Eleanor Ross Taylor (June 30, 1920 – December 30, 2011) was an American poet who published six collections of verse from 1960 to 2009. Her work received little recognition until 1998, but thereafter received several major poetry prizes. Describing her most recent poetry collection, Kevin Prufer writes, "I cannot imagine the serious reader — poet or not — who could leave Captive Voices unmoved by the work of this supremely gifted poet who skips so nimbly around our sadnesses and fears, never directly addressing them, suggesting, instead, their complex resistance to summary.
Eleanor Ross was born in rural North Carolina in 1920. She enrolled at the Woman's College of the University of North Carolina, now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where she studied with the poets Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon. She graduated in 1940, and worked for a time as a high school English teacher. With the recommendation from Allen Tate, she was admitted to Vanderbilt University for master's work with Donald Davidson. There in 1943 she met Peter Taylor, whom she married after a six-week courtship, having broken off her engagement to another man.
Eleanor Ross Taylor and Peter Taylor in August 1946. Photo by C. Cameron Macauley.
Panthea Reid has written of their marriage, "Like most women of her generation, Eleanor Ross assumed that marriage and a career were incompatible. Despite precocious beginnings, therefore, Eleanor Ross largely ceased to write when she married the major short story writer and novelist, Peter Taylor. Perhaps she did not want to compete with her husband; certainly she was too busy to follow a dedicated writing regime. She served as wife, mother, housekeeper, hostess, letter-writer, and also family packer, as Peter Taylor nomadically moved from one to another writer-in-residence post.
In the 1950s, Peter Taylor was teaching at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, along with the poet Randall Jarrell. Eleanor Taylor had been writing poems for some time, and Jarrell became her critic and sponsor. In 1960, her first poetry collection, A Wilderness of Ladies, was published; Panthea Reid has speculated that Jarrell "probably was behind the publication of Eleanor Taylor's first collection of poems", and Jarrell wrote an introduction for the volume. This first volume received a middling review from Geoffrey Hartman, who wrote, "That every poem is like to every other is not a fault, at least not in this volume. It is the price Mrs. Taylor pays for achieving a style with her first book. There is, miraculously, no pastiche. The fault I do find is related to her wish to write directly from the middle of other minds.
In 1972, her second book of poetry, Welcome Eumenides, was published by George Braziller, Inc.; Richard Howard, a poet who was then editing the Braziller poetry series, wrote a foreword for the volume. In her New York Times review, the poet Adrienne Rich commented that, "What I find compelling in the poems of Eleanor Taylor, besides the authority and originality of her language, is the underlying sense of how the conflicts of imaginative and intelligent women have driven them on, lashed them into genius or madness, ...
Taylor's third collection, New and Selected Poems (1983), was published by a small press run by Stuart T. Wright, and apparently received very little distribution. Her next collection, Days Going, Days Coming Back (1991), was chosen by Dave Smith for the University of Utah Press poetry series. In his review of this volume, Richard Howard summarized Taylor's poetry, "Eleanor Ross Taylor devised, in her startling first poems over thirty years ago, and practices still, for all the modesty of her address, a tough modernist poetics of fragmentation and erasure, the verse rarely indulging in recurrent pattern or recognizable figure, the lines usually short and sharp in their resonance, gists and surds of a discourse allusive to the songs and sayings of a largely southern community dispersed among Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, and Florida and readiest (or at least, most eloquent) to speak in the tongues of remembered or imagined Others."
Dave Smith subsequently selected both of Taylor's ensuing collections, Late Leisure: Poems (1999) and Captive Voices: New and Selected Poems, 1960–2008 (2009), for the "Southern Messenger" poetry series of the Louisiana State University Press.