These Are No Temporary Stars: David James on Keith Taylor’s If the World Becomes So Bright


Keith Taylor, If the World Becomes So Bright, Wayne State University Press, 2009

Many fine poets have written about nature and its grand symbolic importance—Ted Kooser, Wendell Berry, Gary Snyder, John Haines, and James Wright, to name a few. With this book, If the World Becomes So Bright, Keith Taylor joins this tradition and adds to it. Taylor is at home in these poems set in the woods, on islands, on rivers and lakes, resting on the sides of mountains. As he says in the final prose poem, after watching a cow moose swim in the bay before dawn, “I would like to be cold and clearheaded about these events, but it is hard not to take them as signs.” These poems, blossoming with flowers and birds and weather, carry with them the shadows of signs from a poet’s observant eye.

Many of the poems in this beautiful collection deal with loss, aging, the temporary nature of life as we know it. The first section, “Conditions,” consists of twelve short poems starting with “If I …” The poet muses on what his life would be like if he forgot everything, if he sat still forever, if he had gone bad, if he could see his daughter projected into the future.

The rest of the book contains poems that stun us back to the here and now. They’re quiet, unassuming poems that gently turn the reader toward a great horned owl near a Wendy’s, or into the wind where we smell the “sour odor of skunk,” or back to 1936, to watch his father’s revelation that would “sustain him through that century of doubt.” These are not flashy, in-our-face poems. These are poems that settle deeply into our lives and brains, into the core of our being. For example, in “Outside,” Taylor muses on the idea of fate, but realizes,

…I can’t turn one thing into any
other: the solitary bittern’s call
rising from the marsh at dusk remains
the echoing call of one secretive bird
hidden behind a forest of dry rushes.
It is what it is and would be that
without my eyes or ears or my ability
to name it and find its place on any map.

If the World Becomes So Bright is a book of quiet epiphanies rising up in the backyard, in the crows outside, against the spruce trees, at the campsite. I believe Keith Taylor’s voice. I trust what he sees, what he hears. When he writes, “two spotted sandpipers fly by,” I know he’s telling me the absolute truth.

My advice? Take a warm afternoon, sit under a silver maple, and read If the World Becomes So Bright. The poems will grow on you like “purple lapsand rosebay.” And when you’re done reading them, you will, as Keith Taylor does so aptly, “call it all a kind of wisdom.”

Purchase If The World Becomes So Bright

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David James teaches at Oakland Community College.  His most recent book, She Dances Like Mussolini, was published by March Street Press in 2009.  His one-act plays have been produced from coast to coast.

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