i have a signed copy of the flying change by henry taylor. he was a professor in the literature department at american while i was there. it’s one of the best inscriptions i own:
“for victoria ford, with thanks for the pleasure of having seen her work as it has become — from freshman to seniors!”
my first class with henry taylor was my first semester freshman year. my second class with him was second semester senior year. he left AU to retire the same spring i left with graduation. hence the plural “seniors.”
those two classes were two of my best at AU. the freshman class wasn’t particularly substantial or even challenging. it was “the literary imagination,” which is a first-level general education class primarily full of tube-topped girls and baseball-capped boys planning on majoring in business. but i remember how welcome i felt there. i wrote a short story about a goldfish (it isn’t quite as juvenile as it sounds, but of course i cringe in humiliation when i read it now). the day after i turned it in, upon entering the english department office, i found henry taylor (why do i feel compelled to use both his first and last name?) reading it out loud to a few of the professors.
senior year it was a poetry workshop — a low-stress workshop full of mostly non-serious writers (and a respected few with talent, including sandy). i guess i’m mostly a little sentimental about it because it was so non-threatening and almost cozy (the coziness factor, of course, was partially due to taylor’s wife, who sat in at every class, knitting in the corner). afterwards sandy and i would always eat lunch at chic fil a. but i mostly remember how henry taylor (there it is again) could sit back in his chair, half-smile, and recall the entirety of a relatively obscure but always appropriate poem.
i’ve been lucky to have professors who have made me think and challenge myself to an almost exasperating degree (like richard sha), professors who are able to deliver lectures as if they should be sitting in a roman temple (like bob patten), and professors whose ability to lead you through a text makes you feel like you should be right up there with derrida (like helena michie). but henry taylor is different somehow. i don’t necessarily want to talk about poetics with him. i just want to sit on a wide front porch sipping on tea. and i don’t even like tea.
i tend to get a little maudlin on this topic.
but finding the flying change on my bookshelf makes me want to post one of my favorite henry taylor poems:
If poetry did not exist, would you
have had the wit to invent it?
— Howard Nemerov
He had studied in private years ago
the way to eat these things, and was prepared
when she set the clipped green globe before him.
He only wondered (as he always did
when he plucked from the base the first thick leaf,
dipped it into the sauce and caught her eye
as he deftly set the velvet curve against
the inside edges of his lower teeth
and drew the tender pulp toward his tongue
while she made some predictable remark
about the sensuality of this act
then sheared away the spines and ate the heart)
what mind, what hunger, first saw this as food.
— henry taylor