Thursday, May 24, 2012

A Richard Taylor Poem

Richard Taylor owns Poor Richard's Bookstore in Frankfort. Taylor earned a Ph.D. in English from the University of Kentucky and a J.D. degree from Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. He served as Kentucky's Poet Laureate from 1999-2000. He is the author of 5 books of poetry, two novels and several non-fiction books. Taylor presently teaches at Transylvania University in Lexington.

Having lived in Kentucky for more than 20 years (the longest I've lived in any one state or country), I have come to appreciate the images and nuances of Taylor's poetry.  My small farm had many sycamores, mostly along the lower range of my property where there was a creek.  Some were shapely and others were gnarly misfits, yet with the ubiquitous cedar, the sycamore comprises the distinctive Kentucky landscape.

The poem that follows speaks specifically of Kentucky, though all readers can appreciate Taylor's evocative language. Writing teachers will find questions about this poem here.

In Praise of Sycamores
    For David Orr (1942-1989)

Mention that tree around here
and you summon up Paul Sawyier
our local impressionist
whose creekscapes blaze with sycamores,
gaudy lemons and ochers
that burn in some eternal summer,
their broad leaves shimmering
above the placid nooks
of some angler's dream.

Cross-grained, unsplittable,
their wood makes butchers' blocks
and not much else
beyond nourishment for the eye-
a blue heaven for the artist.
Lugging only his paint kit, bedroll,
and a tin of nightcrawlers,
Sawyier vanished for days up Elkhorn Creek
to commit his gentle arsons,
constellations of briars starring
the worsteds above his scruffy boots.

Each sycamore is the product of place.
Elbowed by neighbors along the creek,
its crown is vase-shaped, almost modest,
its stem as columnar as swans.

But on open ground it spreads
in pearly tiers like antlers,
its twists and goose-necked  spirals
elegant as candelabra,
the trophy of some buried stag.
Winter's tree,
its bark is winter's flag,
an utterance of ice.

Unlike the cedar,
its architecture does not tame itself
to models, will not repeat.
Answering only to persuasions
of rainfall and light,
of soil and creekside rivals,
it persists
as a miscellany of upthrust limbs
whose scoured bark
gleaming brilliantly white
against the somber hills,
has tracings as precise and eloquent
 as veins on the anatomists's chart,
an embroidery that stitch for stitch
knits up the creek
with filigree and frill
to lend the valleys hereabout
some luster, some civility.

---Richard Taylor

From Five Kentucky Poets Laureate: An Anthology, p. 22; edited by Jane Gentry and Frederick Smock

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