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F E ATU RE S
NOVEMBER 15, 2013
Poet Tess Taylor shares stories behind the writer
BY ANNA OATES
About 90 people packed themselves tightly
into the Hege Library Art Gallery. Once the
chairs were full, people sat against the walls.
Brownies and coffee were dispersed among
the crowd. Tess Taylor stepped up for her
reading and the group went silent.
The readings were from her new book,
"The Forage House." The book is a collection
of poetry written for the purpose of
storytelling: family stories, historical stories
and personal stories.
"I don't know what I think until I write it,"
So she writes about her grandmother, who
was dying at the time the book was written,
to both Imow how to cherish and mourn
her. She writes about what it means to come
from a family that used to be slaveholders,
and what it means to be a direct descendant
of Thomas Jefferson. She writes about her
life, her home and her emotions, in order to
know what they are.
"Oh unfinishable homes, you each feel
so real so briefly, 1 feel you incomplete me,"
Taylor read in a poem about her home state
Her beautiful words created a series of
gasps and nods of agreement throughout the
"I really enjoyed when she was talking
about what inspired her and how she related
to her work," first-year Nicole Barnard said.
"I was struck by the poems, their
combination of outward solidity and fragile
introspection," Assistant Professor of English
Myl^ne Dressier said.
These poems are not just shaped out of
long talks with family — though Taylor
admits she always found inspiration in what
her grandmother said on the porch after two
gin and tonics — these poems are shaped
from research and records.
"We're made of stories and the people
who tell us how to write stories are literary
people, which is why so many of these
poems started with books," Taylor said.
Taylor spent a lot of her time tucked away
in library going through old maps, books and
journals, and also spent time in excavation
sites around old family land.
"I was given a grant to go study and
write a non-fiction book on Jefferson and my
family history," Taylor said. "But 1 wasn't
cut out for diat work. There were shards
of information but nothing was complete
through and through.
"I wanted to write about my grandmother,
but I thought, who would want to read
a book about Thomas Jefferson and my
grandmother?" Taylor said. "But this book
connects it all, in the fitting format of poetry
"The experience of great readings
transports us, teaching and unlocking at the
same time," Dressier said of the readings
from that book.
It is true that she did capture nearly all
of her experiences, writing them down in
computer documents or the notebook she
carries around with her at all times. Taylor
said, "I get panicky when I don't haveit near.
I feel like I'll lose thoughts, and maybe those
thoughts are the ones that are really going to
turn into something."
And as the audience applauded and
laughed, they were thankful for that
notebook and those thoughts that are more
than worthy of being shared with the world.
Tess Taylor reads from “The Forage House.’
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Poems by Tess Taylor
When they found Emeline, a nail
held her sack dress together
at the neck. She lived by gathering herbs
to sell for curing leather from the land
her people held since they took it from the Cherokee,
quilted mountainsides in Appalachia
where they hewed walnut into rocking chairs,
and sang tne stony country’s blessings be,
and ballads carried in their ears from Scotland.
From my grandmother, her granddaughter,
I have one word in her dialect stime.
Long-ah, half-rhyme with steam, its meaning: not enough.
As, there’s nary stime of tea nor sugar nar.
They took apart her house to save the boards.
Off a dirt road, in iron light in the mountain graveyard
her clan’s settler stones grow up with moss
thick as the harmonies in shape-note tune.
Among mushrooms, ivy, rhododendron
are tracings, the shadowy foundations
of the cabin where she persevered and died.
To read the rest of
18th CENTURY REMAINS
and more poems, go to
18th CENTURY REMAINS
A wooded ridge a mile from Monticello.
A pit cut deeper than the plough-line.
Archaeologists unearthed this site by scanning
plantation land mapped field
for roughage, ash. the smear of human dwelling.
We stood amid blown cypresses.