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Tess Taylor

Tess Taylor is the author of five collections of poetry, most recently Last West and Rift Zone, both from Red Hen. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic, Poetry, the Times Literary Supplement, CNN, and the New York Times, and she has received fellowships from MacDowell, Headlands Center for the Arts, and the International Center for Jefferson Studies. She was a Fulbright scholar at the Seamus Heaney Centre in Queen’s University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and has served as the poetry critic for All Things Considered for over a decade. She teaches poetry and nonfiction at the University of California, Davis.


A Note Let Go

Winter 2018 | Essays

Recently, rewatching The Commitments (which I’d last seen at the tender age of thirteen), I found myself thinking again about what a strange road it has been—for Ireland; for the world. That movie—based on a Roddy Doyle novel about a Dubliner who insists on forming an ill-fated but spirited soul band—came to cinemas in the US two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and seven years before the Good Friday agreement, which paved the way for peace in Northern Ireland and Ireland more generally. The Commitments is full of a 1990s sensibility. The city is scarred and there are horses in the vacant lots, but soul music is coming to Dublin. Soul is going to be a new vessel for singing old pain and buoying up joy. The world of the movie is open to heady reinventions, which in its tellings seem somehow more hopeful than mere appropriation, more artful than mere global capitalism. When I first watched The Commitments, in 1991, I had just been liberated from a childhood spent performing Reagan-era arms-race drills by huddling under various elementary-school desks in California. We’d vanquished the Russians and we seemed ready to be done with borders. Our whole world seemed about to tip toward something happier and more international, a high-speed blur which seemed like it might be a good in itself, which might yet lead to peace and prosperity for all. It’s worth remembering how parts of the nineties had a kind of blinking freshness to them. Francis Fukuyama told us history was over. We lived in the thrall of possibility. 

El Camino Real

July 13, 2015 | Poetry

The corridor, a New Jersey of the West, its stucco newness.
What king was it that built this highway?


Summer 2015 | Poetry

In every sale a list of ways your home 
could be destroyed: flood, poison, earthquake, fire. 

Private family graveyard at Monticello. Charlottesville, VA. (iStockPhoto / Gene Krebs)

Remembering the Randolphs

Summer 2013 | Memoir

As soon as I began to ask questions, I realized how much work had gone into no longer asking them, into silences or re-​routings, into omissions, not-​noticings—​into a carefully pruned rhetoric of absence. When I began to realize I wanted the answers to such questions, I realized how afraid I was of asking them at all. 

On Launching My First Book

September 9, 2013 | Essays

I’ve only been a first-time author for about two weeks now, ever since my first collection of poems The Forage House came out.  However, I do know something about what to do while waiting for a book to come out. I've been about to be a [...]