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

Description:

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.

PRAISE FOR RIFT ZONE

“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

Description:

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

Description:

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.”


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

News

An article by Tess Taylor, author of RIFT ZONE, is featured in Harper’s Magazine!

Throughout his political career, Joe Biden has frequently invoked his favorite poet, Seamus Heaney. Accepting the Democratic nomination for president, Biden quoted Heaney’s “The Cure at Troy,” an adaptation of Sophocles’ play Philoctetes, which posits that “once in a lifetime / the longed-for tidal wave / of justice can rise up / and hope and history rhyme.” Months later, after the brutal attack […]

Poets Corner reading to feature RIFT ZONE author Tess Taylor!

MIDCOAST — On Sunday, June 13, from 4 to 5:30 p.m., inaugural poet Richard Blanco will appear on ThePoetsCorner.org in conversation with fellow poets Tess Taylor and Rick Barot, brought to the public in collaboration with Maine Media Workshops + College. These three poets are teaching workshops and craft seminars during Maine Media’s third annual Writers Harbor Poetry […]

Tess Taylor, “how verse can provide solace,” on PBS New Hour!

For many, it’s a time of uncertainty and isolation. But in poet Tess Taylor’s humble opinion, turning to verse can provide solace. Her recent book of poems is “Rift Zone,” and the following essay is part of our arts and culture series, “CANVAS.” Watch here!

Tess Taylor featured on CNN!

Before the pandemic hit, playwright Matthew-Lee Erlbach was working on a play about American labor movements between 1890 and 1920 — an era that many associate with seamstresses jumping out of a burning factory during the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, Upton Sinclair’s exposés of foul meat factory buildings or Mother Jones’ tireless organizing on behalf of […]

Tess Taylor’s RIFT ZONE longlisted for the Believer Book Awards!

Each year, the editors of The Believer present awards to the works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry they find to be the best written and most underappreciated. For the first time ever, we’re honoring comics and graphic work in a distinct Graphic Narrative category. Below are the longlists of nominees for each category. The short lists and […]

RIFT ZONE by Tess Taylor, is a Boston Globe favorite!

RIFT ZONE BY TESS TAYLOR Taylor released two books this year: a Dorothea Lange documentary project, and this collection of original poems that mine personal, California, American history, and changes in climate and ecosystems for shimmering, shattering beauty. — Jason Myers

New Poetry Evokes A Fractured Landscape

Book tours have been canceled since shelter-in-place began, so we’re bringing Bay Area author readings to you as part of our “New Arrivals” series. This one is from El Cerrito author Tess Taylor reading from her new poetry collection, “Rift Zone.” Listen to the full reading here.

A Poet of Found Language Who Finds Her Language in Archives

“One must cross the threshold heart of words,” Susan Howe writes early in her new book, “Concordance,” an appealingly jagged sequence of collage poems. The “threshold heart,” for Howe, is a kind of echo chamber where sound dazzles the inner ear and resonance dances with meaning. To invite us into this complex space, Howe populates […]

Datebook: How Bay Area authors stay creative amid the coronavirus pandemic

Poet Tess Taylor questioned what it means to be creative, when every day feels like a radical reinvention of life. “These days, helping myself and my family steer a way around sadness, anger, grief, loneliness, boredom or despair feels like its own art form. This emotional work of getting around and through takes time, even before the […]

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 been much discussion of how much we need books right now, to comfort, distract, or console us from the pandemic and its toxic effects. I’m […]

‘A Community Of Desperation’ Finding Sympathy And Solidarity In Dorothea Lange

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST: Photographer Dorothea Lange had an eye for capturing what was going on around her – the Great Depression, Japanese American internment camps during World War II. Her most famous portrait is of a migrant mother, her face lined with worry. In February, a retrospective of Lange’s work opened at New York […]

The Yale Review features “Song with Day Glo & Jello”

Hulky & afloat on seas of parkingthe old Plaza                          dated from the fifties— sold Day Glo Ice & jelly shoes,new Sweet Valley High & sour candy.  Our flock would  flock to Woolworths,buy 99-­cent Wet & Wild to line our lips.  We wandered home between the glaze […]

El Cerrito poet, NPR correspondent Tess Taylor pens new books

EL CERRITO — Local poet Tess Taylor has recently released her fourth book, had one of its poems published in the New York Times and wrote an opinion piece for CNN about the significance of reading literature during a global quarantine. With hair salons shut down during the novel coronavirus shelter order, she also gave […]

Zyzzyva’s “The Intimacy of Breath” Essay by Tess Taylor

Here is the strange thing: I was already writing poems about the precariousness of California. I’d been writing them for ten years, since I moved back from New York and came back to the East Bay after two decades away. That was 2011. I had just had a baby. At first, it seemed like I was […]

A Modern-Day Bay Area Poet Recreated the Journey of Legendary Photographer Dorothea Lange

“She inspired me as a model of persistence.”  So says Tess Taylor, a poet in the Bay Area, who undertook the journey once travelled by Dorothea Lange, the extraordinary woman photographer. Last West: Roadsongs for Dorothea Lange, is Taylor’s work in conjunction with the sweeping retrospective of Lange’s work Dorothea Lange: Words & Pictures at the Museum of […]

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 Jefferson, the third president of the United States. It was the publication of this book that led Gayle Jessup White, a communications consultant, to reach […]

The Forage House and Speaking Wiri Wiri on Split This Rock’s Poetry Recomendation List

Split This Rock named Tess Taylor’s The Forage House and Dan Vera’s Speaking Wiri Wiri under their annual poetry book recommendation list for 2013. “Every so often there is a book of poetry that reminds us how well verse can speak history. Taylor, a white descendant of Thomas Jefferson…patches quotations, blanks, and context into a carefully tessellated structure.” –Oxford […]

Seamus Heaney Poems Come To Life In Belfast, Ireland

In an interview with 90.3 kazu, Red Hen Press poet Tess Taylor reflects on the work of fellow poet Seamus Hearney and how he was able to write his poetry using memories of the places he once called home. http://kazu.org/post/seamus-heaney-poems-come-life-belfast-ireland#stream/0

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 does not shy away from answering questions about the complex figure that is Thomas Jefferson. She also provides insight into the intricacies of poetic writing. […]

Reviews

Tess Taylor’s RIFT ZONE reviewed on West Branch!

Like many devoted bibliophiles, I love to visit archives. I sigh contentedly while enacting the familiar rituals of shutting the locker door on all of my belongings except two mechanical pencils and a notebook. It’s such a feeling of curious hope to fill out the little slips of paper that send a librarian down an […]

RIFT ZONE by Tess Taylor reviewed by Reader Views!

“Rift Zone” by Tess Taylor, is a powerful, moving collection of poetry giving voice to the voiceless, and to those who express theirs in a whisper, a whimper, a growl, or a scream–whatever the utterance may be. These poems describe rifts in various forms–rifts in society, rifts in the earth, rifts among people and ideas, […]

LA Review of Books analyzes and reviews Tess Taylor’s thoughtful works

“The poems in Rift Zone exist in a moment before rupture, an overhang of historic land fractured by histories revised and erased. Taylor magnifies these tensions when she recalls the instabilities of her adolescence. Moments from her upbringing in a suburb “clean as a lobotomy” take place against the vastness of geologic space-time — “the Earth’s mantle, […]