So they say a distinctive of Southern writing is attention to “place?” If not obsession with? What, you mean like Spanish moss dripping from live oaks on the old plantation? Oh come on, the South has so gotten over Tara. The South is the Doobie Brothers at Merle Fest in North Wilkesboro last weekend. The South is Beer Fest in Raleigh last month, a hundred artisanal microbrews. And the South is the Piedmont Land Conservancy preserving the Mitchell River watershed, or the grand opening on May 21 of the restoration of historic Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head, home of the newest NC Aquarium.
You can say that Southern writing celebrates connection to place, but I’d put the emphasis on the first word in the phrase. Connection. And that’s what I get when I read the poems of Richard Allen Taylor. Connection to a moment — as if the lines I’m reading have just popped into his head and I’m party to the tangled warp of consciousness poised to say, “Ah ha!” Connection to people, not only all manner of ex-lovers but also that tall waitress with the dark hair, and then the rest of the just slightly off-center characters he seems to encounter everywhere he goes. OK, OK, and connection to place, too, especially his hometown of Charlotte: the notorious ice storms, stuck in traffic on the beltway, deep into re-write with his writer’s group. And as the reader, I discover after each poem that I feel more and more connected with Richard. Even when he’s writing about the murkiest wanderings of the heart, and certainly with every tart turn of phrase and crisp newly minted image, he just can’t help but be his quirky crack-me-up self. (Hmmm . . . maybe that’s a distinctive of Southern writing, too.)
So there’s a lot more to geography than getting from here to there or droppin’ in to set a spell. The connections within these poems are personal, revealing; they invite me into the poem and into a relationaship with the poet. He and I, lets take us a rollicking road trip together, through the geography of the heart.
Geography of the Heart
She was never happy in Charleston, though I loved
the sultry nights there, silken breezes from the harbor
where the Cooper joins the Ashley and dark ships
plod like old mules past Patriot’s Point,
plow into the fog beyond Fort Sumter,
stern lights fading to nothingness.
She grew bored with the moist softness of the South,
mountains low, lowlands tame. She took me
to her desert, a crackling skillet — wildfires,
burnt sagebrush, soot-blackened ponderosa.
On the way to Tahoe she showed me poles by the road
over Mt. Rose, put there to measure the snow
and guide the plows away from the edge. The Sierras,
in a hurry to fall down, tossed boulders like dice
across the brown valleys. She loved living
where desert and mountain can kill. Nevada — her dream,
not mine. She kissed me goodbye in Reno,
completing my degree in geography of the heart.
Richard Allen Taylor, from Punching Through the Egg of Space, Main Street Rag Publishing, 2010
Richard Allen Taylor, sample poems