Dunes Review Interview Series: Keith Taylor
Keith Taylor has published 16 books, chapbooks, and edited or translated volumes. Very soon he will stop teaching at the University of Michigan.
Keith's poems “Vet’s Pool: The Deep-End Test” and “At Belshazzar’s Feast" appear in the 2017 summer/autumn edition of Dunes Review.
What first inspired you to write?
The very first moment, at 12 years old, was adolescent loneliness. My family had recently moved to the United States. We’d come from a small town in the rural West of Canada, to a battered Midwestern city. I did not feel as if I belonged. I started putting words on paper.
What's your least favorite thing about writing?
Taking the time to get the work out there in the world. That is often tedious, but is nonetheless necessary. If you’ve done the work, I think you owe to the work to find an audience for it.
What is your writing routine like?
Since I have always had to work, often fairly meaningless jobs, I learned early on to stick the moments of my intellectual and creative life wherever they might fit – over morning coffee, on lunch hours, on the bus ride into work. I have kept at it in a daily way, but with no fixed routine.
What's the first thing you do when starting a new piece of writing?
I get down a phrase, sometimes just a couple of words, that seems to capture the mood/description I’m feeling. Sometimes I try to find words that will capture the image that has captivated me, but that is harder. I build from there, and then usually start cutting.
Do you let other people read your works in progress? If so, whom?
I used to, but now I am more comfortable working alone. Often an editor will suggest changes and I will often make those changes.
How do you know when a piece is finished?
I’m not sure I ever know whether or not a piece is finished. And I’m more than willing to change it when/if I get the chance to reprint it.
How do you feel about sharing your writing with readers?
Although I have never felt desperate for readers, I do want them. The work needs to have readers. I’ve been at it a long time now, and the work keeps drifting out – in books and chapbooks, in journals and on-line. I keep hearing more and more from readers I didn’t know I had. Some of the things I’ve written have been important to a few people. That is very gratifying.
Can you tell us about a piece you are particularly proud of?
Oh, this changes all the time. But for the last couple of years, there has been a little 12 line poem called “When the Girls Arrived in Copenhagen” that has seemed closest to what I would like to achieve. It was in a small journal, was reprinted in a chapbook, and is in my latest full length collection The Bird-while.
Who are you currently reading?
Right now I’m up at UM’s Biological Station on Douglas Lake, a place where I’ve worked for the last dozen years. The pile of books beside me is smaller than the usual pile at home. I’m really enjoying a memoir by Hope Jahren called Lab Girl. And Robert Hass’s most recent “new and selected,” The Apple Trees at Olema is the book of poems I’ve been reading through in the evenings.
If someone were to write a book about your life (either fiction or nonfiction), who would you want that author to be and why?
I would love it to be some smart young person 40 or 50 years younger than me who was deeply enthusiastic about my work.
What is your favorite thing to do when you're not writing?
I study birds.