Keith Taylor Reads from “Marginalia for a Natural History”


Keith Taylor, a Canadian poet and coordinator of the undergraduate creative writing program at the University of Michigan spoke to a group of students and teachers in the CHS library during lunch on April, 16. Taylor read from his newly published “Marginalia for a Natural History” to an audience comprised of members of the CHS Poetry and Ecology Clubs.

Ellen Stone, the adviser of the CHS Poetry Club, spoke highly of Taylor’s writing and persona. “He still is the most down to earth, sweet, straightforward kind of guy. He came in to my Writer’s Workshop [class] many times to read stories about growing up in Canada and his poems. He is very funny and really personable. It turns out he is an avid birdwatcher, and he knows a lot about nature and canoeing,” she said. Stone met Taylor in the 1980’s when he was working at the original Border’s bookstore in downtown Ann Arbor.

Comfortable exploring the wilderness or sitting with a book, Taylor’s poetry, especially his most recent work, focuses natural themes. “I think inspiration reflects concerns and a good deal of my concerns over the course of any year are things having to do with things that happen outside,” he said.

He shared stories about his life, but also provided advice for poets. Taylor stressed the importance of placing constraints on one’s writing. “Often when I’m just trying to organize a poem, trying to get a poem going, a very simple constraint that seems so artificial but so effective … is counting syllables. It’s simply because it forces us to do new things. It forces us to think about the lines differently … It forces us to maybe find new words that we wouldn’t think about otherwise,” he said. For example, every poem in  “Marginalia for a Natural History” is eight lines long with nine syllables per line.

Much of Taylor’s poetry is based on a connection to place. He read several poems with references to Ann Arbor, where he has lived for many years, and his family’s experiences in the midwest. “I have this whole reputation as a Michigan writer, and part of my professional life I make a living as a ‘expert’ of Midwestern literature, and I can’t even vote. I’m Canadian, so I like to think of myself as a resident of the Great Lakes Basin,” he said.

In addition to his work in Ann Arbor, Taylor directs the Bear River Writers’ Conference, an annual event for writers from around the country which takes place in northern Michigan. “It was like, ‘Let’s bring people to northern Michigan, and do nature writing and literature and stuff like that.’ But it’s primarily a literary conference. Seventy-five percent of the people there are interested mostly in scenery and writing. About 25 percent probably are interested in writing about place. It is a marriage. It is a beautiful place,” said Taylor of the conference, which will take place from May 31-June 4 this year.

CHS English teacher Judith DeWoskin also praised Taylor’s work and his love of the literary arts. “I always thought of him as someone that just knew all about books … He is a book person, and I love that about him, and I love his poetry. We just read two of his short stories for my short story class, and my students really enjoyed his stories. He is a lovely writer, and he is a naturalist, and he canoes all over the place. A lot of his poetry is about Michigan. I just think he is wonderful,” she said.

Watch Taylor perform the poems published below.

Keith Taylor from The Communicator on Vimeo.
My Daughter’s Narcolepsy

Before we received the official

diagnosis, we loved to recount

her sleep episodes. My favorite:

the Louvre, in front of those gigantic

paintings David made celebrating

the coronation of Josephine

and Napoleon before the French

nobles. My daughter drooled on the bench.


The Criticism of My French Poems

Our relationship was probably

over by then, but I let her read

the only copies–each clean and short

with simple, fragile lines. She walked past

a window, reached out, and dropped them all.

I saw the poems fluttering onto streets

or into those clipped Parisian tress.

Some caught a breeze, floating up, away.