Taylor Celebrates Audubon’s Life in Verse

by Victoria Sullivan

When thinking of poetry, what usually comes to mind is along the lines of Emily Dickinson or T.S. Eliot: proclamations of true love or contemplations of life and death. However, Richard Taylor, Transylvania’s Kenan Visiting Writer, has taken on a different approach: a book of sonnets on John James Audubon. Having already written a sonnet collection about Abraham Lincoln, Taylor has grounding not only in the lyrical aspects of the endeavor, but the historical as well.  

Dr. Richard Taylor describes Audubon as “a man committed to the integrity of his art.”

The book, titled “Putting Audubon Into Words,” consists of 85 poems detailing numerous moments of interest in Audubon’s life, including childhood, marriage, and his work with Constantin Rafinesque, one of the most recognizable symbols of Transylvania University. In Taylor’s current FLA II class, “Curses, Cadavers, and Chronicles of Transylvania,” which he is cooperatively teaching with physics professor Jamie Day, he explores many aspects of Transylvania’s history.

Taylor has been working on his collection for nearly two years, and his manipulation of the sonnet is a unique feature of the work. Taylor chose this medium specifically: in his own words, the sonnet is “one of the most durable, adaptable, and forgiving in Western literature.” Indeed, the sonnet has been around for nearly 800 years, since the Italian poet Petrarch first started his work. However, in Taylor’s book, the normal rules of the sonnet do not apply: the typical forms utilized by Petrarch and Shakespeare have taken new form in this work, since he breaks traditional rules of line and meter almost to the point of changing them completely.

Writing sonnets is one thing, but why write them about John James Audubon? Audubon was, as Taylor described him, “a man committed to the integrity of his art,” and the immense scope of his work is a testament to that fact. Not only was he an educated and accomplished man, but he also had an extensive history in Kentucky, particularly with regards to his work on “Birds of America.” Taylor explained that it was this, as well as the time in which he lived—the 19th century—that sparked his interest. Having lived in Louisville and Henderson Co. KY, Taylor was intimately acquainted with the life of Audubon to begin with. After exploring Audubon’s life deeper still, it was then that Taylor decided to express his remarkable life through poetry.

Taylor’s book will be available from Larkspur Press, a private publishing company here in Kentucky.


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