Tess Taylor

Tess Taylor‘s chapbook, The Misremembered World, was selected by Eavan Boland for the Poetry Society of America’s inaugural chapbook fellowship. The San Francisco Chronicle called her first book, The Forage House, “stunning,” and it was a finalist for the Believer Poetry Award. Her second book, Work & Days, was called “our moment’s Georgic” by critic Stephanie Burt and named one of the ten best books of poetry of 2016 by The New York Times. Taylor’s work has appeared in The AtlanticThe Kenyon ReviewPoetryTin HouseThe Times Literary SupplementCNN, and The New York Times among others, and she’s received awards and fellowships from MacDowell, Headlands Center for the Arts, and The International Center for Jefferson Studies. Among other things, Taylor is the on-air poetry reviewer for NPR’s All Things Considered. She served as Distinguished Fulbright US Scholar at the Seamus Heaney Centre in Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and was most recently Anne Spencer Writer in Residence at Randolph College. She grew up and lives again in El Cerrito, California.

All Books

Rift Zone

Tess Taylor

Publication Date: April 7, 2020

$16.95 Tradepaper

ISBN: 978-1-59709-776-5


Rift Zone, Taylor’s anticipated third book, traces literal and metaphoric fault lines— rifts between past and present, childhood and adulthood, what is and what was. Circling Taylor’s hometown— an ordinary California suburb lying along the Hayward fault— these poems unearth strata that include a Spanish land grant, a bloody land grab, gun violence, valley girls, strip malls, redwood trees, and the painful history of Japanese internment.

Taylor’s ambitious and masterful poems read her home state’s historic violence against our world’s current unsteadinesses—mass eviction, housing crises, deportation, inequality. They also ponder what it means to try to bring up children along these rifts. What emerges is a powerful core sample of America at the brink—American elegy equally tuned to maternal and to geologic time. At once sorrowful and furious, tender and fierce, Rift Zone is startingly observant, relentlessly curious—a fearsome tremor of a book.


“The poet for our moment.”—Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic

“In Rift Zone, Tess Taylor’s brilliant third collection, we encounter a magisterial range of subjects, from the geologic to the civic to the intimately personal. This book is a confident poetic engagement with the vital issues of our time, including the disastrous consequences of human activity on our climate, and its effect on the public and private spheres. Rooted in the shifting California landscape, this elegiac yet hopeful book is a necessary addition to the corpus of work dedicated to grieving the world as we know it.” —Ada Limón, Bright Dead Things

Work & Days

Tess Taylor

Publication Date: April 8, 2016

$11.95 Tradepaper

ISBN: 978-1-59709-732-1


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.

Praise for Work & Days

“(This) lapidary, moving book… shows that across thousands of years, these smallest acts—to grow, harvest, mourn—still remain central to lyric utterance. Is such a pastoral sensibility possible in the mediated world of 21st century American life? Taylor’s answer is not only yes, but to focus on the thousands of workers both here and abroad who live a life based on laboring with the earth. These subtle poems, like those that explore her lineage to the Jefferson family in her first book, are not without harder-to-confront agonies. As she draws the world… proximate to touch, the intuited sense of apocalypse—whether ecological disaster, or global political chaos—draws closer… (as well.)—Stephen Burt

The Forage House

Tess Taylor

Publication Date: August 1, 2013

$17.95 Tradepaper

ISBN: 978-1-59709-270-8


Attic boxes full of shards. Family stories full of secrets. A grandchild wondering what to save and what to throw away tries to make sense of what it means to inherit anything at all. In The Forage House, Tess Taylor’s anticipated lyric debut, the speaker unravels a rich and troubling history. Some of her ancestors were the Randolph Jeffersons, one of Virginia’s most prominent slaveholding families. Some were New England missionaries. Some were dirtpoor Appalachians. And one was the brilliant, controversial Thomas Jefferson. Taylor herself is a Californian, who grew up a continent away from each of these worlds. Shuttling between legend and story, history and family tale, these poems visit cluttered attics, torn wills, and marked and unmarked graves. Many of the poems were written while Taylor was in residence at Monticello, working in dialog with top historians and archaeologists there. Based in years of research and travel, these poems form a lyric journalism, collaged from tantalizing fragments. Moving between past and present, east and west, they reveal an uneasy genealogist struggling with ambiguous legacy. The poems dance between inheritance and loss, reimagining “illuminating lies.” In their hunger to assemble and remember, they also forge a new record of struggle and love: “how much I wish for will not be recorded.”

Praise for The Forage House

“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.”—Natasha Trethewey

“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.”—Robert Pinsky


CNN: Tell us what you’re reading right now

Reading literature can give us a place to turn right now — and not just because it’s comforting. It’s because it helps us grapple with enormous ruptures in time. There’s […]

Tess Taylor’s Incredible Family Journey

Tess Taylor has had an amazing journey of discovery these past few months. Her debut poetry collection, The Forage House, chronicles the exploration of her familial lineage and ties to Thomas […]

Tess Taylor Interviewed by The Poetry Foundation

In an interview with The Poetry Foundation's Stacey Lynn Brown, Tess Taylor discusses her collection of poetry, The Forage House, and her connection to her famous ancestor, Thomas Jefferson. Taylor […]


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