Ruth Taylor, 1961-2006
I got a sad email from Ken Norris late last week, to let me know that Montreal poet and teacher Ruth Taylor had died on February 18th. Even though she hadn't published a collection in some time (her second collection, The Dragon Papers, appeared with The Muses' Company in 1993), she was an important part of Montreal poetry throughout the 1980s and 1990s, and taught at John Abbott College in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, the school she had earlier attended as a student. According to her obituary posted in the online version of the Montreal Gazette:
TAYLOR, Ruth Ellen. Crossed over February 18, 2006, Devoted mother of Emmett Keyserlingk, loving daughter of Shirley and the late Sarsfield, sibling rival of Ken. Poet and teacher extraordinaire. Funeral at St. George's Anglican Church, Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue, Thursday, February 23 at 2 p.m. Visitation Wednesday from 6 to 9 p.m. at the J.J. Cardinal Funeral Home, 560 Lakeshore Drive, Dorval. Please omit flowers. If desired a donation to the John Abbott College Foundation would be appreciated. Published in the Montreal Gazette from 2/21/2006 - 2/22/2006.
Another note appeared on Canadian expatriate Todd Swift's blog on February 21st here. Another more recent piece by Endre Farkas appears here.
Here is the single previously unpublished poem of hers from her selection in the anthology Muse On! The Muses' Company Anthology 1980-1995, edited by Ruth Taylor herself (and the last book edited/published by Endre Farkas before the press was sold to Gordon Shillingford, who moved the press west to Winnipeg…):
THE WRECKS OF THE HESPERUS
These phantasms that flaunt their features
are middle-aged men.
I see fierce boys and light piracies shimmering through
the years of rough, dreamed-of rivers, roads they owned,
turnpikes to the stars, their first cars, holy
as the grade ten muse,
first sex and all its blushing hues
trumped up with Elvis tunes.
Now they want to be real pirates, real hot-shots,
comic Casanovas, they seem tragic in their spring throes,
but still crazy, as another old song goes
(after all these years its time for a fling)
they're just guys who won't go to bed
in case they miss something.
My introduction to Ruth Taylor was through that second collection, but a few years after her first poetry collection, The Drawing Board (1988, The Muses' Company). As she wrote about her second collection in Sounds New (1990):
I'm working on a new book. It's called (for now) The Dragon Papers. Apollo's feminists don’t know poetical estrus from political estrogen. The male muse, as The Drawing Board demonstrated, is not yet old enough or separate enough from the godhead to properly inspire (à la Hopkins) the woman/poet. "Dragon" is the muse of this new work, guardian of the word-hoard, sharp-eyed dweller from parts within. I could call the work Notes from the Abyssopelagic Zone. Let those curse it that curse the day who are skilled to rouse up Leviathan. Rising organ music please. (p 125-6)
It was one of the first poetry collections I reviewed, back when I was one of two coordinating editors for The Carleton Arts Review at Carleton University, and I even went so far as host a reading of hers in Ottawa. Later on, she was nice enough to host a classroom reading at John Abbot College for a group of us, when I toured in spring 1999 with Montreal (since moved to Vancouver) writer Anne Stone, and Edmonton poet kath macLean.
The word, alone, must suffice
to speak the sum-total of its history.
It is impossible to refresh
the memory of the world.
This, by misfortune,
is premise upon premise,
line upon line, is theft
is the assocation
of dissociated parts
within the pantemporal sublime.
By good fortune, none of it
is more than an image in a shadow,
a slight bright motion, a fetch
of a silkworm momently eternal
upon a quivering leaf.
This quickens the eye
enough to see through things. (p 47, The Dragon Papers)
Ruth Taylor was originally one of the five Lakeshore Poets, who came out of John Abbott College classes in the early 1980s, including Neil Henden, Ben Soo, Stephen Brockwell and Greg Lamontagne, who ended up being part of the Montreal scene as a kind of second generation offshoot of the 1970s Vehicule Poets; as well as editing the publication Locus at John Abbot College in 1979, Taylor went on to be co-organizer of the Vehicule Poetry Reading Series a year later. They Lakeshore Poets even went on to publish their own collection as Lakeshore Poets (St-Anne-de-Bellevue QC: The Muses' Company, 1982), edited by their teacher, friend and mentor Peter Van Toorn. Taylor's publications included the chapbook A taste of Comet Wine (self-published, no date) as well as her two full collections, and inclusion in the anthologies Sounds New (ed. Peter Van Toorn, Dorion QC: The Muses' Company, 1990) and Cross/cut, Contemporary English Quebec Poetry (eds. Van Toorn and Ken Norris, Montreal QC: Vehicule Press, 1982), among others.
We go by the old road through villages and towns
through green alfalfa fields and granite blasts
lithrums and rushes and lakes as miles pass
flat land and ridges, young corn in the greenest gowns
and stone enough to stop the heart or start it —
the key to my ignition, you bet your sweet ass —
the marché aux puces can't dream it
we go till we run out of gas.
Hey, Peter, I stole it or learned it or owned it.
You can't skip the planet like a stiff bit of flint.
Put your dome on. Clouds make good bridges
for stomping through the blue ethereal loam.
I'll race you through the phlox to the flea market.
I hope you'll leave the fox at home. (Sounds New)
According to Ken Norris, they will be having a celebration for her on Saturday, March 25 at O'Hara's Pub on University St., one block south of Ste. Catherine Street in Montreal. If you want to be involved or just send a poem along, email Endre Farkas at email@example.com
Thanks to Stephen Brockwell for helping locate important bibliographical detail...