Love is always a lovely subject matter to indulge. However, Wendy Taylor, in her collection, Reading Berryman To The Dog, does not just make it lovely but beautiful, intriguing and risky. Wendy’s collection is littered with raw honesty—whether she is trapped in a mother who tried to save her child to secure longevity in her mixed marriage or she is “a woman in red lace…” who “opens her body—that book of joy—” Wendy meanders through all these with delicateness, precision and rugged truth.
It is difficult to see a work of poetry engage love without touching the erotica. Here, Wendy does not hide anything. She lets romance spill from her like coffee from a broken mug. In the poem “I swan”, Wendy says “Everyone makes much of it but truth to tell/the honor could have had more physical appeal./Trumpeters have limited romantic skills and lack imagination, not to mention lips.” The question then comes, what is the “it” that Wendy is referring to. However, not shortly after, she answers the question “…inquisitive?/You bet. And let me say that mediocre sex/can’t take the edge off having done it with a God.”
To engage romance, Wendy investigates the body’s role in it. She calculates the “mathematics of hunger” as well as the geometry of the body. In the poem “Mathematics of hunger” she says “All she knows adds up to/the insight of hand and lip, tallying/gnaw and gulp to swallow”. Wendy wields language with a great level of dexterity. She weaponizes everything, for instance, with ambiguity, she leads her readers into questioning the concept of hunger; how, “to cipher a man”, a woman “rolls flesh in her mouth like dumpling”.
Wendy’s language is sexy, “dressed in a red lace”. Her language “lets one delicate crimson strap/slide down”. Her language is alluring, it tempts, teases, pulls you in and leaves you begging for more.
Asides the dexterity of language used and the rugged honesty dominant in the collection Reading Berryman To The Dog, one thing that I cannot fail to appreciate is the perspective and style in which Wendy adopts. While being narrative, Wendy pauses to recollect, dances around the past in order to show the place of memory in romance and the eventual loss of it. A typical instance where narration meets style and the past is contemplated is in the poem “questions”;
How is it done?
One day in our rooms we occupy space,
The next we turn the corner.
In March you were there:
Round, solid, wearing
A broad expanse of belly. By june
You were gone. Not waiting
at the filling station.
Though the predominant theme of the collection is love and romance, Wendy also engages the theme of loss as someone is always missing, dying or leaving. This engagement, sharpened by her fine use of metaphors and flowery language, evokes a kind of sorrow that leaves one soft with pity. Reading the poem “Keeping up with the dead” where “they multiply, push off from barrooms,/lie down on railroad tracks, wreck automobiles”, I am forced to imagine, because of the vividity of Wendy’s imagery, how the dead, in such careless manners and places, meet their death—and how love is also always lost in such careless ways.
Taylor’s Reading Berryman To The Dog is a bold affirmation of denial which is the first stage of grieving, how one refuses to acknowledge the “dead overrunning one’s street”. It is also a pathway to healing, to love, to hibiscus and bougainvillaea and croton. Wendy’s collection is a book that stirs a sweet kind of hunger in the body even after reading.
I’m wondering in what ways this collection, or a poem in it, relates to Berryman.