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The News by Rob Taylor
reviewed by Chelsea Pastorchik

The News
Rob Taylor
Gaspareau Press


In his second poetry collection, Rob Taylor celebrates his wife’s first pregnancy – he writes one poem a week from the fifth week to the fortieth week, all addressed to his child. The writing, like the cover of the book, is organic and beautiful. The words, images, and ideas in each poem pile upon each other, sparse fragments that work together intricately and richly: “Your mother guides my hand to the spot/ and of course nothing. No, something – / my hand on her belly. A story to tell./ A west-facing bedroom still full of light./ Once, and then when I waited, a second time.”

Throughout the collection, Taylor explores the relationships between generations. Often, this is revealed by both the anticipation and the apprehension he feels at the thought of bringing life into the world. He imagines endless conversations centering on the baby: “we’ll just keep talking about you/ until it seems we’ve conjured you from our dreams.” He recognizes, however, that no amount of talking, no amount of connection, will ever fully join his life with his baby’s life, or his wife’s, noting: “Our journeys/ are not the same, as yours/ will be beyond our reach.” This echoes the apprehension of all parents – who will my child be when they step out into the world? Taylor also celebrates this self-determination, claiming: “When you arrive, you will make mothers/ and sisters, hope and history.”

For Taylor, his baby’s development also serves as a calendar on which to mark world events. Each major milestone in the pregnancy is tied to a headline: the first image of the baby came the same day as the Charlie Hebdo shootings, Benjamin Netanyahu addressed congress the day the baby’s bloodwork came back healthy, the baby moved on the day an ISIS spokesman wore a Pittsburg Pirates cap… The baby, before it even enters the world, is defined by these events. Taylor tries to shield the baby from these associations: “Grow, grow –/ don’t worry militias or migrants, looters,/ objectors – their numbers like stars.” The pull of context is too strong though, and, in nearly the last poem of the collection, Taylor again ties his baby to the news:

In the summer of your birth/
‘See You Again’ topped the charts
and I lost track of the shootings. By police. Of police. In boot
and box-shaped states/ in another nation. In pairs,
in groups, in crowds. In Canada
we kill our women one by one
and by the time we notice
the anchorman is on to sports
and weather...

Taylor crafts a time-capsule for his child, a clear picture of the world it is about to be born into.

Taylor also crafts a sense of place for the reader, and his poems are rich with local imagery. For readers familiar with the Pacific Northwest, reading these poems is like a scavenger hunt – you eagerly gather up small bits of landscape, fitting them into the whole you know and love. Some details work together to build a map of Vancouver: a park at 10th and Fir, a Kitsilano dinner date, the corner of 8th and Maple, and crossing 4th, York and Creelman. Other details feel as if they are there only for the people who know this place – Taylor paints geese, seagulls, rhododendrons and cherry blossoms against a backdrop of gas stations, churches and busses. Tantalizingly, he also takes the reader to the backcountry: “Bowls/ and peaks and glaciers/ in all directions./ More than a dozen lakes./ And so much air/ and space.” While the other pieces of his world are located with specificity, he keeps this spot for himself.

This collection feels incredibly intimate. Taylor writes: “All this speaking of nothing/ and pretending it’s you,/ though you are ever nearer/ and will one day spot/ within these words/ the man I was.” (49) Through these poems the reader glimpses not only Taylor’s excitement about the birth of his child, but also the man he wants his child to see – thoughtful, hopeful, uncertain and passionate. You are invited into his home, lay in his bed, feel the child move in his wife’s belly, but ultimately, you are left stranded in the fortieth week of pregnancy, while life for Taylor and his family continued beyond the bounds of the book. It is an odd experience for a reader, to feel trapped in the pages of a book while the characters roam free.

Chelsea Pastorchik is an alternate high school teacher in Chilliwack, B.C. She writes from Abbotsford.

This review originally appeared in Pacific Rim Review of Books 21.