Tess's newest book of poetry, Work & Days, is out now!
“Our moment’s Georgic”— Stephen Burt
In 2010, Tess Taylor was awarded the Amy Clampitt Fellowship. Her prize: A rent-free year in a cottage in the Berkshires, where she could finish a first book. But Taylor—outside the city for the first time in nearly a decade, and trying to conceive her first child—found herself alone. To break up her days, she began to intern on a small farm, planting leeks, turning compost, and weeding kale. In this calendric cycle of 28 poems, Taylor describes the work of this year, considering what attending to vegetables on a small field might achieve now. Against a backdrop of drone strikes, “methamphetamine and global economic crisis,” these poems embark on a rich exploration of season, self, food, and place. Threading through the farm poets—Hesiod, Virgil, and John Clare—Taylor revisits the project of small scale farming at the troubled beginning of the 21st century. In poems full of bounty, loss and the mysteries of the body, Taylor offers a rich, severe, memorable meditation about what it means to try to connect our bodies, and our time on earth.
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"Tess Taylor’s poetry… points to her craft and artifice… in preternatural lyrics about the cycle of the seasons (with) austere, resonant and sometimes terrifying subjects... formal, darkling poems… her project—the wages of war, labor, ecological violence—is revealing yet further urgent contexts for poetry.”
--Barnes & Noble Review
"It’s wonderfully carnal, that savoring that carries all the way into darkness... The opposite of error, here, is not correctness—it’s life, and the hunger for life, for the vegetables that turn dark soil and the day’s light into sweetness... and for our own conversions, too..."
"Taylor contemplates the invisible threads that tie the individual body to the numerous bodies scattered across the planet... Taylor's engagement with the poetry of agriculture reveals a deep sense of humility and a newfound gratitude for life itself."
"...in an era when distraction endlessly beckons from tiny screens in the palms of our hands, [Taylor] says farming can help reconnect us to the world."
--The Salt @ NPR
"...with [Taylor's] consciousness, evocative and redolent of the hard sensory clarity of the earth, come also intimations of apocalyptic time as much around the world as here at home."
“... a book… of great immersion, in both landscape and thought.”
"...we feel her muscles singing."
“Work & Days is our moment’s georgic, our lyric book about labor and retreat, security and greenness, a book with “a thousand leeks to plant” and also a lament, in “cello tones . . . It is not coming back.” It is vividly seen but also full of open space: Taylor invites us . . . into a seasonal cycle that’s not what it was, that reflects a changing earth, but one that nevertheless looks back to antiquity fully persuaded that its traditions are here for us too.”
“The shape of a day, a year, a life; the press of mortality; the clutch of soil; the specific angles of light in each season: Work & Days takes the measure of a contemporary life anchoring itself, provisionally, in a farming year. The beauty here co-exists with rot, ripeness with blight. Taylor’s poems are lean, her imagination and reckoning rich. The turn of the plow offers one of the oldest images of the turnings of verse: Taylor’s poems carve their own furrow in our common soil—a line between wanting and getting, working and hoping, learning and failing, losing and making. This is a severe, attentive book, paradoxically lush in its very stringencies. Despite all, ‘a throaty world sings ripen.’”
“Taylor is geologically, biologically, and morally alert. With a naturalist’s painterly and wide-open gaze, she includes crises of war and environment alongside the actual, detailed labors of greenhouse and field. This book presents the knowledge of labor in many forms: its ripening in gardens and farms, culture and birth-giving, an inseparable part of our days’ broader makings within the ‘chapped farmhouse’ that houses our hard-won, shared fates amid the existence of all.”
Tess's first book, The Forage House, was hailed as "stunning"
The Forage House was selected for The Believer Poetry Award Editor's Short List. The San Francisco Chronicle calls it "stunning."
Oxford American calls it "visceral, densely detailed and frequently playful."
Guernica lists it as an editor's pick for 2013.
Barnes and Noble Review praises its "lightning flashes of lyric."
Publisher's Weekly calls it one of this season's four most exciting poetry titles.
Library Journal calls it "a rare view of our history, deepened with mystery."
Some cool things:
A piece Tess wrote for the VIDA, Women in Literary Arts web site, Report from the Field: But Do You Have to Work?
Tess on NPR reviewing How to be Drawn by Terrance Hayes.
The Forage House was featured on The Blog on HuffPost!
Vendela Vida praises Tess in the Wall Street Journal.
“Tess Taylor’s The Forage House is a brave and compelling collection that bears witness to the journey of historical discovery. Sifting through archives, artifact, and souvenir, Taylor presents a dialectic of what’s recorded and what’s not, unearthing the traces that give way to her own history—and a vital link to our shared American past. What’s here and accounted for draws us powerfully toward what’s absent; what seems complete here never is—something as fragmented as history in the language, as haunted too.”
“Ezra Pound’s definition of the epic—’A poem containing history’—demands courage and intellectual range, as well as lyrical gifts. Tess Taylor meets that challenge in The Forage House. A figure of epic scale, Taylor’s Thomas Jefferson is tragic as well: ‘ambitious foundering father.’ The poise, candor and reach of this book—with a vision that embraces the enigmas of contemporary El Cerrito along with those of the slave-owner Jefferson—are deeply impressive.”
“Document-gatherer, exorcist, mourner, pack-rat, and celebrant—Tess Taylor orients herself within her family’s history of slave-owning in Virginia, their missionary zeal in India, and their displacement to California. A mini-history of our nation, her ambitious poems ignite fact into lyric flash as she implores her ancestors ‘to explain / their America, their prodigal / half-remembered, always present pain.’ The Forage House is a book of conscience and sensuous reckoning.”
“In Tess Taylor’s collection of poetry, American history is a garment woven from tattered bits of family lore and large swaths of imaginative inlays, so that which shines most is a spun strand of stunningly rich language.”
“Tess Taylor’s The Forage House is, among other things, a tribute to the human capacity to perceive the objects of one’s attention—one’s surroundings, things at hand, and even oneself—not merely as they appear in the present, but also as products of, and with, particular histories. These histories can never be retrieved in their entirety, much less with perfect certainty, and what we discover of them might turn out to be difficult to accept. Nonetheless, the sense that we live “haunted by remains” should be cultivated and celebrated as a redeeming human trait, one that will serve not only to fortify our grasp of the present, but also our commitment to the future. Few books in recent memory have taken up that task as scrupulously and artfully as this one.”