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Our Spring 2018 IssueEnlarged view of image

Born in 1952, John Taylor is an American writer, critic, and translator. After growing up in Des Moines, he studied mathematics at the University of Idaho (graduating in 1974), then literature and philosophy at the University of Hamburg (Germany), where he was a Rotary International Fellow. He also spent a year on the island of Samos, Greece, before settling in France in 1977. After living in Paris until 1987, he moved to Angers, in the lower Loire Valley. Taylor is the author of nine collections of stories and short prose: The Presence of Things Past (1992), Mysteries of the Body and the Mind (1998), The World As It Is (1998), Some Sort of Joy (2000), The Apocalypse Tapestries (2004), Now the Summer Came to Pass (2012), If Night is Falling (2012), The Dark Brightness (2017), Grassy Stairways (2017). Several of his books have been translated into French and three into Italian, while selected poems and stories have appeared in Dutch, German, Greek, Polish, Ukrainian, and Slovene literary reviews.Three bilingual books of poetry have been published in France as livres d'artistes in collaboration with the artist Caroline François-Rubino: Boire à la source / Drink from the Source (2016), Hublots / Portholes (2016), Vent / Wind (2017).

As a polyglot literary critic, Taylor has long been one of the most active "passeurs" of French-language and, more generally, European literature between continental Europe and English-speaking countries. His essays have been gathered in his three-volume Paths to Contemporary French Literature (2004, 2007, 2011), Into the Heart of European Poetry (2008), and A Little Tour through European Poetry (2015). These two latter collections cover modern verse and prose poetry from nearly all the European countries.

Taylor also translates Modern Greek, Italian, and especially French literature. His most recent translations include books by Philippe Jaccottet, Jacques Dupin, Pierre-Albert Jourdan, Louis Calaferte, José-Flore Tappy, Pierre Chappuis, Catherine Colomb, Pierre Voélin, and Georges Perros (for whose Papiers collés he received a N.E.A. Translation Grant in 2011, an award resulting in Paper Collage four years later). In 2013, he won the Raiziss-de Palchi Translation Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets for his project to translate the poetry of the Italian poet Lorenzo Calogero—a book now published as An Orchid Shining in the Hand: Selected Poems 1932-1960 (2015). The Fellowship included a five-week stay at the American Academy in Rome between December 2013 and January 2014. In January 2014, Taylor was awarded, in Reggio Calabria, Italy, the Italian "Premio Anassilaos" for this same project.

The following is an excerpt from John Taylor's interview with TBO's editor:

The Bitter Oleander: I know how much train travel has meant for you as a writer, how it seems to actually nourish your work. I wonder if this detachment at high speeds is similar to the feeling you had as an adolescent whose "gap" you learned to mediate through your own writing?

John Taylor: Starting about twenty years ago, I indeed found myself rather often, and with growing pleasure, writing on trains—as opposed to writing in my study at home. I mean my personal writing, not my translations and critical essays. The initial cause for this was a series of weekly creative writing classes that I gave in a junior high school in Saint-Nazaire, on the Atlantic coast, back in the mid-1990s. I would get up at dawn every Wednesday, walk to the train station in Angers, wait for the Nantes train, take the train to Nantes, change trains there and hop into the train to Saint-Nazaire. The journey, including the waiting, took about two hours—and later in the day, I would travel back in the other direction. At the time, I was working on the manuscript that would eventually become Some Sort of Joy. I soon found it frustrating to spend those four hours on the train reading Le Monde—the whole newspaper, including articles that didn't interest me and even the want-ads and the obituaries—or gazing at the too quickly passing vineyards, pastures, fields, and the Loire River (however beautiful it is in the morning haze). So one morning, I experimented with trying to revise the short-prose texts of Some Sort of Joy during my trip. It worked! The noise and vibrations of the train, the stop in Ancenis when more commuters to Nantes crowded into the car, the conversations around me. . . None of this bothered me, for I had discovered an unexpected kind of concentration enabling me at once to stand back—sit back?—from my texts and to get deeper into them and determine what needed to be added and (especially) deleted.

Our Spring 2018 Issue Features John Taylor
Photograph by Françoise Daviet-Taylor


from his The Sea at Sète

perhaps seagulls
have to believe

and even shells whose flesh is alive
in their watery lairs
amid the swaying seaweed

you don't know

perhaps the wind
perhaps the waves
will give hints

murmuring as they move on

you try to listen

to this first morning

if only
it were the first morning

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