All the Time You Want by Keith Taylor

All the Time You Want
Selected Poems 1977-2017
by Keith Taylor

Dzanc Books, 2024

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk,
Poetry Editor, Escape Into Life

No matter the delay, I always manage to read the right book at the right time. This time, I feel I have all the time I want because it’s Keith Taylor’s All the Time You Want: Selected Poems 1977-2017, poems selected from forty years of work! It’s “arranged in roughly chronological order,” he tells us, in terms of composition, not publication, so the life’s work unfolds the way it occurred to the poet.

And that way seems to have involved plenty of dancing! “Holy Dance” gives us a prayerful woman in black who once danced in a barn, “spinning,

     her white dress swirling out,
     quicker, until everything
     pulled in, even light.

“First Dance” gives us “Black-haired Doreen,” a Catholic girl demonstrating that dancing is not a sin. Having read a lot of Taylor’s bird poems, I was surprised that so many of these were about women. And I knew I was off on the right foot, dancing. There is dancing in Detroit in “Detroit Dancing, 1948,” where people are dancing after the war, while the speaker has taught himself to dance at home. “There is a dance at water’s edge” in the poem “Sea and Rain: Lake Michigan,” an ekphrastic poem that reminded me I have also written poems based on James McNeill Whistler paintings. I felt connected to these poems throughout, and also like a witness and a learner, seeing a new world.

In that world, “We dance discreetly naked” (in “Detail from the Garden of Delights.”)  In that world, “It’s April,” as it is in my world, now, and in “Weather Report,” where “the weather’s / flipping from early summer / to late winter,” as keeps happening these days. In that world, he’s a “Bookseller” in a prose poem that claims not to care about the contents of books, but rather their shape and color. And, wouldn’t you know it, their dance?

The books find their own order. Their movement seems a dance with a geologic tempo, so slow I can’t see it. The dance is like the story country children tell about trees moving at night, just a millimeter or two, nothing that can be noticed in the morning, until one day a child climbs onto a rope swing that’s tied to a maple branch, and he swings out as he has done hundreds of times before, but this time slams straight into the side of the barn.

I love that story. It scares and delights me. I stuck a postcard there as a bookmark, a card picturing a barn turned into a bookstore, and I intend to send it to the poet when I’m done with this review. Is the story a sort of fairy story? Or is it about growing up and not realizing until it’s too late?

Taylor’s hitchhiking poem reminded me of my Uncle Terry, who hitchhiked almost his whole life, even during his early-onset Alzheimer’s years, and my dad, who hitchhiked back and forth to college. “Guilty at the Rapture” reminded me of Karen Weyant’s book, Avoiding the Rapture, reviewed last week, where she tries to help girls be bad enough to be left behind, not taken up in The Rapture. As Taylor puts it

     All things good would rise
     into the air, pulled from dirt and sky,
     from cars left driverless
     below, slamming into trees.

The grownup is inside the scared, wise child: “I would know a final loneliness…” There’s an echoing sad wisdom, too, in the title poem, about a churchyard that “outlasted its church.” Hence, yawning time…

And there are birds here, loons, an ancient murrelet, the crested shelduck, though the shelduck is “gone now.” That prose poem is a lament for a lost species, a bird Chekhov might have seen and heard but doesn’t mention.

And let me tell you about the beautiful cover art on this book, as Taylor does in his Notes. It’s from a painting called The Dress of the Poem, by Khaled Al-Saa’i, commissioned by the University of Michigan Museum of Art, and it takes an Arabic translation of one of Taylor’s poems, “Sea and Rain: Lake Michigan,” (the Whistler poem, so itself inspired by a painting!) and turns letters from the translation into the lovely and mysterious watery motion of the painting. What a wonderful swirl, like time itself, dancing.


All the Time You Want by Keith Taylor at Dzanc Books

Keith Taylor at EIL

Poetry Sampler: Fidelities by Keith Taylor at EIL

Let Them Be Left: Isle Royale Poems by Keith Taylor at EIL


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