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:
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:
defiant stretched-out lettuce,
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.