Let Them Be Left: Isle Royale Poems
by Keith Taylor
Alice Greene & Company, 2021
Cover: Kathleen M. Heideman
Illustrations: Melanie Boyle
What a charming and essential chapbook by Michigan poet Keith Taylor. It places us on Isle Royale, an island in the northwest part of Lake Superior, with thrush and eagle, dragonfly and loon, cedar and spruce, wolf and moose. As it says in the Introduction, “If Lake Superior is shaped like the head of a wolf, then Isle Royale is the wolf’s eye.” It’s a National Park, and much of it is also a Designated Wilderness Area. The wilderness, the beauty, the flora and fauna—“let them be left,” this chapbook convinces us, from the opening epigraph, in this phrase quoting Gerard Manley Hopkins, and moment by moment, as we keep reading Taylor’s Let Them Be Left: Isle Royale Poems.
The very first poem, “Waves,” sets up anticipation:
the lake looks confused
in that good way
just before the dance
“My History at Isle Royale” adds a complication:
I use walking sticks now, step slowly
from rock to rock, find my footing
among the roots.
Our guide is older now, his route a bit more precarious. There is “no need for nostalgia here” and both urgency and peace in his memories and observations. In “When the Eagle Came to Her Nest,” he remembers “the hesitation in the air // as she spread her wings…// as added pressure / in my chest.” I feel it, too.
There is joy in bushwhacking, a counting of jays, awe at the stars, knowledge of public spots and secret trails, respect for creatures at rest or carrying on with their lives, and through it all a sense of what would be lost if we don’t “let them be left” here, mostly undisturbed by human beings, and compassion as well for those humans, their “cities beginning to die as their water tables fall.”
There’s a big picture in this small book. As Taylor sums it up in “Twenty-First Century Wild,” “I’m not sure if my focus has narrowed or if I’m finally thinking about the whole world!”
On this little island, with gulls calling, dragonflies swooping, eagles diving, wild iris blooming, life thriving in sun or in fog, the speaker of these poems can live hushed and amazed, apart from the screens, the stresses, the woes of civilization, glad and briefly apart from the sad truth:
Here alone in all this space
I cannot believe our world is dying.
Maybe, if we pay attention the way these poems do, our world can live again.
–Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk, EIL Poetry Editor
Keith Taylor in Birds of a Feather at EIL
(contains “Magnification” from Let Them Be Left)
Keith Taylor in These Birds for Example at EIL
(contains “Why I Try to Name the Things I See” from Let Them Be Left)