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January 17, 2012


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Thank you so much, Ms. Andrews and Mr. Lehman! More to come!

--‎as I look at this, the opening of "Notes on the State of Southern Poetry," I hear a chime with Panthea Reid's VQR essay-- a seemingly proleptic sense of the historical and literary importance of Charlottesville and Richmond, some very interesting and pertinent commentary on the construction of anthologies by Lisa Russ Spaar, the state's mystery and legacy of massacre, and astonishingly astute reflections on the Millennial Gathering of New Southern Writers by Lambda winner Brian Teare, especially those pertaining to Ellen Bryant Voigt's clear and determined voice.

And with what particular authority it rings and chimes in Voigt's foreword to CAPTIVE VOICES (, published in Dave Smith's Southern Messenger Poet series as she rightly proclaim Mrs. Taylor "a poet of genius," also associated here with a description of her as "decidedly regional but determinedly universal," an assessment with which all seem in accord.

"Disappearing Act," for example, was first published in the GUARDIAN (, and my thanks to Ross Taylor for permission and to Ernest Hilbert for re-printing this poem on E-Verse Radio (

Winner of the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the PSA William Carlos Williams Book Award, and NBCC Finalist Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Finalist. Where to begin? At the last, I suppose, with yet another always perceptive reader, and a poet I greatly admire, Kevin Prufer: Prufer and Jean Valentine will be among those on a panel devoted to Mrs. Taylor's work at AWP this spring.

There's a beautifully electric citation here, written by Lynn Emmanuel,; and a highly revelatory new essay from SHENANDOAH, "Always Reclusive," by Elizabeth Meade Howard (

Matt Schudel's obituary in the WASHINGTON POST is more distanced, obviously, but quotations he uses and almost lyrical candor of some of his remarks are reminiscent of his subject's own mien and work: CHAPTER 16, based in Nashville, blends a chorus of poets and writers around the country in "A Brilliant Light Around the Corner":

With Mrs. Taylor's death, the polish and poised, if obliquely scathing commentary of her friend Betty Adcock in Part Two of "Notes on the State of Southern Poetry," gained added resonance indeed ( No poet denies that she comes from a certain place and time, but even "she" has not fully outgrown its pejorative nature (Viva VIDA!, and its founders, Erin Belieu and Cate Marvin, also Percival Everett for "Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose," and Jericho Brown for posting on his Facebook page, where I first saw it--’s-just-another-word-for-nothing-left-to-lose); thus, when added to "Southern," racial constructs seem to disappear and leave behind, if not barbs, than Randall Jarrell's barbed but finally tragic statement as part of his introduction to Mrs. Taylor's first book, A WILDERNESS OF LADIES: "The world is a cage for women, and inside it the woman makes of herself her own cage." When he won the National Book Award that year, Jarrell publicly averred that the prize rightfully belonged to his former student, from whom he had learned more, he also declared, than he could have possibly taught her. Would we have "The Woman at the Washington Zoo" without Mrs. Taylor's influence? I confess to a certain delight that Valentine shared my long-held opinion that the answer is "no!"

Which is why I appreciate so very much Valentine's editing THE LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER, a collection of essays on Mrs. Taylor's work: like Richard Howard's and Adrienne Rich's advocacy, many readers came--and more, I feel sure, will come--to the poems without preconceptions, yes, even those who might not pick up a collection with "Southern" associated with its maker or press. Thus, finally, my thanks to Amy Guth, who mentioned the word not once in her CHICAGO TRIBUNE celebration of Mrs. Taylor's being awarded the Lilly Prize from the Poetry Foundation in 2010 (-; and again and again to David Lehman and David Yezzi, for their efforts, early and now, in "telling the world":

P.S. How could I have missed Nin Andrew's own post?-- I laughed and I cried, and she sent me a message saying "No! Mrs. Taylor never thought of a better word!" Nor can I, I'm afraid.

P.P.S. Nor did I even quote Andrews correctly! I'm sorry! While it's true that I both laughed and cried, I sent a message through Andrews's b-site demanding "I must know! Did she ever come up with a better word?!"

January 25, 2012 3:39 AM

Nin Andrews said...
"No, she never did!"


"I don't think of myself as a Southern writer, though I fiercely love the part of North Carolina I am a product of, and my poems obviously reflect that world of backwoods Southern characters, the poverty of the rural South during the Depression years, handed family stories, and the echoes of hymns and Scriptures from Southern country churches. I feel there is danger that self-conscious Southernness, like gimmicks, can be used to cover emptiness. Great poets, of course--Yeats and Frost--have a borderline provincialism, and I love the Irish flavor of Eavan Boland, the New York City of Anne Winters, and the North Carolina specificity of Joan Cockrell New.

"From my most recent collection, LATE LEISURE (LSU Press, 1999), I have a few favorites. 'Diary Entry' for me brings the realistic restrictions of age economy together with romantic holdings and loss; 'Completing the Pilgrimage,' primitive and rebel impulses fighting allegiance to convention, niceties and necessities; 'O Lamp' expresses inescapable attachment to family. In DAYS GOING (University of Utah Press, 1991), one of my most ambitious poems, 'War Paint,' had its genesis in reading about pioneers and Indian captives. I began to equat that captivity with the self-imposed captivity our once-pioneer country's society has become. I regret my title to this poem. Alice Quinn gave it an excellent one, 'Captive Voices,' but my Methodist masochism said it wasn't cricket to use somebody else's title (though the Agrarians occasionally accepted whole lines from one another). If it's ever in another collection I want to return to hers.

"Is life easier for women writers now, no longer discouraging to notice that Emily Dickinson, Emily Bronte, Elizabeth Bishop, Edna St. Vincent Millay, omitted marriage and motherhood. Probably so, but I hope 'At the Altar' experience any artist's obligation to one's talent.

"Poets can't be kept from writing poems about the writing of poems for the narrow audience of poets, the writing of poems is so essential part of their inner life, their very nature, and may be linked with the desire for immortality. 'Sailing to Byzantium' and Blake's 'rural pen,' as well as James Dickey's transmutation of the dreams of the dog asleep in his feet, and Richard Howard's 'Vocational Guidance' dramatizing obligation to talent.

"My poems are most about people. A number ... concern not only personal difficulty as a writer in some particular time, but the general predicament of frustrated lives, the sense of guilt of not redeeming potential, and frustration at delay of achievement, and obscurity.

"On the other hand, there are advantages for poets who write in the dark, as it were--no pressure to print poor poems, or books hastily thrown together because editors, naturally impressed by publicity, ask for them; no dissipation of energy to readings, meetings, writers' conference, though I see these can provide inspiration, and I know a word about a poem from a reader can plunge you into new activity and new territory, and a response from a thoughtful editor can open your eyes to an unadmitted flaw and get you solving problems.

"And it's hard for me to get to a library with the little literary magazines. I subscribe to a half a dozen, rotating some. Now and then I am stunned by a knockout poem--John Haines, Jeredith Martin, Anne Carson, James Harms, others. I personally think too many poems now are overly congested. No reason a poem can't be complicated yet sound simple, and I miss in much abstract poetry the human element of place and individuality. I think free verse is here to stay, that prosody can, again, cover a vast emptiness, though really masterful prosody--rare nowadays--adds magically to a poem.

"I wonder whether all poets long to think of readers going to the shelf for their books when they are dead. The great poets are usually the dead of their time, but other timely great vanish. Did Pound mean it when he wrote, 'I beg you, my friendly critics / Do not set about to procure me an audience / I write with my free hand upon the crags'" Did Omar mean it when he advised, 'Take the cash and let te credit go'? Probably most poet think not; I think we dream of the unborn ear, as we believe in the ungraspable that poetry is about."


In addition to being Eleanor Ross Taylor’s brother-in-law, Donald Justice belongs on the list of any 20tth century canon. Though born in Miami and partly reared in south Georgia, he remains no less defiantly nonregional. I invite those unaware of the sepia-tinged nostalgic glories of his formal mastery to make his acquaintance, perhaps first through

Also from:

I apologize! I persist in the belief, despite many years of contrary evidence, that everyone knows what I do and worse, thinks as I do. Thus I've not even thought to mention Heather Ross Miller and her most recent book, LUMINA, which she kindly sent me and in which I reveled for an entire night, and I've just found two lovely and, well, illuminative b-posts on the collection:

Heather Ross Miller | the cave, the hive
When you introduce multiple characters and tag dialogue in a short poem, you mak...
See More
January 7 at 6:12pm · Like · 1 ·
Diann Blakely Here, Kathryn Stripling Byer refers to Mrs. Taylor's niece as one of the "divas of Southern literature," which, to me, at least, is a bit like calling the kettle covered in some sort of plain-style sequins, but her post, and the poems included, are certainly worth readers' close attention:

HERE, WHERE I AM: POET OF THE DAY: Heather Ross Miller
January 7 at 6:16pm · Like ·
Diann Blakely! I'm sending Ms. Miller a check for a copy of one of those memoirs she has in her barn ASAP, and, with her having been a student of Jarrell's, just like her aunt, and having Donald Justice as her...uncle-in-law, not to mention the author of sixteen books and being the Poet Laureate of NC, I anticipate many hours of post-holiday pleasure!

Welcome to the Arts in North Carolina!
The North Carolina Arts Council and its services. A place to discover great con...
See More
January 7 at 6:20pm · Like ·
Diann Blakely

Heather Ross Miller
January 7 at 6:21pm · Like ·

Also from:, another member of Mrs. Taylor's circle, though Emerson, unlike Miller, Mrs. Taylor's niece, is that through poetry, not blood...if there's a difference:

After a couple of weeks' hiatus from the "Monday's Poem" feature of the CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION, it is a pleasure to send along a link to this week's offering, "Ephemeris," by Claudia Emerson. (The link says "Page Not Found," but I'm not sure why - it does work.)

For those of you who have forgotten Emerson's recent poem in THE NEW YORKER,;

As for the rest of her substantial accomplishment, including having served, like Kelly Cherry, as Virginia Poet Laureate, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her third book, LATE WIFE, read;

Claudia Emerson - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Claudia Emerson (born January 13, 1957 Chatham, Virginia) is an American poet wh...

Melanie Young and see the LSU site for her most recent books, FIGURE STUDIES and SERVING THE SHADOWS (;, and poet Sarah Kennedy's entry about her in the ENCYCLOPEDIA VIRGINIA:

(Melanie Young is my Heaven-Sent Helper on the Facebook "Notes on the State of Southern Poetry" page, which is where all of this information can also be found, if in a far more scattershot fashion)--

In addition to being Eleanor Ross Taylor’s brother-in-law, Donald Justice belongs on the list of any 20tth century canon. Though born in Miami and partly reared in south Georgia, he remains no less defiantly nonregional. I invite those unaware of the sepia-tinged nostalgic glories of his formal mastery to make his acquaintance, perhaps first through As usual, the Poetry Foundation's resources are vast and most welcome:;
and the sole critical assessment of his work remains CERTAIN SOLITUDES, edited by Dana Gioia (

There's Another excellent essay by Edward Byrne, "Music and Memory: Donald Justice's 'Collected Poems'"(
and an entire trove of items from a less-known source, Patrick Kurp's "Anecdotal Evidence" (,
as well as a piece by one of his many former students, Tad Richards,, though these include Angela Ball, Rita Dove, Tess Gallagher, Debora Greger, Mark Jarman, Larry Levis, Lynne McMahon, Gregory Orr, David St. John, Elizabeth Spires, and Charles Wright

Perhaps there is none more surprising than Denis Johnson, the sonneteer extraordinaire with North Carolina roots, as we have learned through John Jeremiah Sullivan's interview/essay here, named after one of Justice's own remarkable, poignant poems:>

Here's a lovely biographical note by Philip Hoy of Waywiser Press: Donald Justice in conversation with Philip Hoy, published in October 2001 by Between The Lines, is now part of his seven interview with American Poets, which include Justice's and Philip Levine's classmate at Iowa, W. D. Snodgrass, Mark Strand, John Ashbery, Anthony Hecht, and Richard Wilbur ( The link will take you directly to 7 AMERICAN POETS IN CONVERSATION and all information needed for ordering.

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.

The titles I omitted from the WOMEN'S REVIEW OF BOOKS autobiographical essay are as follows: "At the Altar," "Woman as Artist," "Courtesy Call,"’ "In the Bitter Roots," and "Mouse."

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as I enter
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