March by Andrew Taylor (Shearsman Books, 2017)
Reviewed by Charlie Baylis
Andrew Taylor is a Liverpudlian poet now based in Nottingham. March is his second full collection; it follows Radio Mast Horizon, a considerable number of pamphlets, sound experiments and collaborations with visual artists. The cover of March shows the sea seen through a lighthouse window and shares something with Taylor's recent pamphlet Air Vault, which features a blue-framed window viewed from the outside looking in. On the cover of March the direction of the camera has changed: we are inside the lighthouse looking out, which could suggest any number of things, but all we can be sure of is that the pictures are somehow connected.
Like the covers of his books, Taylor's poetry is mysterious. His lines are typically short and dressed in a dreamy hue. 'Like Nina' begins:
Red coat and flats
like Nina it's the eyes
green hint of light
crackle of points
like solo piano
rid the organiser
ignore foreign language
Reading Taylor's poetry is a little like attempting a jigsaw puzzle with half the pieces missing. Who is Nina? Who is being compared to Nina? Why salad? Eventually any questions that arise become irrelevant. The jigsaw doesn’t need to be complete for the picture to be beautiful, or interesting.
The title, March, suggests the chill of winter (amongst other things). The 'Welsh Hills' of the opening poem are described in winter, 'a piano wheeled / to winter beach', and throughout the collection there are subtle suggestions of this winter passing as the poems pass. There are many depictions of snow and ice, for example, 'Maundy Thursday' begins:
Wake me when this is over
clear the snow lifeless leaves
By the time we reach the closing lines of the final poem, 'Go, Take in the Beauty', it seems that summer has arrived: 'through summer fog stand still / until we are the last'. The hint of a chronological sequencing to March reminds me of Sylvia Plath's intended running order for Ariel, which began on the word 'Love' and ended on the word 'Spring', a bitterly cold winter having been endured between (though, of course, she never made it through that bitterly cold winter). Taylor doesn’t have much in common with Plath but shares her intense focus on craft. The last word of the last poem in March is indeed 'last' and the first words of the aforementioned opening poem are 'it starts'. The poems have clearly been very carefully constructed and curated. I often wonder how Taylor writes: are the lines collaged from his notebooks or do they arrive in his head as they appear on the page? I imagine his influences are the 20th century American poets who ignored, or came before the confessionals, poets like William Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens and Robert Creeley, whose emphasis was on concision, on the minimum number of words having the maximum effect.
Taylor is a poet who is very interested in travel, in destinations and journeys, in train rides and long walks. 'Drinking coffee out of paper cups with plastic lids' is an anomaly in March not only because of its extended title but also because of its length, which spans over three pages, making it the second-longest poem in a collection largely comprised of short poems. It starts with a journey of lemons:
The lemons are from Turkey
pace gather a sense of runway
strip light replacement
across point ghost tunnel
glow of ink shine of ink
By the line 'strip light replacement' we've lost track of the lemons. In the poem it seems there are multiple journeys colliding together, perhaps somehow connected like cover photos looking into or out of windows. Later there is a series of lines offering seemingly random advice, including 'make sure not to slag people off in poems' and 'Don't drink Gin in the winter', which sends us back to the seasonal theme of the collection. A minimalist poet who says more than he may seem to, but less than he might, Andrew Taylor remains a mystery.