in a cemetery
down Millionaire’s Row
are just as quiet
as the common folk.
— Rick Taylor, Never Alone in a Cemetery
Rick Taylor’s poems can’t be pigeonholed. In his first book, Never Alone in a Cemetery, his words burst out in multiple directions, although the general theme could probably be defined as endings. There are cemeteries, bloody battlefields, suicides, massacres, lovers’ tragic deaths, and musings on aging. But he also looks at life—family, relationships, animals, birds, and even insects.
Some poems are inhabited by widely diverse historic figures, including Custer, Shelley, Goya, Hemingway, Etta Place, and Churchill. Says Shepherdstown’s humorist and poet Ed Zahniser, poetry editor of the Shepherdstown Good News Paper: “The glint in Rick Taylor’s eyes also shines forth in his poems. He can see the world sideways, if you will, as ironic, sardonic, rarely moronic, and always with a sense of humor. There’s nothing stuffy about his poetry, for sure.”
While some poetry is decidedly murky and the reader wonders just what the poet is trying to say, Taylor’s poems are perfectly clear and often tell dramatic stories. Many have military themes—with World Wars I and II and the Civil War revisited—so it was surprising to learn that he has never served in the military. However, he describes himself as a history buff, fascinated by the emotions brought out by the drama of war, heroism, and death.
Taylor takes all sides, speaking as a Yankee and a Reb, an American soldier and a German. He steps so convincingly into the persona of a Nazi in the massacre of an Italian town that it was a shock to find out that it wasn’t a historic event and happened only in his imagination.
A trial lawyer, retired since 2008, Taylor explained, “I’ve always enjoyed writing, but mostly I just did things for my friends and family—like writing poems for people’s birthdays.”
He’d had a few poems published, but had not seriously considered putting a book together. People who heard his work encouraged him to join the local poets’ group, which in turn gave him the impetus to get to work on his book.
He is now working on a new book of poems and plans to tell more personal stories about his life. Explaining that he is bipolar, he said that it had an adverse effect on his life until he was diagnosed and received medication to even his mood swings.
Prior to that, he described his life as an “emotional meatgrinder.” Admittedly, he was at first hesitant to write about his condition, concerned about how he would be regarded. But now, he’s willing to share his experience.
“Maybe it will help other people facing bipolar disorder to get help. I want people to know that meds don’t interfere with my creative abilities.”
Never Alone in a Cemetery is available at Four Seasons Books (116 W. German St., Shepherdstown) and on Amazon. Watch for announcements of Taylor’s next volume of poetry, Headstones in the Headlights, and his upcoming book of short stories, Against the Grain.Review by Claire Stuart