Harvey Taylor

Here is Godsil’s introduction to Harvey Taylor.

And here is Harvey’s page in the Milwaukee OnLine Journal Of Social Enterprise.

Harvey’s web site:


Some of Harvey’s excellent words:

Godsil Interview With Harvey Taylor, Milwaukee Poet

Godsil. It is my understanding that you have made a good portion of your livelihood working on the docks of Milwaukee. It is also my understanding that for many of us, myself included, you are one of Milwaukee’s top poets, songwriters, and movement activists. How has working on the docks affected your poetry, musical career, and activism? Are there other dockworkers in Milwaukee or wherever who combine the dockworker trade with what seems to be a full time musical/writing/performing career?

Taylor. I’ve been working at the port of Milwaukee since ‘66, right out of college…I felt like I’d spent most of my life in classrooms, and wanted something very different…I literally needed to ‘come to my senses,’ after ‘living in my head’ so much. Well, it’s very different in some obvious ways, but of course, still a ‘classroom,’ in others!
Along with my involvement as a longshoreman, I’ve also worked in a day-care cooperative (a most valuable experience), and done lots of residencies as musician and writer in schools, and facilities for those with ‘special needs,’ including prisons, and workshops with people I think of as ‘neurologically mysterious,’ folks typically viewed as ‘disabled,’ due to cognitive/physical etc limitations, but who often embody enormous creativity in the ways they deal with their difficulities…

Back to your question as to how my time on the waterfront has affected my poetry/songwriting/political-&
-cultural-activism etc: it’s certainly had a HUGE influence, as indicated by the many poems, songs, and photographs that have come directly from my work-life at the port; and my awareness of being a working person gives me a strong sense of solidarity with the ongoing struggles for justice amongst those who labor, the people who actually produce useful goods and services for the community.

As to your query re kindred spirits: I don’t know of other longshoremen with off-job involvements similar to mine…
however, a retired Milwaukee longshoreman, Mike Zettler, has a fascinating history of ‘Longshoring At The Port Of Milwaukee,’ including photos, on his website: www.geocities.com/mikelzet/---and Eric Hoffer is a well-known author, who worked on San Francisco’s waterfront for many years.

An additional relevant note re my work on the docks: one of the primary attractions is that I have the option of working when a vessel is in port, or skipping it, if I have something else planned (which is often the case); plus, I have
winters off, when I concentrate on recording projects, and teaching (yes, I LOVE winter!)

I could say a lot more, but want this to be a conversation, not a monolog…
though I’ll mention my website here, for anyone interested in checking out numerous poems, song lyrics, audio clips, links to videos, a sampling of my photography, etc etc: www.harveytaylor.net

thank you, Jim, for getting this, & a WHOLE LOT more, going!

Viva, milwaukeerenaissance!

Godsil. You told me a while back that you were not born in Milwaukee. Where did your family start out and what brought you to Milwaukee? What was your family’s response to your choosing to work on the docks of Milwaukee?

Taylor. My folks are rural North Carolinians transplanted to Norfolk, Virginia, where I was born…..we moved a lot, Rhode Island, San Diego, Oregon, before settling in Milwaukee (with three siblings by then), when I was a senior in high school…….I began working at the port as the revolutions of the Sixties (cultural/political etc) were intensifying…..
my parents were no doubt bewildered and dismayed by my turning away from a ‘professional’ career track, when they’d worked so hard to achieve ‘respectability’……we reconciled over the years, as I added teaching (creative writing and music residencies in public schools, ‘special needs’ settings, etc), performance, publication, etc, to my livelihood array.

Godsil. So you have lived quite a rich and thick life, exposed to many different kinds of people, belief systems,huge historic moments and transformations. Lot’s a stuff! Reflecting upon 50+ years, what most surprises you about the life you and yours have lived? What have been the most pleasing surprises? the biggest disappointments?

Taylor. No wonder I paused a month or two after that question!
And I’m still scratching my head…
given my expressive inclinations, perhaps the best way to proceed is by offering a poem, and a song lyric:

Recovering Egomaniac

I keep coming back to a stark realization,
compelled by circumstances to acknowledge
a fundamental flaw in my character, and
not just mine, but a seemingly universal trait:
the ‘default setting’ for my basic concerns
covers the spectrum from me, to myself, to I.

It’s like I’m living in a pre-Copernican cosmos,
still believing that the sun revolves around the earth…
and not just believing it, but acting as if that’s the case,
or at least, certainly should be.

Shouldn’t my whims and impulses,
my desires and needs,
my priorities and compulsions
be the most important things in the world?!

What a ridiculous question!!
Damn right they should!!!
Or so goes my assumption.

Of course, in the real world this means
I’m often bumping up against other egomaniacs
who have their own version of this melodrama running,
starring, naturally, themselves, with no interest whatsoever
in casting someone else in that coveted leading role.

Now and then, I bump so hard into someone else, or
some situation involving others, that I’m forced by
my pain to take a close look at what’s going on, and
do some personal therapy, perhaps in the form of
reading from a book called ‘When Things Fall Apart,’
doing some informal rehab, some meditation,
extra-hard swim workouts, more t’ai chi,
talking things over with a friend,
writing a poem, making up a song,
playing my trumpet all night long,
whatever it takes to get halfway sane again.

That particular crisis weathered, I tend to slide back
into good ol’ egomaniac mode, perhaps a little more
subtle version, ‘til the next time…
and there’s always a next time.

I’m long overdue to realize that
I’ve got to ‘stay on my program’
permanently, as is the case with
any other addict who’s serious about
recovery, for, ego is the real heroin,
crack, alcohol, nicotine, and obviously,
I’m seriously addicted to ‘me’

Where We Earthlings Dwell

I saw a headline in the paper:
Mother Earth Is In Intensive Care—
she’s pictured in bloody bandages,
with IVs poked in everywhere.
A worried nurse checks the thermometer…
Mama’s temperature is sky high—
we’ve got to get her fever down,
before the ice-caps melt and die.

A hospital spokesman says it’s ‘touch and go’…
doctors are doing everything they can—
it’s hard to decide where to operate first,
whether the ocean or the land.
Mama’s poor lungs are laboring…
too many forests have been whacked—
her pulse is getting awfully faint:
how in the world do we bring her back?

Put solar panels on every roof…
watch windmills go ‘round and ‘round—
keep coal inside the mountains,
and let oil stay underground.

Relatives gather at Mama’s bedside…
We really-really want her to get well—
because after all, Mother Earth is
the home where we Earthlings dwell.
And now I’m looking into my crystal ball…
O, what a glorious sight I see:
children laughing, birds singing,
and Mother Earth, healthy, and happy…
children laughing, birds singing,
and Mother Earth, healthy, and happy…

yes, put solar panels on every roof…
watch windmills go ‘round and ‘round—
leave coal inside the mountains,
and let oil stay under the ground

In general, I’m surprised that my personal life is so satisfying…
(it took me decades to get some creative momentum)--
but the suffering and sorrow so prevalent on our beleaguered planet often feels overwhelming…
as exemplified by the ongoing horrendous War

James Godsil.


The Milwaukee Renaissance

Our Milwaukee is a soulful town
that’s had its share of ups and downs…
now we’re trying to get it right,
so all God’s children can live in the Light—
welcome to the Milwaukee renaissance.

Native Americans gathered wild rice here…
next thing they knew, Germans were brewing beer…
wave after wave of immigrants arrived,
made themselves at home, worked hard, and thrived—
welcome to the Milwaukee renaissance.

Breweries and tanneries had their day,
foundries and factories provided good pay…
now they’ve just about faded away,
and we’re busy brainstorming new ways to create—
welcome to the Milwaukee renaissance.

We’ve got big problems, that’s for sure…
failing schools, high unemployment: there’s no easy cure—
how do we transform a Rust Belt economy
into one grounded in sustainability?

We’ve got good examples all around…
Growing Power teaches us how to farm in town—
and the Urban Ecology Center
inspires activists, students and mentors—
welcome to the Milwaukee renaissance.

Sometimes it’s hard to believe in a ‘renaissance,’
but I don’t speak with nonchalance…
we all have a great opportunity
to contribute to the Greening of our community—
welcome to the Milwaukee renaissance.

Discover and participate in what’s going on:

—Harvey Taylor

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Last edited by Tyler Schuster. Based on work by Godsil, Brydie, Olde Godsile and TeganDowling.  Page last modified on December 07, 2008

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