Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the novel Here Is How It Happens (Ampersand Books, 2013), the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), the chapbook Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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“But my past is much more fertile than today,” one poem says, getting at the feeling of being “less infinite” in the presence of living reminders of change. I read this book on Colfax, in Denver, sitting outside amidst the traces of warm snow, more than one person walking by wearing a sleeping bag, which seemed doubly clever, so much easier than rolling the damn things up. Who can ever get them tight enough, regardless of experience? This book, Taggart’s, touches, too, on geography, on cartography and its edges, how territory is not possession, how legends offer biased lenses for approaching a given place. And this book knows from that process of folding and rolling whistle-tight, with poems sliced thin at line breaks and other poems that could as easily (under another legend) be counted in the category of flash fiction, micro-narratives (“Just yesterday I went wind watching”) that build some deeper sense of the speaker via accumulation. Among the deeper themes here is a darkness at the corners of the map, connected to the sense that a map can be, in its intimacy, completely personal, solitary. So Colfax was like that, too, always with a suspicious funk—two fights witnessed in as many hours, one involving the command to return to China, one requesting, with fists, for a guy to stop rapping or approximating rap—took on a sense of Or Replica for me, a sense of only for me, remnants of the past lined up to demarcate my own limits, knowledge as that which gags, binds: “you reach for / for across the day you / reach / you reach for...”
Taggart muses on a time machine, which would be used first to visit Gertrude Stein, and this, too, soon becomes a dark reflection on the phenomenon of writing, process and effect:
...realizing you don’t have to know anyone to be in a poem. You could be alone the rest of your life and still write, occasionally wander into fog and see a ship in the distance, ride it till your head clears and the stars begin to regain their shapes. This world, with its heavy bag of loneliness.
Such a Denver image, that: loneliness as burden and sparring partner, the heavy bag we drag around and dent, ineffectually, with our fallible, aching fists. Loneliness here hits back through the eyes of others, through obligations to others: to be truly alone means not being observed, not being in relation to anyone else, even the you in the poem, for which Taggart apologizes at points, aware that the poem is also a gaze, that poetry also manipulates. Like a time machine or a Somali pirate looking for a child bride, the poem swoops in and grabs you. Taggart announces her resistance to such a move, but even that announcement is an act of complicity:
I won’t make you do anything
in this poem
it is easy
to become convinced
that action makes meaning
if you want to be lifted
I’m not hailing you or anyone
And like the fighter who turns her back as the bag is mid-arc from a hard bunch, here the loneliness swings back and whacks the speaker on the back of her head: in not hailing anyone, a lot gets hailed, all the same. Here we have a cartography of after—a map of what remains: “it’s Gettysburg / yet it’s language,” reminiscent in some ways of a childhood physical trauma, wherein “The pain threw my body into shock.” The speaker in that poem declares “I’d like to be jolted back to a world without predispositions that effect my immediate psychological state.” Yet here we are, working the bag, fighting through the fog, sitting in a city of memory coming to hard terms with change. “I wanted to write a book,” one poem states, “to map it all out / to know better,” but “knowing” is never easy nor one thing. As reaching, as realization, as refusal to hail, knowledge, in this poem is, at times, an ache, and at others “an anatomical throb / warbling past the fantastic world.”
Official Paige Taggart Web Site
Official Brooklyn Arts Press Web Site