Writing after reading 'Pastorelles'

A few years ago I was having beers with a couple of friends. Most of our conversation centered itself around poems and books that had stayed with us, or surprised us in ways we couldn’t have imagined. Someone would offer up a title and a discussion, tangent, poem, or line would follow. I remember how quiet they went when one of them mentioned John Taggart’s Pastorelles. How they just looked at one another and slowly smiled.

A month or so later I started reading Pastorelles, and I understood that quiet.

I was struck by so many things. The repetition that created a multiplicity and exactness simultaneously, the subtlety and boldness of the slash, a similarity in the landscape of the rural Pennsylvania I grew up in, and a lived feeling in the poems. In “Pastorelle 7” Taggart writes,

the problem is not finding a rock there are


 the problem is not turning

 into a rock

 the problem is a problem of how

 far how far can I throw myself and how far can I

throw myself again[1]

I can’t imagine anyone who writes poems not understanding that struggle. That exactness. I can’t imagine anyone alive who wouldn’t understand that struggle. That multiplicity.

For a number of years I had wanted to attempt a series of poems that would consist of a box of words that potentially could be read in any direction. It was daunting, and so it stayed as something to try later. When I read “Pastorelle 7” I decided to “throw myself again” at/into the idea. I came to see through Taggart’s poetry what my earlier thinking was missing, and that was a living conversation. The active conversation that happened as I read and thought towards my own writing reminded me of Peter Gizzi’s “A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me”:

It was an effort
if I wanted to go all over a word
and live inside its name, so be it.[2]

The poems in Pastorelles do more than just evoke or create people, places, and time. The poems allow us to dwell and participate, to “live inside” the people, places, and times through our reading and writing.

“For/After Again” is a revisiting of the five footnotes in “For/After” while rereading Pastorelles. “For/After” originally appeared in Little Red Leaves 5.




voice[1]      abutted      stones[2]      abutted      shore 

open       edge          mudded    object       song


myself[3]    abutted     you[4]           _____[5]       listen

edge       middle      edge         abutted      again

1.            to be one day winter the next spring

2.            the burden of/

3.            and a want for an anchorless heart

4.            unmapped keeper of pieces and imaginings      waiting

5.            the ponderance of the slow/fast side of the river
               says/means what it has always

                before and after        listening

                our listening




For/After Again


                        these things

                        such words


             letter voice bound to be

             unfolded and folded


                         not much is new except

                         rain                        not new rain but same

             constant made still            

             soil mudded                                                           

             sunday sky             house color

             gray              word weathered




             the difficulty of the same

                         difference            trucked in and spilled over

                                                                                         shore made over

             the same word               heavy



             a staying word

             better                             /another place of



            a past

             tense of





             a direction towards       a

             heart in the heart of

             a line

                         that stills



             edge     middle     edge    





1. John Taggart, Pastorelles, 1st ed. (Chicago: Flood Editions, 2004).

2. Peter Gizzi, The Outernationale, Wesleyan Poetry (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2007).