The Al Purdy A-Frame Residency for writers holds a special place in my heart: my father and I were the first ones to enter the property once the Association decided to begin restoration. Vancouverite poet Rob Taylor’s latest poetry chapbook, The Green Waves, was conceived during his residency. Reading Taylor’s work has been so enjoyable because the setting overlaps his personal experience, my father’s, Purdy’s, and my own of being in Purdy’s second home, a characteristic property lined with bookshelves floor to ceiling that possesses a graceful beauty aged only by the silence and solitude of his passing.
Taylor’s poems converse with books and loss in equal measure. Taylor’s father’s passing, Purdy’s passing, even the passing of rodents who snuck in one night—each factor into the suppleness woven by Taylor’s inspired, matter-of-fact verse. There is a pagan-like coming-to-terms with the mundanity of life, as much as with death, with the passing of childhood and those who passed before us. Above all, the gentleness of marriage and fatherhood. Touching on these themes quite naturally, he remains irreverent, poetic, but quotidian.
In his poem “Last Embers,” he opens with an epigraph by Louise Glück—“no one knows / whether they represent life or death”—and his self-awareness is very self-deflating: he dotes on everything but himself. He is between life and death, constantly. He is a father, a son, a husband, and a poet. This is where his humour cuts through all the impositions of being a poet: “laughing at your mid-sentence / pause delivering Purdy’s line—‘during the fall / plowing a man’—the embers going as poems go.” This enjambment says it all: he is inviting us, the readers, into this husbandly intimacy, sharing the humour of his wife reading Purdy aloud to him. Is that too pretentious to say? Likely.
Rob Taylor’s grief comes through the text so familiar, absurd, and revelatory, as it should be: “A lifetime spent / opening one door, finding another.” Never quite simply exits and entrances, each door embodies a particular theme in the construct that is literature, life. In another poem, he narrates Death as his first doorway, leading him to ponder the location of Love and Fear. These concepts, these doorways, are all constructs of the philosophical ego keeping him from attaining the heights of Purdy’s poetic being, that rugged divorcedness from subjectivity, that devil-may-care skepticism. Despite all Taylor’s humble disavowals of likeness, this commitment to self-aversion clearly connects the two poets; that hallmark conversationalness of Purdy’s poetics is present here. Taylor acknowledges that in his own way, he’s always writing in the cold shadow of Purdy’s influence.
More interestingly, beyond paternal doting and filial piety, is this deference for Purdy in Taylor’s work. At first, talking about reading him as a young boy then again as a grown man, Taylor writes “I doubt you’d have liked me. I don’t drink. / I make nice. I stunt my opinions. […] If we’d met you wouldn’t have let me crash one night / in the loft. Now I’ve slept in your bed for two months.” There’s always a bit of a myth surrounding one’s heroes, although perhaps he’s got a point. There’s the poet and then there’s the man. It’s the same sense you get when you read Bowering, Heighton, Guth, on Purdy. That’s what makes Purdy’s presence so intimidating yet so inspiring, and Taylor voices it perfectly. Funny what outlives, at last.
ARC HITS THE HEART HARD.