Andrew Taylor was born in Victoria in 1940 and educated at the University of Melbourne, where he was Lockie Fellow in Australian Literature and Creative Writing. He lived for several years in Italy, and has since travelled extensively in Europe, Asia and America. He taught for many years at the University of Adelaide, and is now an Emeritus Professor at Edith Cowan University in Perth, Western Australia. In 1999 he was a By-Fellow of Churchill College, Cambridge, UK.
He is the author of fourteen books of poetry, the most recent being Collected Poems (Salt Publishing, UK, 2004). Other recent titles include Selected Poems 1960-1985 (1988), Folds in the Map (1991), Sandstone (1995) and Götterdämerung Café (2001), all published by the University of Queensland Press. The Stone Threshold: New and Selected Poems, was published by Arc in the UK in 2001. He has written the libretti for two operas (The Letters of Amalie Dietrich and Barossa) and published numerous academic articles. Reading Australian Poetry (1987) was the first book-length critical study of Australian poetry to appear in many years. In 1986 his book Travelling was the regional winner of the British Airways Commonwealth Poetry Prize, Sandstone won the Western Australian Premier’s Prize for poetry in 1995, and Götterdämerung Café was shortlisted in 2002.
The Stapler propagates crosslegged
cripples who hold things up. Its crunch
munches towards 4.45 when sunlight
sprawls across the office and starts to prise
the doors apart. Its mouth
spits metal, it has two filed teeth
that needle through paper with the snap
of final meaning.
Unused, it gapes toothless
at the proclamations, the decrees
and the indictments it has just
put together. They’re not pearls,
but this office bivalve yawns
with the fatigue of creation,
having been hit on the head
like the Imagination, which does
much the same job, over and over.
Now it’s an elbow without beer
or body. It will gape
all night, thirsty for the touch –
forceful and female – that will put
its teeth back into its mouth.
From Friendly Street No. 12 and Tuesday Night Live
Lakes have to be learnt
like a language, reflexive,
self-contained, yet reflecting
on us. At Lake Ohrid
I learned to whisper
‘trout! trout!’ Here, at Ratzeburg
my language is full of leaves,
the arrowing purposes of ducks
and rain, soft, self-effacing
summer rain. Lake Erie
spoke death, only ice flourished
at the shore there, rinds
of forgotten winters.
Tower Hill, lake of my childhood,
spoke of volcanoes, a secret
jungle of treefern, hidden springs, a source
of syllables issuing from the earth.
The sea, in contrast, is boastful,
impatient, and doesn’t
leave us alone. ‘I’m here! I’m here!’
it thumps out, and to rock
‘I’m tearing you apart!’ And it does,
sculpting islands and headlands,
joining, dividing, always active
and always demanding.
‘Look at me,’ it hisses
on quiet nights, ‘swim out
and trust me.’ The sea’s voice
follows us inland, lurking in shells,
in fever, anything but let us be.
But lakes are a language apart. They sleep
in separate beds, pay no respects
and wait to be visited. From the air
they are dark eyes that never cry,
utterly patient. Not even
on the stillest night will a lake
whisper to its neighbour, and not even
in the wildest weather of its dreams
does it reach beyond itself. Lakes
are perhaps the only things complete
and must be learned, though never known
fully, privately, each by each.
From Friendly Street No. 8 and Tuesday Night Live
Watching the other side of glass
frost climb up the window’s face
like history at a slight remove
from where we are and what we love
I know the sky is dark and clear
the stars both penetrating and far
the branches in the garden stand
cased in ice like a frozen mind.
Life is arrested in those trees
unmoved by any breath or breeze –
the world outside is a chilled impasse
a dark unwelcoming unloved place
from where my daughter will step inside
shaking the night with her scarf and hood
while a splinter of cold, a sliver of dark
slip in behind her and start to walk
with casual gaunt authority
through our pathetic privacy
leafing our books, upending drawers
opening then slamming doors
climbing our steps with ruthless heels
probing the attic and stairwells
then pivoting, vanish without trace
save for the anguish in my face.
From Friendly Street No. 17