Reviews, Vol. 3.3, Sept. 2009
Sunnyoutside, Aug. 2009
Paperback, 108 pp., $15
Review by Cynthia Reeser
William Taylor, Jr.’s newest collection, The Hunger Season, follows publications such as So Much Is Burning and Words for Songs Never Written: New and Collected Poems. The Hunger Season pinpoints moments of realization that surface in the mundane of ordinary life. The setting, that of San Francisco, is resonant throughout the book and colors its poems with the city’s personality.
Taylor finds little moments of poignancy in what is otherwise presented as a banal existence. In “All the Nameless Lost,” he writes:
Sometimes the world seems little more
than a gradual falling apart,
in slow motion.
Such poems, and many in the collection, point to the way the individual can be lost amidst so much noise and the pollution of other people. In poems (and times) like these, the message of the individual is lost too, and every person runs the risk of becoming as faceless and unidentifiable as every other person. “Adrift” is a portrait of life when it is aimless and directionless, when loss of meaning is felt through the loss of hope and something to believe in. Taylor understands a world where there is no true meaning other than moments of beauty, which surfaces as a recurring message throughout the book. Through all the lack of a person’s life and general meaninglessness of existence Taylor describes, there can be found, most often, “places / ugly with people and the bones / of once beautiful things” (“Adrift”). Much of Taylor’s work in the collection is narrative, in the sense that the poems sometimes function as fragments of story or encapsulations of lives (notably in “The Famous Café”).
Life is a void, but Taylor is specific on the point—that it is “Not despair, but a general / lack” (“Finally, the Ghost”). From the same piece, Taylor writes of the walls that go up between those with “substance and / hard laughter” and himself: “their world and my own- / surface twins separated by some / invisible wall.” Taylor’s vision is a gloomy one, but one that, nonetheless, he posits as the realistic one—anything else is hollow and devoid of a center. Other poems, like “Strewn About the Days,” echo this sense of separation from the outside world and purposelessness: “I choose my songs / and wonder how it was / I was born into their world.” Again, meaning is only found in beauty, which is “the sacred carrot” (“Where You Find Meaning”).
It is not just the city’s unfortunates who populate the world of ugliness, it is also the tourists and most anyone who does not see with a poet’s eye. The title poem, “The Hunger Season” is resonant with the death and pointlessness of it all, and speaks to the poverty of spirit and body, ending with a reference to what constitutes truth: “joylessness / as pure as the sun.”
The book’s strongest qualities are in its nods toward positivity, which strike notes of discord to contrast with the overtones of self-pity. The title poem ends:
it helps a bit
to sate the hunger of a fellow creature
when you can do nothing
for your own.
While several of the poems at the end of the volume seem to strive more for than positivity, what with all the death throughout the work, they have somewhat of an inauthentic ring, or at the very least, clash a bit with the rest of the work. Normally such pieces would provide a bit of uplift, but the poet’s position on the hopelessness of life is so pervasive, that by book’s end, the moments of happiness ring as true as intimations of happiness spoken through Prozac-besotted lips. However, the collection is no less worthy for its striving toward light; Taylor finds moments to revel in, in his own way, and they uphold the collection and its premises. Moments of strength surface where honesty and beauty are celebrated, and where the beautiful is mined from the mundane of the world.