Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Genevieve Taggard

“A poet, a wine-bibber, a radical.”

Born this day in 1894: Genevieve Taggard (1894–1948), poet and social radical who is most remembered for her important biography of Emily Dickinson and who was admired in her own time for her lyricism and her socially conscious poetry

Taggard spent most of her childhood in Hawaii, where her parents served as Christian missionaries. She worked her way through the University of California, Berkeley. There she threw off her repressive upringing, studying poetry and adopting socialist ideals. She described  herself as “a poet, a wine-bibber, a radical.”  Taggard edited the college literary magazine, the Occident, and some of her poems were published in national publications such as Harpers and Poetry.
After graduating in 1940 she moved to New York City. There she joined the city’s radical literary circle, contributing regularly to left-wing magazines. She also co-founded The Measure: A Journal of Poetry. Taggard was a dedicated social radical, advocating socialism, labor rights, suffrage, equality, and other social reforms.
Much of her poetry reflects her politics. Words for the Chisel (1926), Not Mine to Finish (1934), and Calling Western Union (1936) are among her most political. She was also known for more personal poems and poems describing nature that were intensely evocative of place. Her later poetry explored the art form itself. She was particularly admired for her lyricism. In fact, some of her poetry was set to music by William Schuman and Aaron Copeland.
Though acclaimed for her poetry in her time, today she is most remembered for The Life and Mind of Emily Dickinson (1930), an interpretive biography that explores the connection between Dickinson’s psychology and poetry.
In 1921 Taggard married Robert L. Wolf, a writer. They had one daughter. The family briefly lived in California, where Taggard edited a poetry anthology. After returning to the east coast, Taggard began teaching, first at Mount Holyoke College (1929–1930) and then at Bennington College (1932–1935). In 1934 she divorced Wolf and married Kenneth Durant, an employee of Tass, the Soviet news agency, the following year. From 1935 to 1946 she taught at Sarah Lawrence College. She retired due to ill health, and died shortly thereafter at age 53.

Black Laughter
by Genevieve Taggard

Harsh, unuttered thunder
Stood like a stone wall
Above the marsh's silver line.
Crooked cranes, white as lightning–
Flattened for an instant, flashing from the cloud—
Came driving toward us; toward us fell
The long lines of the shade-laden trees,
Soundless slanting thunder:
And the snail-like hills
Dragged nearer
The marsh's slime.

Borne down so
By sullen immensities,
Two caught children we stood,
Waiting the flash, the oblique arm of the parent,
Waiting for speech from the jowl
Of the irritated horizon….

Our love began
Between flash and crash,—
Terror seen and terror heard.
See what a cripple our love is!
It is sullen; sometimes it makes walls of black laughter;
It is fond of words, fond of thick vowels,
It mimics thunder.
Between us it limps:
We wait for it, when we must, faces averted.

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