rev. of Days Going/Days Coming Back by Eleanor Ross Taylor

Issue #56
Winter 1991-92

Like Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, Eleanor Ross Taylor is a poet who records in startling detail the mind's passionate and peculiar motion, now supple, now crablike; capable of memory's precise image or its blur.
Days Going/Days Coming Back collects new work together with poems from three earlier volumes, and should bring focus and attention to a writer who has spent thirty years extending the bounds of a classical Modernist tradition allusive, gnomic, steeped in myth and history (in Taylor's case, the lore of her native South), and intimate with psychology posted by Eliot in
The Waste Land.

Beginning with
Wilderness of Ladies, first published in 1960, Taylor has audaciously mixed the front of the house with the back. In these early poems, decorum of rhyme is jostled by plain speech in direct quotation; the iambic of a poem like "Playing" is interrupted and finally usurped by the blunt goat-foot rhythms of a children's counting-out song. Proper relations take laudanum or let the baby catch on fire, or remark on the eve of a certain uncle's death that he should have died sooner. In Taylor's poems, the feral routinely quarters with the genteel; indeed, the rude intrusions of life and Death into the manners and habits of society remains one of Taylor's recurrent themes.

She handles it with irony, and with lines exciting pure terror, often in the same poem. "Who was Athena's pet / Be glad you're dead," "New Dust" begins chillingly, but continues, like a good student's letter home, "But I'm Athena's pet. . . / Send me my jewelled bridle / My Austrian sweater and more books. . ." Taylor's preferred method of work has been stream of consciousness, her meditations stirred by a single observation which acts like a rock tossed into a creek, its ripples enlarging as they roil downstream. The ambitious new poem "Casting About" begins with an epigraph, "At Cross Creek Bill Long limited on bass Wed. a.m.," and pursues the idea "To limit on something! " through fishing reports, reports of bottomless sinkholes, and the question, "Where is the catch I'm after, the bottom line?"
Days Going/Days Coming Back reveals a series of carefully wrought nets Eleanor Ross Taylor has cast in order to capture, with intelligence and brio, the tenor and texture of our times.

Joyce Peseroff