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Poet Tess Taylor Invites People To Embrace Darkness Of This Time Of Year

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

One way to try and make sense of the world is through literature. Poet Tess Taylor has some poems that invite us both into the dark of our times and the darkness of this time of year.

TESS TAYLOR: So I picked some poems by N. Scott Momaday, who is one of our great elders, both in the poetry community and he's also an elder of the Kiowa nation. And he has two books out. One is "Earth Keeper," a tiny collection of poetry, shards and reflections about keeping the Earth, and the other a sort of collected work of poems that spans many years. And they're both full of real lyric richness. They could sustain you. I love them as a pair. I love each of them individually. And a lot of us were stuck where we were a lot in 2020. And I think we have a chance to rethink our relationships to the places we live. And he kind of invites us to do that. So he says in one of the poems about a bear that actually appears in both of the books, which is kind of cool, (reading) now fix yourself in summer in thickets of ripe berries, and venture toward the ridge where you were born. Be present on your journey. Keep to the trees and waters. Be the singing of the soil.

(SOUNDBITE OF WALT DICKERSON'S "HIGH HOPES")

TAYLOR: And the next book is "Now It's Dark" by Peter Gizzi. It's a good read for this dark solstice season that we're in right now. The poems are very dark the way good chocolate is dark or red wine is dark or soil is dark or winter night is dark. And they are very beautiful in terms of their twisting and slowing down time. Gizzi has a way of throwing his voice from very far off. So there's a poem that begins, (reading) those years when I was alive, I lived in the era of the fast car. There were silhouettes in gold and royal blue, a half-light in tire marks across a field, times when the hollyhocks spoke.

(SOUNDBITE OF WALT DICKERSON'S "HIGH HOPES")

TAYLOR: So the next book is Together In A Sudden Strangeness: America's Poets Respond To The Pandemic. This is a collection, an anthology of poems that was put together by former New Yorker poetry editor Alice Quinn. She began reaching out to poets early in the pandemic. And if you want a moment to just feel what this year has been like and hear other voices affirming your experience of it, this book would be a wonderful one for you. In particular, I love these poems by Rick Barot, who has this gorgeous collection called During The Pandemic. And I just wanted to read a few of those here.

(Reading) During the pandemic, I knew each neighbor by one thing; the neighbors above the baby, the neighbors below the dog, someone down the hall fried fish, someone else down the hall the opera when their door opened. I made my rooms quieter by standing in the middle of each one, my mind moving intently like an old man in slippers. I wondered what one thing the neighbors would know me by, what truth and inadvertence could betray.

(SOUNDBITE OF WALT DICKERSON'S "HIGH HOPES")

CORNISH: That's Tess Taylor. She also has a poem in that collection. It's called "Together In A Sudden Strangeness." You can also read her book, this year's "Rift Zone."

(SOUNDBITE OF WALT DICKERSON'S "HIGH HOPES") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.