Eleanor Ross Taylor
Biography of Eleanor Ross Taylor
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.
Eleanor Ross Taylor Poems
No, soul doesn't leave the body. My body is leaving my soul. Tired of turning fried chicken and
The dollar mark said my shoe was long enough and wide enough and happy
Where Somebody Died
The self refuses to appear in this bare place. It fears that mute chair
At Your Own Risk
Blessed are the brave, for their skulls shall be crushed Blessed are the merciful,
Like One Concussed
Like one concussed, he wakes. Where's this? A hole's bombed in the barracks. He knows damnwell
by my trail of fragments, stale crumbs, green broken boughs of protocol.
Too much like myself, it listens critically. Edits, though seldom rereads.
A Change Of State
Was it a car? A tree limb raked the house? A lost wasp
When To Stop
Never knew when to stop, my Aunt, Estelle. A girl, called to recite (a thing she did quite well)
I join in anonymity of robins at sundown, dark, interchangeable, in perch on bedroom tree. Six at a time alight, rise, go for a fly,
Three Days In Flower
Monday he went away. The moon was in her sign, the weather smiled,
The meteor loosed from the council of worlds flashes and cartwheels through
Homesick In Paradise
You, light of sunset firing my back fence; you, wren advising wrens where to bed down, bypassing, as they close, baled lilies;
The serpent in my Eden swallowed Adam. He slithered into meals;
The serpent in my Eden
He slithered into meals;
of course, my bed.
Wrapped himself tighter, tighter,
all around me,
ejecting sweetish venom
in my head,
no simple adder.
That stupe's gone, he said,
love me instead.