Ann Taylor is a Professor of English at Salem State University in Salem, Mass., where she teaches both literature and writing courses. She has written two books on college composition, academic and free-lance essays, and a collection of personal essays, Watching Birds: Reflections on the Wing (Ragged Mountain/McGraw Hill). Her first poetry book, The River Within, won first prize in the 2011 Cathlamet Poetry competition at Ravenna Press. Her recent collection, Bound Each to Each, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2013.
Geosi Gyasi: Under which circumstances led you to become a writer?
Ann Taylor: I’m sure I was drawn to writing from teaching college literature and writing for my entire career. Reading great essays by E. B. White and Joan Didion, for example, made me want to try writing essays. Reading Chaucer, Keats, Frost, Bishop made me want to try my hand at poetry. Also, teaching students to write essays and poems is inspiring.
Geosi Gyasi: What does it take to become a writer? Is it by identifying the talent or by going to school to study writing?
Ann Taylor : I think good writing is a combination of talent and hard work, mostly hard work. Good reading also helps with good writing.
Geosi Gyasi: Between the time you realized yourself as a writer and now, have you improved in any special way?
Ann Taylor: I’m always working to improve my writing by trying new challenges — new subjects, new forms, new rhythms. Writing is a process of discovery that never ends. I think I’ve become a better reader over the years, so I’m better able to learn from others. Also, I attend writing workshops that are very helpful with the details of specific poems. Good readers can help us to become better writers.
Geosi Gyasi: As a professor of English at Salem State University, what is the relationship between teaching and writing?
Ann Taylor: Teaching requires reading good literature constantly, and it requires an effort to understand the complexities at a level where they can be explained to students who may not be at all familiar with the work. I am delighted if I can guide students to the delights of the works we read in every course. Teaching writing also makes me more aware of the experience of the writer when I sit down to write myself. The experience is reciprocal.
Geosi Gyasi: Did you struggle finding a publisher for your book, “The River Within”?
Ann Taylor: Trying to publish a book is a sometimes frustrating experience. I had sent out manuscripts before this collection, but they were not successful. I often got compliments and encouragement from publishers, but not the acceptance I wanted, so I returned to the manuscript and looked at it even more critically. I dropped some poems, added some new ones that I thought were better and sent it out again. I was delighted when Ravenna Press accepted the book and awarded it first prize in their Cathlamet contest. You can’t let yourself get so discouraged you give up, but you also have to be honest with yourself.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you factor “form” in your writing?
Ann Taylor: I tend to write free verse based on the sound, meaning, and rhythm of the lines, but I am always aware of the iambic pentameter at the base of poetry in English and of the need for variation. I do often write using different stanza lengths or placement of lines, but so far have not focused primarily on official forms.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you receive any criticisms for your book, “The River Within”?
Ann Taylor: Yes, first of all from the poet, Lynn Strongin, who selected the book for the prize and from the editor at Ravenna Press, Kathryn Rantala. Their comments in the introduction are an encouragement for me to read. So far, I have also had some positive reviews at various local sites and from editors who have published my work.
Geosi Gyasi: Is there any circumstance that led you to write, “To Carry on with the Dying”?
Ann Taylor: I have visited Pompeii twice and found it remarkable, a civilization stopped in time. Later on, I read a piece complaining about the neglect of the site and the ongoing damage. I wanted to call attention to this wonderful location and at the same time to highlight the danger of losing so much of it. I was not writing a traditional visitor piece.
Geosi Gyasi: What motivates you as a writer?
Ann Taylor: I think first of the simple pleasure I get out of trying to put a thought, a feeling, an experience into words. I love the challenge. Writing allows me to re-visit places in my own life and it intensifies those experiences. Also, I love the experience of publishing individual poems and ideally, a collection. Another thing I might mention is the experience of working with editors of various journals who continue to express interest and to provide support. .
Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as the greatest challenge as a writer?
Ann Taylor: Patience and the necessity to carve out some time to write are important. The requirements of a busy life have a way of filling up all the time, but it is necessary to “go at it again,” as Thoreau says. No excuses.
Geosi Gyasi: Could you name three books that have had the greatest impact on your life as a writer?
Ann Taylor: E. B. White’s Essays, Seamus Heaney’s Collected Poems, Elizabeth Bishop’s Collected Poems. I also have to mention Chaucer. I love his humor and his suggestion that we try to “make a virtue of necessity” in life. Ann Taylor:
Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more books?
Ann Taylor: I see myself continuing to write no matter what. The books, I hope, will come along in time. I never aim to write a book, just to write the best poem I can write at the moment.