If the World Becomes so Bright
Keith Taylor
Wayne State University Press, 2009
Review by Jeremy Benson

Because If the World Becomes So Bright is a part of Wayne State University Press' Made in Michigan Series, I don't want to come right-out and say that this collection of poetry by Keith Taylor exemplifies Michigan; no, that might be too obvious.

But seriously: the only thing that would make this book more stereotypically Michigan is if Tim Allen were reading the poems during a 45-second radio spot.

Let me be the first to defend "stereotypically Michigan" as a compliment (unless of course it's coming from an Ohioan). Taylor's poems spend their days, from dawn to beyond dusk, out-of-doors, on bird watching trails, in backyard gardens, beside cabins on lakes that are somewhere "Up North." My first action, once I finished the book's final poem, was to change my shoes to sandals and my jeans to raggedy shorts; on the way out I grabbed my sunglasses and a bright orange life vest to throw in the back of the canoe, only to realize it was 10:39PM, and my canoe wasn't going anywhere.

Of course, If the World… is more universal than summertime in the Mitten. Like all great nature writers—Robert Bly, Wendell Berry, William Stafford, to name the males of the variety—Taylor's nature is a way in, a means to experience and engage other humans: wife, daughter, father, mentor, old friends. In "What's Needed Now," Taylor describes peony petals that have been knocked to the ground during a rainstorm, while "Christine and I / had taken a little break / to make some daylight love up- / stairs." Like rainwater on Michigan's clay soils, the movement, the epiphany, takes a moment to seep in. The storm explains their relationship—Taylor describes the metaphor like a Shakespearean moment:

when the outside world, parched and hot,

reflects the emotional

condition of the people

in the play. The heat’s gone now,

broken. The air's fresh and light.

A breeze rustles in the oak leaves.

Such a sigh should take a while to seep in.

The true treasure of the book, more than the flock of crows in "This Fall's Murder" or the handful of poems in the final section, "Dream of the Black Wolf: Notes from Isle Royale," is the book's introductory set, from which the collection takes its title. Each begins with the speculative "If…": "If I jumped…", "If I'd chosen / to live like my friend / Steve…", "If I touched the sap…" The geometric reasoning allows Taylor to reach back into time and peruse other possibilities. One might assume this process results in a lot of grave regret, but the form, instead, causes the poems to walk the line between introspection and entertainment. Contemplative, yes, but imaginative.

It's likely that I will keep If the World Becomes So Bright on my most accessible bookshelf, so I may take it out frequently, to share a poem with a friend when my own poetry begins to fail, or to share one with myself, after I've been stuck inside all day.

This year marks the 5th anniversary of the Made in Michigan Writers Series. Please visit the Wayne State University Press website for more information.

Poet and writer Keith Taylor coordinates the undergraduate program in creative writing at the University of Michigan and formerly managed Shaman Drum, a leading independent book store. He directs the Bear River Writer's Conference and works as an editorial consultant to Dzanc Books. He has published eleven volumes: collections of poetry and short fiction, edited volumes, and translations.

© Jeremy Benson, 2010