Feature Poet:
Lisa Taylor

Lisa C. Taylor’s debut collection of short fiction, Growing a New Tail was released in November 2015 (Arlen House/Syracuse University Press). She’s the author of four collections of poetry, most recently Necessary Silence (2013). Another collection of poetry, The Other Side of Longing, was written in collaboration with Irish writer, Geraldine Mills. Lisa also has two poetry chapbooks, Insufficient Thanks  (2012 Finishing Line Press) and Talking to Trees (2007, Finishing Line Press). Lisa’s honors include the 2015 Hugo House New Works Award for short fiction, a Spotlight feature in January 2015 for the Associated Writing Programs Chronicle and Web Site, an L.L.Winship PEN New England nomination, Pushcart nominations in both fiction and poetry, a Best Indie Lit of New England nomination, and, along with Geraldine Mills, the Elizabeth Shanley Gerson Lecture of Irish Literature at University of Connecticut in 2011. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in numerous literary magazines and anthologies including Written with a Spoon: A Poet's Cookbook (Western Edge Publishing), Women's Art Quarterly Journal, Crack the Spine, Sonder Review, Worcester Review, Birmingham Poetry Review, Connecticut River Review, and many others. Her books have been taught in college classes and recommended on the Faith Middleton book show on NPR. Lisa teaches writing classes at Nichols College in Dudley, MA and Eastern Connecticut State University. www.lisactaylor.com

Soul-Lit co-editor, Samantha Libby, conducted the following conversation this past April.

Soul-Lit:How did you find poetry or did poetry find you?

My father read poetry to me from the time I was quite small. I can remember sitting in his lap in a green upholstered chair by the fireplace. He had a well-worn blue hardcover book called Favorite Poems of the American People. I actually found this book at a used bookstore some years later. So, poetry found me in the cadence of his voice. I believe it helped me to develop the necessary ear for the music of the poetic line. Although I don’t usually write form or rhyming poems, I pay close attention to sound.

LCT: Were you raised in any faith-based tradition?

I began my own religious quest at the age of eight or so. My best friend at the time was raised Catholic so I fancied, for a time, that I could immerse myself in that religion with its scent of frankincense and numerous rituals but eventually I found it did not answer my many questions. Ultimately I found Unitarian Universalists in my teens and it remains my religious home. I was drawn to the humanism, the respect of all faith traditions, and the continuous and evolving exploration of spirituality. I also loved the affirmation tradition where a young person chooses a mentor for year and studies with that person. One of my children chose an artist and the other chose two—a computer scientist and a former Buddhist monk. Although I don’t go often to a physical place, UU principles guide my life to this day.

Soul-Lit: How would you describe the intersection of poetry and the spiritual world/experience?

LCT: One of the UU principles is respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. This definitely reveals itself in my writing. Poetry can be a window into the spiritual world. Through metaphor and image many of us begin to glimpse another level, beyond our day-to-day lives. I have poems that pair a stressful situation like a dying relative with a hawk or fox or the beginning of a season. The mystery of this world and our place become illuminated when told “slant” or through the craft of poetry.

Soul-Lit: Tell me about teaching and how (or if) it informs your writing?

LCT: Teaching is an honor. My challenge is how to imbue my teaching with the kind of energy I feel when I’m writing. I try to reinvent what I do on nearly a weekly basis. Although I don’t write about teaching, my students see the world through different eyes and this keeps me from becoming jaded. I can show them literature they wouldn’t have discovered on their own, and they remind me of immediacy and passion. 

Soul-Lit: What keeps you inspired?

LCT: As I tell my students, characters and inspiration are everywhere. From the man and woman in wheelchairs holding hands to the owl I heard, then saw in a tree at the end of my driveway, all one need do is sharpen skills of observation to keep the inspiration going. There are many deadening forces in our modern world—twenty-four hour news cycles, binge watching, social media overload. Writing slows me down.I try to really look around me on a daily basis. Sometimes I take a walk or pull over when I’m in my car on the way to work. I saw a red fox a week or so ago. I’m also lucky enough to also have dear writer friends and a writers’ group. We challenge each other to listen to our inside voice and honor the muse.

Soul-Lit: What words of advice would you give to new poets or writers finding their voice?

LCT: My advice to new poets or writers is to develop a daily discipline. Make a space in your life for the words to come. It can be ten minutes in your car before you go to class, twenty minutes before bedtime. For me, early morning works best. The other advice is to read as much as possible. I’m continually amazed by students who tell me they enjoy writing but not reading. They are two sides of the same skill. Through reading or listening, we develop a sense of how writing works. My father’s voice reading to me gave me a reverence for the power of words well before I could string them into lines or sentences.

Soul-Lit: I know you've spent a fair bit of time connected to Ireland. Is that a special poetic place for you? Can you describe your work there and how it affects you now?


LCT: I won a Surdna Arts Teaching Fellowship in 2009. This fellowship gave me funds work with Irish writer, Geraldine Mills in Ireland for a month. Although we barely knew each other (we had met at a writers’ conference), we lived together for a week in stone cottage in a remote Irish-speaking town. I stayed the whole month, crafting poems and taking long walks by stone walls and the wild sea. It eventually led to a collaborative collection of poetry that used the Atlantic Ocean as its central metaphor. The Other Side of Longing was published in 2011 and chosen for the Elizabeth Shanley Gerson Lecture at University of Connecticut. We toured the book in Ireland and the US and we remain friends to this day. She introduced me at the launch of my first collection of short stories, Growing a New Tail  in Dublin in September.  Arlen House published the book and have now published two subsequent books of mine, Necessary Silence (poetry) and the new fiction collection. I return to Ireland as often as I can because I have writer friends there and the gray skies, stone walls, traditional music sessions, and tempermental sea speak to me. Last May I rented a house in a little town outside of Galway and I invited my Irish writer friends to a literary salon. Some of them stayed there, having a small writing getaway in their own country. Wherever I live, Ireland will remain connected in a deep way to my writing. It is a country that honors writers and many of my favorite writers hail from Ireland—Colum McCann, Eamon Grennan, James Joyce, Colm Toibin, Samuel Beckett.  Also, I was born on Bloomsday and took many Irish literature classes in college so perhaps my connection to Ireland began well before I first visited.

Soul-Lit: Thank you for the opportunity to share my process and reverence for writing.