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A Book Of Poetry For Everyone


It's cold. It's dark. But with the sparkle of colorful lights and fresh snow on the ground, there is beauty, too. Our co-host Ailsa Chang sat down with our poetry reviewer Tess Taylor to talk about her favorite selections of poetry that capture the magic of the season.

AILSA CHANG, BYLINE: And the first book on that list - a travelogue of sorts called "Toward Antarctica."

TESS TAYLOR, BYLINE: The poet Liz Bradfield is actually also a trained naturalist, and then in this case, she has been given the job of leading tours of people to go explore Antarctica.

CHANG: Cool.

TAYLOR: It's so cool. And she's - you know, she's a fabulous poet, so she's taking notes on this process, which is kind of a strange thing - this hunger that we have to see this fragile, rare, possibly vanishing place. And she's used the form of the Japanese haibun, which is - I don't know how to describe it other than saying it's kind of like a poetic travelogue from 17th century Japan.

CHANG: Oh, my goodness.

TAYLOR: And so there's...

CHANG: I don't even know what that would look like.

TAYLOR: Well, it's got prose bits. It's got haiku. It's got notes. It has lists.


TAYLOR: It's kind of a grab bag of things, and you'll notice...

CHANG: And beautiful photography as well, yeah?

TAYLOR: Beautiful photography - I know. This is a multitalented artist, and, you know, she's come out now with this book that has these gorgeous sidelong photographs of stuff you might not expect to see - so kind of, like, the station where you take off your shoes or the fact that no snacks are allowed. And so there - it's all kind of flowing past you, and then every so often there'll be these gorgeous notes like (reading) moths snowed with molt all along, pups wrangle knock-kneed, mink brown and fuzzy. Or these kind of haiku - (reading) thumbnail-sized and sheened pink clams cling to stipe and blade, this spring's blossoms.

CHANG: That sounds just lovely. I know that the next book you picked is about a place that's much closer to us. This one is called "Nebraska." Tell us why you pick this one.

TAYLOR: Well, I picked it because I think the poems in it are so lovely but also because this is a time of year when we're all trying to go home in one way or another or we're thinking about home. And this is a book where the poet Kwame Dawes, who was born in Ghana and then lived in Jamaica, is making sense of what it means now to live in Nebraska.


TAYLOR: And so...

CHANG: Three incredibly different places.

TAYLOR: Three very different places - and in some ways, I think he's not entirely at home in Nebraska. He's circling it, and it's vast, and it's white, and it's snowy, and it's bare. But what he does with that is he makes these beautiful temporary homes in the language itself, and he sort of stills the language so that it reminds us that a poem can be a home for us, even temporarily - a home that we make out of breath and carefully crafted syllables.

CHANG: I love that idea. Can I hear some of it?

TAYLOR: OK. The rattle of getting to a poem - "Loneliness." (Reading) I have taken to talking to trees in midwinter - never those at the edges, the safe ones gazing at the highway. I go deep inside, where the snow is powdery, crystal under light. We talk. The branches rub together like insects hissing. The cold calms even my jittery heart. The silence is absolute here. Each step, I am startled by the hollow echo of leather on brittle snow.

CHANG: God, that sounds so desolate. But it's beautiful.

TAYLOR: Beautiful.

CHANG: Let's pick up the pep a little because I know you have a bonus for us. I hear that you found a great book of poems for kids.

TAYLOR: Well, it's a book called "Fantastic Toys: A Catalog," and it's by Monika (laughter) - it's rereleased from the 1970s. And the fantastic toys are totally fabulous, but they are completely imaginary.

CHANG: Oh, I love that. OK, I want to hear one of these. Go ahead.

TAYLOR: OK, so this is the toy that's called "The Inflatable Flower." (Reading) Normal flowers grow very slowly. The inflatable flower, on the other hand, grows into a small tree in less than a minute. With it, you can easily peer over the wall into the garden next door. Inflatable tulips and daffodils are already in production, and next month roses will come on the market. They are easily inflatable thanks to the three clockwork gnomes and the clockwork frog who works the bellows.

CHANG: (Laughter) That's adorable. I also - I just love the pictures in this book. Like, the one you're reading, "The Inflatable Flower" - there's this little girl standing on top of a flower as tall as a tree. It's so cool - with a wind-up frog...

TAYLOR: I know.

CHANG: ...Under her (laughter).

TAYLOR: I - and, you know, personally I just really, really want my very own clockwork gnome (laughter).

CHANG: I wouldn't mind one either.

TAYLOR: (Laughter).

CHANG: Well, Tess Taylor, thank you so much. This was just so much fun to talk to you.

TAYLOR: Ailsa, have a wonderful holiday. It's great to talk to you, too.

CHANG: Tess Taylor has two new books of poetry out soon, "Rift Zone" and "Last West." She teaches poetry at the University of California Davis.


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