by Keith Taylor
"A Bird-while. In a natural chronometer, a Bird-while may be admitted as one of the metres, since the space most of the wild birds will allow you to make your observations on them when they alight near you in the woods, is a pretty equal and familiar measure" (Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Journal, 1838). Without becoming didactic or pedantic about the spiritual metaphor hidden in the concept of the "bird-while," Keith Taylor’s collection evokes certain Eastern meditative poets who often wrote in an aphoristic style of the spirit or the mind mirroring specific aspects of the natural world.
The Bird-while is a collection of forty-nine poems that meditate on the nature—both human and non-human—that surrounds us daily. Taylor is in the company of naturalist poets such as Gary Snyder and Mary Oliver—poets who often drew from an Emersonian sensibility to create art that awakens the mind to its corresponding truths in the natural world. The book ranges from the longer poem to the eight line, unrhymed stanza similar to that of the T'ang poet Han-Shan. And without section breaks to reinforce the passing of time, the collection creates greater fluidity of movement from one poem to the next, as if there is no beginning or end, only an eternal moment that is suspended on the page. Tom Pohrt’s original illustrations are scattered throughout the text, adding a stunning visual element to the already vivid language. The book moves from the author’s travel accounts to the destruction of the natural world, even species extinction, to more hopeful poems of survival and the return of wildness. The natural rhythm is at times marred by the disturbances of the twenty-first century that come blaring into these meditations, as when a National Guard jet rumbles over the treeline upsetting a hummingbird, and yet, even the hummingbird is able to regain its balance and continue as before. At its core, Taylor’s collection is a reminder of Emerson’s idea that natural facts are symbols of spiritual facts.
These well-crafted poems will be easily accessible to any literary audience, with a more particular attraction to readers of contemporary poetry sensitive to the marriage of an Eastern sensibility with contemporary American settings and scenes.