Saturday, August 18, 2018

BEING BEAT


Yes, that’s a cover illustration of the beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, but it isn’t the work of Ginsberg. Last week’s mail yielded a collection of poetry by Chuck Taylor, Jr. one of my favorite poets who writes in the genre of what he calls “radical rap." Taylor’s authentic voice resonates with high energy and honesty in Being Beat, bringing readers down to earth from the first “Riff on Allen Ginsberg” to the last “Poetry Is Love — For E.M. Forster” where poems will assemble/ and murmur under your bed/like leaves moved by breezes.” Taylor presents as one of the latter-day beat poets with his iconoclastic lyrics, writing tough, a kind of Bukowski (without the vulgarity)/David Kirby/Charles Simic poet. He says he never had a book published by City Lights Press and that the “best minds of his generation went into physics or developed computers” but that he “searches for the beat in the starry dynamo of the evening light,” and tells challenging anti-war and social justice stories with engaging style. 

Being Beat has been divided into sections with headings derived from Walt Whitman whom Taylor calls “the first American beat poet,” e.g., the section entitled “Never More Inception Than There is Now,” and he dedicates his poetry to writers, national and international, who were inspired by the beat movement. He regards Gerald Manley Hopkins as one of these poets and writes passionately about “The Wasted Land.” My interest was stoked by the first two verses: “Why do thoughts of change wear so heavy, wear/so heavy, wear so heavy in the mind,/wear out these times,/in these times, why does earth, the/Heavy earth, sit on our souls, sit on our hearts,/Earth in its heavy minerals, earth in its slowness,/The deep compacted soil, the dry lack of rain,/No running springs of heart, no ideals to sweep/The dust of fractured soil away, where is the sky…” Taylor laments the land laid waste reminiscent of the great Dust Bowl during Depression years and ends his poem with prophetic lines about environmental changes in the U.S., describing the country’s citizens as “the mad conclave ready for dance and change.”

The last lines of a long prose poem entitled “Used Mobile,” further reflect Taylor’s ability to write hopeful and passionate passages about marginalized culture; e.g. when he speaks of showing his daughter “the broad field in the sun by the luminous river not the dark stained room of red wine, she holds my hand past broken boards old tires filled with water no grass the muck of a world she’s not required as yet to know…” Here is a poet who challenges readers with lines that confront climate change, war, addiction, the corrupt politics of our time, and, in the case of this poem — U.S. poverty.

Like many people born into dysfunctional families, Taylor speaks of escaping the father who is a “shade” within himself. In the poem “Shade of Father,” his voice becomes intense as he tries to convince his dad about the passion and power of a beat poet he admires: Jack Kerouac. While they are riding together in a car, the old man’s indifference to Taylor’s passion spurs him on to a greater praise of this poet. Midway in the poem, his father’s voice comes alive as he reminiscences about his own youth: “He tells me how all four/Brothers slept on the back/ Porch and before they went/To bed they stoked the cast/iron pot-bellied stove till it/Glowed orange, but when/They woke before sunrise/In the sea of winter, then/the stove had thin icicles/Hanging down almost to its/Legs…” 

My favorite among Taylor’s poems is “Zensei,” which is Japanese for "a former life." It stands as the most mystical poem in Taylor’s collection, the recording of a dream of a former life, “not a memory of current troubles or/Of childhood tatters…Who am I to thunder out some/Orthodox argument with a cloud…” The Zensei poem reflects Taylor’s love of the Japanese culture as he writes that in the early 1990’s, inspired by Gary Snyder and his poet mentor, Lucien Stryk, he moved to Japan to teach and to become more engaged in Asian aesthetics.

Chuck Taylor has been in correspondence with me since I wrote a review of Magical, Fantastical, Alphabetical Soup published by Pinyon Publishing in Montrose, Colorado. His work shows evidence of an earthy philosopher and poet devoted to what he calls “rants.” I admire his challenging poems that show no allegiance to any writing form. He can write rhyming verse, prose poems, and mini-fiction, but in free verse or “radical rap,” readers hear the beat of a different drum that just might challenge Walt Whitman, one of his mentors. He possesses a highly original mind that speaks to the condition of the postmodern world. 

Taylor has worked as a janitor, laundry worker, survey taker, magician, nursery school teacher, bookseller, and publisher. He has worked in the National Endowment’s CETA Artist Program and taught Beat Literature and American Nature Writing at Texas A&M, served as a Poet in the Schools Program. He has also taught at St. Angelo State University, the Universities of Texas at Tyler, El Paso, and Austin, Texas. His latest books include the poetry collection Like Li-Po Laughing at the Lonely Moon. Being Beat is available at Hercules Publishing, Albuquerque, New Mexico and at Amazon. 


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