Sam Taylors Nude Descending an Empire from
University of Pittsburgh Press
Sam Taylors Nude Descending an Empire is a book that has large ambitions—and overwhelmingly succeeds at all of them. The voice here works at so many dimensions: spiritual, political, erotic, sensually worldly and quietly lyrical—and probably a dozen more! Few poets are able to write well in just one or two of these realms. That Taylor can do so much—he marries Frank OHara and Merwin, Whitman and Dante, your latest local radio report and science fiction!—is amazing in and of itself. And, then, when you take a breath and sit down hard reading this book, his gift at incantatory syntax takes this amazement to a wholly different level—you stand up, you read these poems aloud. I love the many lives of this book: his life as Sioux, Jew, a Christian peasant, and many others. I love how he curses and praises and sexes in the same poem, often in the same moment. Sam Taylor is a poet to reckon with, a poet to live with, a poet to marvel at. This is a wonderful book.
Sam Taylors language is spare, urgent, and decorated only by the essential. The result is poems that feel almost timeless, as if they could have been written in any century: past, present, or future. His engagement with his subjects is emotionally, intellectually, imaginatively, and linguistically profound. Once in a while a book appears that seems forged from the truth. This is one. The poems entirely bypass the Adventures of Self so common in contemporary poetry. They take head-on the end of nature, for one thing, and the significance of human life in a world changing so perilously fast that its barely recognizable from one moment to the next. In order to do this, a poet must forego all kinds of vanities and impersonations and write unlovely language in a voice that is itself a musical instrument. More than a few poems made me wish Id written them.
Nude Descending an Empire is a stunning book, in all the varied shades of stun. The nude descending an empire enacts an apocalyptic prophecy where the earths inhabitants are scampering about barefoot and naked sheltering in the shades of the towers they had competed to build. But Sam Taylor is too astute a poet to only horrify us with the facts, with the impending damage. His voice is elegiac for all of us, for life on this planet, and his ironic sleights of hands point to the end of irony, apathy, or whatever we call the unconscionable ways that have sustained our consumption and violence. Indeed, the poet implicates himself first with wrenching and moving self-indictments, but when it comes to reciting and composing the psalms of our age, Taylor is the one I want to lead us in prayer.
Its wonderful enough that Nude Descending an Empire is so bountifully true to the implications in both halves of its title: the embodied, erotic, intimate, naked self of the first half; and the public, political, historical, global-minded sensibility of the second half. But thats merely to admit the reach and mix of subject matter. Equally wonderful is the language here, as it wanders from reflective to declamatory, from mallspeak to the feel of ancient wisdom literature, from rambunctiously comic to quietly philosophical...all of it somehow fitting together into something very much its own, the samtaylorese that awaits you in this fine, engaging—and important—collection.
Sam Taylors poems make me shudder at the horror and pleasure of this world. In the face of the American imperial project, the poems sing every song imaginable — dirge, praise song, ecstatic chant. The antidote to despair, then, is more —more of the body, heart, more mystery, fear. Dont say impossible, says the poet, and these hurting, gorgeous poems never do."
—Sarah Browning, Director of Split This Rock