Saturday, January 21, 2012

Eleanor Ross Taylor, June 20, 1920-December 30, 2011

A family friend, Eleanor Ross Taylor was a woman I feel lucky to have known. Like my mother, she was beyond unique. To describe her would be impossible. To admire her was natural. She was soft-spoken, brilliant, and impeccably well-mannered, but she was also perhaps the most honest writer I have ever met. I remember returning from college, full of youthful enthusiasm and showing her my poems.

I see, she said, reading them quickly. You have a nice grasp of language, but I haven't a clue what you are writing about. Some poets like this sort of thing, but I am not one of them. I think Greg Orr might like you.

She was 100% right. I felt guilty as charged. My work made little sense, but I liked words.

A few years later she asked me if I was sending my work out. I said not yet, and she chided me, explaining that she had been published because she knew all the right people, but that that didn't do much for the ego. "The ego is very important, especially for women. It's easy to set your goals aside and hide behind your role as a mother." And she quickly added that she was only beginning to take on her own career and send her work out aggressively.

She was the only writer who was willing to describe the politics of the literary world, telling me in unsparing details of the darker side. She felt that success was important, but one should not be too in love with it.

Because she was such a proper and southern lady, I was careful not to show her my early published work for fear of what she might think. But she found me out and wrote to me, telling me that she loved the language in The Book of Orgasms but could not tolerate that awful word, orgasm. Couldn't I come up with another word? Call it a fish or a horse? A question she asked me again, in person, a year later, adding that she, herself, couldn't think of better word for orgasm than orgasm. But she would keep thinking.

What I wish I could describe about her was her quick mind and her unsparing eye . . . her willingness to say the truth even when it was/is dark, as in her poem, "At Your Own Risk":

Blessed are the brave,/ for their skulls shall be crushed/ Blessed are the merciful,/they shall be tortured/ Blessed are the idealistic,/they shall despair/ Blessed are the generous,/their bones will be picked clean/ Blessed are the achievers,/ they shall exchange achievements for life/ Blessed are the accepting,/they shall be buried under a mausoleum of woe

And yet she also had the lighter side:

Kitchen Fable

The fork lived with the knife
and found it hard--for years
took nicks and scratches,
not to mention cuts.

She who took tedium by the ears:
nonforthcoming pickles,
defiant stretched-out lettuce,
sauce-gooed particles.

He who came down whack.
His conversation, even, edged.

Lying beside him in the drawer
she formed a crazed patina.
The seasons stacked--
melons, succeeded by cured pork.

He dulled; he was a dull knife,
while she was, after all, a fork.


TC said...

Oh golly, Nin, I hadn't known she was gone.

Almost said "too"...

You've had such good teachers, both departing in the same month.

You've done both of them proud.

Diann Blakely said...

I must know! Did she ever come up with a better word?!

Diann Blakely said...

Nin Andrews said...

No, she never did!

Diann Blakely said...

Left on BAP, and you'll soon see it again--and again--if I know how to get in touch with you. Ask DL and say you have my full and grateful permission:

P.S. How could I have missed Nin Andrew's own post?-- I laughed and I cried, then wrote to ask if Mrs. Taylor had ever come up with a better word [I mis-paraphrased you, for which I apologize] and she sent me a message saying "No! she never did!" Nor have I, I'm afraid.

Diann Blakely said...

A few more links in honor of Mrs. Taylor and her highly illustrious family. Jean Ross Justice, Mrs. Taylor's sister, is a fiction writer whose accomplishments, too, must neither be ignored nor ghettoized as "Southern." I'll start with THE END OF A GOOD PARTY: "Through blood and marriage, Jean Ross Justice figures among one of America’s most distinguished literary families: her sister is poet Eleanor Ross Taylor, wife of fiction writer Peter Taylor; and her husband was the Miami-born poet Donald Justice, who died in 2004. And while only obliquely autobiographical..."(

There's also JUSTICE, J. R. (2010), JOY AND SUFFERING. The Yale Review, 98: 149–161. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9736.2010.00603.x

So many roads continue to lead back to Tampa--remember Erica Dawson and her superlative poem on E-Verse Radio, published one day before Mrs. Taylor's poem was reprinted from THE GUARDIAN ( Dawson teaches at the University of Tampa, the publisher of THE END OF A GOOD PARTY--also to Anthony Hecht, Philip Hoy, and J.D. McClatchy.

Mary Jo Salter judged the 2006 Hecht Award, given annually by Waywiser Press, and Dawson the second year after its establishment won with BIG-EYED AFRAID ( She is also to be found with Kim Bridgford, Jehanne Dubrow, Annie Finch, Quincy Lehr, and many others in THE BEST OF THE BAREFOOT MUSE (, edited by Anna M. Evans.

Among the connections here is Edna St. Vincent Millay: look for "Beneath Your Moon, Almighty Sex:the Love Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay" (, Millay being the first poet who captured Mrs. Taylor imagination and may well have contributed to her unusual deployment of form; though Anne Carson and Jean Valentine should come as no surprise to readers of the autobiographical essay in THE WOMEN'S REVIEW OF BOOKS, Mrs. Taylor's tastes having always been catholic.

Diann Blakely said...

From Facebook,, with preceding items posted at best american poetry, eleanor ross taylor:

“Accepted Solitudes”: my impulse is to give this tribute to Ellen Bryant Voigt, whom I see as Mrs. Taylor’s most obvious and metaphorically lineal descendant a title of which I think both would approve, though it comes from a 1997 interview / essay by Tony Hoagland:

Or perhaps Voigt, like Mrs. Taylor, would prefer the word “subversion” somehow applied, along with KYRIE, the title of her polyphonic sonnet sequence about the plague of influence that soldiers returned to at the end of the Great War, as discussed eloquently by Ross Kesler:

BLACKBIRD offers a trio of pleasures with an interview, two-part lecture, and “The Feeder,” a ten-section poem available both as text and audio, and its dedicatee is the former Poet Laureate of Maryland, Michael Collier (, who will also appear in “Down--But Not Out--In Mississippi and Elsewhere,” rescheduled to begin running on 29 February on with a poem from his forthcoming book (W. W. Norton),
and, about Voigt’s book of essays, THE FLEXIBLE LYRIC, written over fifteen years, please see Steven Cramer’s interview at, which will give you further evidence of why she has had such an impact on several generations of students, just one aspect of Voigt’s career and influence which will be amply demonstrated in “Controversies, Connections, and Coincidences.”

My thanks once again to the Academy of American Poets (
and to the Poetry Foundation (, without whom neither this thread nor this page would have been possible.

Tomorrow, the day of Mrs. Taylor’s memorial service in Charlottesville--2:00 p.m., at St. Paul’s, across from the Rotunda--will be a last set of posts in her honor, as well as a final letter of resignation from my tenure at this page, restating some of the series’ original aims and what I hope will continue to be its mission, carried on by many, many voices and for a long time to come.

Diann Blakely said...
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Diann Blakely said...

A four-part addenda: THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER, the sole extant collection of essays about Mrs. Taylor, is available via; Eric Gudas, author of BEST WESTERN and the first full-length book on Mrs. Taylor and her work, reads two poems on his website (; Dannye Romine Powell, poet and journalist, leaves us a lovely obiturary notice in the CHARLOTTE OBSERVER (; and Richard Howard will be writing an appreciation of Mrs. Taylor for the next issue of PARNASSUS, whose expanded and redesigned website ( will make its début soon.

Diann Blakely said...

See also an omnibus by Kate Daniels which includes a discussion of LATE LEISURE: "Bombs in Their Bosoms"
Kate Daniels, THE SOUTHERN REVIEW; Autumn 1999.

Diann Blakely said...

For an omnibus that includes a discussion of LATE LEISURE, please see "Bombs in Their Bosoms" by
Kate Daniels, the SOUTHERN REVIEW, Autumn 1999.

Diann Blakely said...

There's also a wonderful interview with Mrs. Taylor by Jean Valentine in the SOUTHERN REVIEW, Vol. 33, No. 4, Autumn 1977.

Diann Blakely said...

There's also a wonderful interview with Mrs. Taylor by Jean Valentine in the SOUTHERN REVIEW, Vol. 33, No. 4, Autumn 1977.

Diann Blakely said... and