Friday, January 02, 2009

John Taggart: There Are Birds

There Are Birds, John Taggart (Flood Editions, 2008)

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.



Anonymous said...

Country Valley Press has newest John Taggart book:


Steven Fama said...


With reviews like this about poem-books like this (and I could say that about just about every one of the previous 57 you've posted), can you please reconsider the decision I infer from your numbering method, that you'll stop when you hit 100?


William Keckler said...

I'll have to find this, Mark.

I have a copy of the Marianne Moore poem in its chapbook form.

Galvanizing lines and thoughts! I agree with your assessment that he's writing some of his best work now, though I haven't seen the whole book.

Taggart's poetry is ancient and youthful at once..."nothing beats parthenogenesis"...and riffs on signs on Virgin megastores in France ("Nothing beats a Virgin")...cyber-elements of switching embodiment and disembodiment...almost anime elements...and then he reads the nineteenth century and speaks to it in its own terms in the same poem...

His poetry is truly Weird, and I mean that in the oldest sense of that word, as a compliment.

Sometimes isolation yields a precious eccentricity...I think Taggart's a great example and proof...

Joseph Donahue said...

I had just ordered this book, then came your note. Mailman, please hurry. I share your enthusiasm for Taggart, and esp for Loop, though Crosses is really extrordinary.

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Adam Golaski said...


It's funny, I've been thinking lately that connecting Glass and Taggart is a mistake, that tho they both utilize repetition, they do so so differently, that the comparison isn't useful.

I do very much like your quick evaluation of Unveiling.

I just wrote a review (so to speak) of There Are Birds for Open Letters Monthly--perhaps you'd be interested--I go into what I think is happening with the repetition in Taggart.


Adam Golaski

Mark Scroggins said...

Adam -- a good review, one everybody should read:

I know what you mean about Glass, & tho I don't directly compare him & JT here, I have in the past, sloppily: the better comparison is probably Terry Riley's In C, which seems to me the big "classical" influence behind a piece like Peace on Earth.

Adam Golaski said...


Glad you liked the review. "In C"--a case could be made--there's so much room for improvisation in that piece that it might better fit Taggart's mode, but I'm looking less and less to minimalism as a source and more to other avant garde work--Coltrane's Meditations, for instance, or Messian's Meditations sur le Mystere de la Sainte Trinite... I dunno. And then there's all that repetition in Oppen (Of Being Numerous) that draws me away from musical sources (in spite of Taggart's awesome record collection/speakers).

Influence is a slippery business, no?

Anonymous said...

Oh captain my captain.

I owe so much to John Taggart and his influence on my style and the way I see (hear) the world.

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