Thursday, November 5, 2009

Collaboration: my faithful Judith

There is nothing like being interviewed to get you thinking. Last week I was pleased to be gently questioned and (yikes!) sketched by Sarah Atlee, an artist who has taken up a fascinating project on people and their occupations. "OCCUPIED" it’s called.

I talked about writing and, in particular, poetry. Toward the end of the hour I realized I hadn't said anything about a major part of my writing life: my long-time writing partner and good friend, Judith Tate O’Brien. Judith and I met in a UCO poetry class in 1992. We’ve met regularly since then to share work, critique, and encourage each other.

When asked what this relationship has meant to me, I stammered and stuttered as I realized how hard it is to express something that,though now routine, is still so extraordinary. Judith has a poet’s heart and eye, thus she can see when a poem has gone cloyingly sweet as a Twinkie or mundane and flat as a baloney sandwich. I found myself saying with tears in my throat that Judith really believes in me as a poet the way no one else does. I felt like a wimpy kid saying that, but that’s what came out. And it was true. A few days later I thought of something else and it also has to do with belief.

I was at my book club discussing a popular but very troublesome book (The Help) and the subject arose: can an author write authentically in the voice of the opposite sex, or, as in this case, another race? Obviously, not always. This is an old topic; one that still rises up like the ghost of Nat Turner or Emma Bovary. Some still hold that the distances are just too great.

This question is one that Judith and I have revisited as we struggle at times to write in the voice or close perspective of another. Over time we have come to share a deep belief in the Imagination, the ability of mind/ spirit to take you places you ought not, given your singular life, to be able to go. And yet somehow something happens that lets you transcend the limited self. If it were not for Imagination, we’d really be stuck in our own footprints and hooked forever to a narrow shadow.

I offer you this poem of Judith’s from her ByLine Award book, Mythic Places:

The Migrants

Cattle egrets steady as circus riders
balance on the backs of grazing Guernseys.
The birds flew all the way from Africa
to edit this menu of tick and fly.

An acre away, a boy from Mexico
stoops over long rows of leafy green.
At each row's end, he straightens and bends
backwards to unlock his spine.

At dusk, the egrets will tuck their heads
into cool caves beneath their wings
while royal blue herons lift
from rivers with clutches of fish
flashing in their throats.

Tonight a lettuce-picker will groan in sleep
while a woman clicking gold
bracelets will leave untouched
the crisp lettuce her aspic rests on.

So, if someone asked me today about a writing partner, I’d say find one who shares your basic beliefs about creativity and how it works. Then work. Stay occupied in the workshop of the Imagination. Open all kinds of windows and doors. If someone warns against writing in an opposite, strange, unknown voice, agree to disagree. Read, write, dream, and when the occasion arises, give over to sketching artists. To collaborate is to have faith that it might be interesting if we end up in someone else’s picture of the world. Imagine.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Grandeur/Blandeur Question

After seven days in the aspen gold of Ghost Ranch, after six nights sleeping in cool adobe with windows open to autumn sage , to owls , to 5 a.m. crying of coyote; after hours of poetry and working heart-to-heart back and forth on the page with eight amazingly engaged individuals who made sentences sing, tick and breathe with heart; and after thinking we were done, that last day I was reminded: a lyric poem can go afoul and make a person mad.

I don’t mean "mad for love," Harjo-like, or Rumi-mad. I mean mad with ferocious opposition.
“No. No. You cannot blanden the Grand Canyon or flatten Eiger “ went the heated argument.
Suddenly, we had fallen out of lyric mode and into concrete eco-conversation. The poet’s words had sounded some alarm, had sounded literal.

You may know the poem I am speaking of: Blandeur. Kay Ryan’s poem is itself a playful argument harkening back over a hundred years to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ praise poem: God’s Grandeur. Now here we were , a poetry class on our final day in Ghost House, surrounded on all sides with ancient majesty. No wonder. I see now. A prayer for less of all this bounty? That could hit a nerve.

If it please God, the poem begins, let less happen . Clearly, more was happening, as cries rose up against Ryan’s supposedly anti-nature sentiment. I tried to make a case for metaphor, as I am absolutely sure Ms. Ryan, our current poet laureate, does not advocate the destruction of our most transcendent places. Look at it this way: sometimes we can hardly bear the glorious, the monumental, that love-too-large for our small hearts. If it please God, give us a day without the drama, the glacial sorrow, even the deafening water fall of over-joy.

The faith of this poem is that the Divine will not withdraw forever all the world’s graces but will understand that we’re having a moment, a runneth-over-moment, and may, in compassion, flatten things out only long enough for us to get a better breath. Though Ryan may be waxing witty and hyperbolic , I think the Grandeur/Blandeur dilemma is at the heart of how to live -- some days large and brave; some days tucked into the crevice of a pinecone.

It’s good to be reminded how blasted strong a metaphor can be, hitting people differently. And surely we each have a singular G/B quotient. I go to Ghost Ranch for a giant dose of grandeur. I come home to Oklahoma for a nice even plain of wheat and quiet days to write what can barely be contained.

Heaven knows, we joke, and pray, and make mountains metaphors distinctly. If it please God, let us all find our own true north. But next time I might not end a week of Ghost Ranch gloriosity with a poem calling out for bland. (perhaps our lives back home fall too easily in that direction anyway) No, next time I think I’ll invite Father Hopkins to be the final speaker and let him shake us into shook foil and send us home, not blandened, but all grand new.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Here is your chair at Ghost Ranch!

How was Ghost Ranch this summer? friends are asking me. It was beautiful as always, the night sky full of meteors, the days perfect for slow hikes to Box Canyon, or just sitting on the porch watching twentyhummingbirds dance around a tube of sugar water.

This summer I found myself in full vacation mode at the Ranch because my writing class didn’t get the requisite number of participants. Writers! Where were you? We need to hold up the literary side of Creative Arts Week. We need your new writing to keep things fresh. We need you and your poems.

Clearly, the economy is keeping many of us at home trying to balance our budgets. I, myself, ate out of the ice chest at the Ranch instead of going every meal to the dining hall. Still, all things considered, a week of creativity and community at Ghost Ranch continues to be a great value. I’ve read that many Americans now are opting for a four day weekend instead of a week’s vacation. We do what we can, but I think one session at Ghost Ranch renews deeply and that renewal has a long shelf life, something impossible to really calculate or quantify.

So, friends, consider October 5 – 11, the Fall Writing Festival.

My class this year is called Aiming High: Learning to Write From Our Poets Laureate.

It will be strong on craft with lots of latitude for experimentation. Come and write with us (beginners welcome) in a supportive environment where you will have a chance to learn from others and deepen your writing life. My classes are playful, seriously. This class will definitely run, as it is already filling, but there is still room for a few more. Ten people, tops.
To register, go to

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Poetry Reading at Full Circle

I will be reading from "What Can Be Saved" at Full Circle Bookstore in Oklahoma City's 50 Penn Place on Thursday evening, March 5th. The reading/book signing will be at 7:00 p.m.
I hope you will come and bring someone who doesn't typically enjoy poetry. Let's see if we can win some hearts and minds. And supporting Full Circle, our hometown bookstore, is always a good thing.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Some of you have asked about my new book of poems out recently from Finishing Line Press. It's entitled What Can Be Saved and will be available by the end of the week at Full Circle Books here in Oklahoma City.
It's also available directly from and from, or directly from me. As a former librarian, I can say subject headings might be: mothers and daughters -- dialogue; children -- differently-abled; mothers -- as swans; words -- obesssions; life -- hoarding and saving.
I am especially grateful to be given permission to use the mixed media work of Jerrod Smith on the cover. Jerrod gets time and its obsessions. He gets the relationship between wings and bodies, flight and stasis. I hope you will like these poems and find a part of yourself in the story. I also suggest you look at more of the work of Jerrod Smith at

Friday, January 30, 2009

Treat Yourself to a Class at Ghost Ranch in 2009

Lots of artists and writers visit Santa Fe or Taos, but another beautiful and inspirational place is near Abiquiu, New Mexico: Ghost Ranch. It is the land made famous by the paintings of Georgia O'Keeffe and is now owned by the Presbyterian Church. For several years I've had the pleasure of teaching creative writing classes as part of the summer Creative Arts Festival and again in October's Fall Writing Festival. The new catalog is now out and early registration comes with discounts. Log on at and look at the offerings. You can see my course description quickly if you enter "Jane Taylor" in the search box. I'll expand on these classes and the post more pictures of this amazing place later, but if you have questions now, I'll be happy to tell you all I know.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Scissortail Creative Writing Festival

Did this snow and ice make you wish for spring and Scissortail sightings? April may seem far way but mark your calendar now and make plans to come to Ada for the Scissortail Creative Writing Festival - April 2-4, 2009. East Central University hosts three days of wonderful readings, this year highlighting the award-winning writing of Rilla Askew and LeAnne Howe. I will be sharing the 11:00 a .m. hour on Thursday with poets Jim Chastain and John Morris. To learn more about the festival, check ECU poet Amanda Dill's blog at