Stars and Scoops
Oh, I despair of myself
That your Berlitz is too simple for me.
Yet, when you lie across the bed,
Eyes shouting at the ceiling,
Hands clenching letters out of all syntax—
I see what you mean.
Our language exists but in silence,
Our mortality but in immortality.
—Eleanor Ross Taylor, "Chapter and Context,"
Sewanee Review, Spring 1966
Eleanor Ross Taylor, a longtime contributor and friend to the magazine, passed away on December 30, 2011, at the age of ninety-one. Having contributed poetry and fiction to the magazine since Andrew Lytle began to publish her work in the mid-sixties, Ms. Taylor went on to become an eminent and successful poet whose career was admired both in the critical and public spheres. Her second book of poetry, Welcome Eumenides, whose title poem appeared in the 1969 issue of the SR, was favorably reviewed by Adrienne Rich in the New York Times. "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," said Rich, adding that Ms. Taylor's works "speak of the underground life of women . . . the woman in the family, coping, hoarding, preserving, observing, keeping up appearances, seeing through the myths and hypocrisies, nursing the sick, conspiring with sister-women, possessed of a will to survive and to see others survive."
In 1943 Eleanor married Peter Taylor in Sewanee, TN, at the St. Andew's Chapel. Mr. Taylor, one of the review's most influential hands, would introduce Eleanor to such Sewanee familiars as Robert Penn Warren, Allen Tate, Robert Lowell, and Randall Jarrell—the latter of whom was especially encouraging to Ms. Taylor's poetic efforts and assisted in getting her first poetry collection published. Refusing to cower in awe of or passively conform to the styles of the renowned company she and her husband kept, Eleanor developed her own distinct voice. There is a certain southern sentiment in her tone—and this is no surprise coming from a woman "whose familiarity with Southern history, culture, and landscape is profound," as Eric Gudas writes—but this southernness does not result in soporific gentility or rocking-chair musings. Instead what characterizes Ms. Taylor's language is a tension, between the conventional and unconventional, the metered and unmetered, the formal and fragmented, which gives her verse a unique vitality and lyricism.
In all Ms. Taylor published six books of poetry, the last of which, Captive Voices: New and Selected Poems, is her best-selling and which Kevin Prufer praised as the work of a "supremely gifted poet who skips so nimbly around our sadness and fears, never directly addressing them, suggesting, instead, their complex resistance to summary." In addition to winning the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry in 2000, Ms. Taylor earned the Shelley Memorial Award by the Poetry Society of America in 1998 and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize 2010.
Read Ms. Taylor's obituary in the Washington Post here.