I sought out John Taggart on my own, pulled off I-81 on one of those drives between Blacksburg & Ithaca way back when, looked him up in the book at a filling station, & paid the proverbial ephebe's 1st visit. A mentor? Something like that, tho as Ron Johnson said of Zukofsky, "I don't think he liked my poetry much." That was okay. Of all the Taggart books I've accumulated over the years, Loop (Sun & Moon, 1991) stands out, if only because it's biggest – slice that one anywhere & you'll hit a fantastic poem. But There Are Birds is frankly his greatest achievement yet, a set of 5 substantial poems and few outriding "cadenzas." There're elegies: one for Zukofsky, one for Creeley, one for Robert Quine – who would've thought that John, the bop-saturated jazz fan, would also admire the guy who comes close to topping my pantheon of guitar heroes? "Refrains for Robert Quine," a painfully touching elegy that never once directly alludes to the circumstances of Quine's death – in grief over the death of his beloved wife, he took an intentional overdose of heroin – brings me to tears.
The centerpiece is the long and very strange "Unveiling/Marianne Moore," a poem of place (south central rural Pennsylvania) that is simultaneously an erotic fantasy (delicate, disturbing) about two red-haired virgins, Moore & Emily Dickinson, an homage to the Bartrams & other "nature boys," a horticultural poem, and much more.
If John Adams & Philip Glass evolved their own minimalist techniques into a kind of late Romanticism, Taggart has taken the austere repetitiousness of Peace on Earth and "The Rothko Chapel Poem" & has stripped it down to an angular, 2nd Vienna School lyricism. If he used to be Robert Fripp, now he's Fred Frith.