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4 poems by Keith Taylor

1 essay by Melissa Fite Johnson,
on the poems of Keith Taylor


What a beautiful assignment I’ve been given—read these anonymous poems, appearing in my
inbox like a letter in a bottle washed ashore. It’s actually similar to an activity I do with my high
school Creative Writing students. Volunteers let me know ahead of time if they want their
prompt shared anonymously with the class, so I pull each piece up on the screen and let the class
take in someone else’s words without knowing who to attach them to. It leaves them caring
about every single person in the room, because it could be anyone. Reading these poems has
given me that same gift, only the writer could be anyone in the whole world.

If I go with that theme, that thesis statement, of poems-as-gift, then the first gift these particular
poems have to offer is making the real world feel like a wonderland. Literally, these poems are
about moths and snowstorms and birthdays, but they’ve been shaped to flash “quick and
shimmering in the light!” These poems miracle the ordinary: a field becomes “the soft place
where leaf meets twig”; a shadow, “a blue without a name.” I read these poems at the end of a
hard week and I’m so grateful. I needed to remember magic.

Body 2, the second gift: a second sense. Sound. The pleasure of these poems goes beyond sight,
wordplay in phrases like “our aches and age” and “higher and higher until he dies.” And can’t
you just hear kids on a playground chanting “full moon, blue moon, super moon” like it’s the
new “Bobo Ski Waten Taten” complete with hand claps and maybe even jumps?

The third (not final, not with these poems, but this is a classic five-paragraph essay and I’ve got
to keep it to three) gift is the reminder that reading poems alone in my quiet house is “the best
kind of loneliness.” It feels like somehow, some way—scribbled on a postcard sent over an
ocean, or on a paper airplane sent “to decorate / [my] yard miles from here”—these poems have
reached me specifically, from a friend answering questions I don’t remember asking: “Sure, you
can call it...” and “So if you want to...”

My students never know how to end their essays. They’ve been taught to restate what’s already
been said, but I tell them the best way is to go beyond what’s already said—why does your thesis
matter? For this particular essay, this thesis, here’s what I’ve got. At the same time I was gifted
this stranger’s poems, someone else was gifted mine. I can only hope that someone was half as
moved by my work. And this gift isn’t limited to this journal, this project. Every time someone
shares a poem on social media or teaches one in a workshop, every time we walk into a
bookstore that hopefully has a robust poetry section, we experience this magic, this joy, this
conversation. This experience has been a reminder that in times of despair—or at any time, but
doesn’t it matter most in times of despair?—this gift is here, this gift is always.


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