Andrew Taylor

Sandstone by Andrew Taylor

by
May 1995, no. 170

On my most recent visit to Warrnambool in December 1994, the newspapers carried a tragic story about some local youths who had been digging in the coastline dunes and sandstone cliffs outside the town. One of them had died when their cave collapsed. It is this wild, unpredictably dangerous but attractive coastline that features in the title sequence to Andrew Taylor’s new book. In Sandstone, the blurb on the back cover tells us, Taylor returns ‘to the sight [sic] of his childhood’.

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The Internet doesn’t tell me
where they’ve gone, my predeceased
contemporaries. It’s
a lengthening list though the more

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So much activity outside
where sunlight spills across the snow
like cream –

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Götterdämmerung Café by Andrew Taylor & Russian Ink by Andrew Sant

by
June 2001, no. 231

Wallace Stevens once remarked: ‘One of the essential conditions to the writing of poetry is impetus.’ It’s a statement worth keeping in mind when confronting a new book of poems, because thinking about impetus helps us locate the concerns of the poet and the orientation of the book. Since poems are not objects so much as events, what drives a poem helps govern how it arrives at its destination – how, in fact, it is received by that welcoming stranger, the reader. Poems reveal their origins, whether they intend to or not. What Emerson says of character, that it ‘teaches above our wills’, that ‘we pass for what we are’, is true for poems as well. So it is not an idle question to ask of these books – these poets – their impetus, remembering that ‘impetus’ derives from the Latin ‘to seek.’

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The immediate virtues of this book are not difficult to see: Andrew Taylor is a skilled poet who understands the workings of syntax and rhythm, and who knows how to shape his poems into unified patterns with an apparent minimum of fuss. The poems tend to have a regular and easy pace; their fluency is considerable. Taylor writes with a genuine confidence and a literary awareness which is for the most part sophisticated and supple. His diction is uniform and he is careful not to overreach himself. There is no visible strain in the whole performance.

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Have you ever noticed how otherwise intelligent journalists find it almost impossible to write seriously about Adelaide Festival’s Writers’ Week? Predictably, they seem compelled to joke about the prodigious quantity of booze consumed – but perhaps they have never attended a business or an academic convention. Then well-known visiting writers apparently must be called ‘literary lions’ – an alliterative cliché suggesting that these writers are somehow not really human. There is usually some marvelling at the miracle that for once the big names (the lions) haven’t dropped out – as though there have been no Writers’ Weeks since 1976, the last time they did drop out. And inevitably there is an awkward, giggly tone to their articles, suggesting acute discomfort or embarrassment.

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Andrew Taylor’s Selected Poems opens with rain and a quote from Rilke’s first elegy, collects new poems from 1975–80, touches his The Cool Change (1960–70), Ice Fishing (1970–72), and The Invention of Fire (1973–75), and ends with an epilogue the final image of which is a night watchman whittling a wooden deify which ‘Glows like a storm lantern / burning all night’. It’s night and the poet has gone to bed and closed the shutters, and the nightwatchman of the subconscious gets to work.

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The Fremantle Arts Centre Press is an example of what a state-oriented press can do. Under intelligent guidance and with sympathetic but not irresponsible state funding assistance, it has now established a solid reputation for publishing good­looking and worthwhile books. If west coast writers are now better known in the east than they were several years ago, this is only partly due to their qualities as writers, good though some of them undoubtedly are. It is also because the Fremantle Arts Centre Press has actively encouraged and promoted west coast writers, giving them the confidence that only professional book publication can.

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