Amanda McLeod Reviews Featured Artist Christine Taylor's 'The Queen City'

Featured Artist Christine Taylor has a poetry collection titled The Queen City, being released in August by Broken Sleep Books. AHP Managing Editor Amanda McLeod was lucky enough to see an advance copy and shares her thoughts on Christine's work below.

Photo by Jade Stephens on Unsplash
Christine Taylor yearns for a simpler time. In The Queen City, she looks to the past to determine how the community of Plainfield, N.J., has evolved since her childhood days here. What her meditations uncover, however, is that the simpler time she remembers is coloured by the innocence of youth, and her more worldly adult self looks back through a distinctly different lens. 

This collection is a thoughtful blend of the reminiscent and the haunting. Taylor recalls:

Years later, the brook became a haven
to a middle schooler who cut class.
skipped stones,
read stolen books of poetry
under a tree on the steep bank…

While she can find the beauty in moments, Christine also doesn’t blanch in the face of historical trauma that still echoes today. Litany for the Queen Cityreflects on the murders of 12 people in 2016, and how unease and an unsurprising mistrust of authorities silences community members.

She thinks on a community shaped by race riots, by disadvantage and marginalisation; impacted by flooding, poverty, drugs, murder. How do people overcome the divisiveness that permeates their lives? Judy asks why it takes a disaster / to get us all together— none of us know, she writes. But there are glimpses here, of a sweetness that lingers from the past. Childhood reminiscence takes centre stage in On the Block: An Elegy, as Taylor thinks on the moments of her own youth that hold true even in the face of what has come since. And there are moments of contemporary unity too. The poem Every Small Kindnessis a vignette of the desire for togetherness, the human tendency to reach out to each other. Christine shows us that all in Plainfield is not lost; there are flowers emerging from the cracks in the concrete. This is a place that still has hope for brighter days, and reasons to expect they might be coming.

Taylor uses form and language masterfully here. Line breaks are studied, bringing the reader to pause and consider before dropping down onto another line that recasts the previous in another dimension. Flood Zonefeatures delicately balanced couplets, while onomatopoeia shines in Our Rite Of Passage. Her haibun specialty sparkles in Backyard Pastoral, and prose poetry neatly weaves between more classic poetry layouts to keep the eye keen and eager. Christine has a gift for identifying detail and using it to create rich imagery: a Neighbourhood Watch sign / streaked with dark stains / from unforgiving weather / stands on a rusty post is a standout detail from Neighbourhood Watch, as is this Backyard Pastoral description of how patches of grass sprout from the lawn in wild circular sprawls

Christine Taylor’s poems sit together here in perfect balance. She strives to acknowledge Plainfield’s past, which still simmers beneath the surface and undeniably shaped how the community there has developed in the years since the flashpoint of the opening poem The Long Hot Summer. Taylor nods herself to the ways in which her feelings of safety and her sense of being embedded in her childhood hometown have been impacted by contemporary struggles, both local and cultural. But when she sees those glimmers of possibility, she grabs onto them tightly and holds them to the light, letting them shine.

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