Genevieve Taggard: Biographical Note Essay, Research Paper
Born in Waitsburg, Washington, Genevieve
Taggard grew up in Hawaii where her missionary parents had built and ran a large
"multi-cultural" school. A scholarship allowed her to enroll at the University
of California at Berkeley, from which she graduated in 1919.
Taggard moved to New York City in 1920. She worked first for the important modernist
publisher B.W. Huebsch and then in 1921 started her own journal, the Measure, with
a number of other young writers, including Maxwell Anderson. That same year she married
novelist and poet Robert Wolf and gave birth to her only child, Marcia. In 1922, Harper
Brothers put out Taggard’s first book of verse, For Eager Lovers.
During the 1920s Taggard moved in Greenwich Village bohemian circles. She edited a
poetry anthology May Days, which selected verse published in the radical journals The
Masses (1911-1917) and The Liberator (1919-1924). In the anthology she included
her own poem "With Child," which first appeared in The Liberator in
December of 1921. While she considered herself a socialist ever since her school days in
Berkeley, she characterized her poems from this period as concerned with primarily
domestic issues. In the late twenties Taggard taught at Mt. Holyoke, where she began a
biography of Emily Dickinson. The Life and Mind of Emily Dickinson was
published in 1930 and reprinted in 1934. Taggard traveled to Majorca in 1931on a
Taggard became a different poet in the 1930s. The Depression’s enormous
devastation was felt almost everywhere. People banded together, and a new social
consciousness was forged among artists. Taggard had become a contributing editor of the
Marxist journal The New Masses, in which a number of her poems appeared, and for
which she also wrote articles and reviews. As proletarian literature became a distinctive
literary practice during this time, Taggard’s poetry as well explored political
subject matter such as labor strikes, class and race prejudice, and poetry as an elitist
practice; she also extended her exploration of feminist issues to include the special
problems faced by working-class women. She makes her mark most comprehensively as a social
poet in her 1936 collection, Calling Western Union. This text includes such poems
as "Everyday Alchemy" (originally published in For Eager Lovers),
"Mill Town," and "Up State–Depression Summer." Taggard frames the
collection with the memoir "Hawaii, Washington, Vermont." She draws connections
between the struggles of her early years and the poverty and helplessness she witnesses
daily in the landscape of the American Depression.
Divorced from Robert Wolf in 1934, Taggard married journalist Kenneth Durant in 1935.
Around the time of her marriage to Durant, she bought a farm in East Jamaica, Vermont.
The Vermont landscape wedded in both beauty and poverty became another source of
inspiration for her writing. She also taught for a time at Bennington College, but became
a faculty member at Sarah Lawrence in 1934. She remained there until she was rather
suspiciously forced to retire in 1947.
Throughout her life Taggard was involved in a number of causes and organizations
ranging from the Committee for the Protection of the Foreign Born, the United Committee to
Aid Vermont Marble Workers, and the North American Committee to Aid Spanish Democracy. She
was a member of the New York Teachers Union, the executive council of the League of
American Writers, and the U.S.-Soviet Friendship Committee. She also served on the
editorial committee of Young People’s Records, which was a subject of scrutiny during
the McCarthy period.
Taggard was interested in radio as a forum for poetry and read her poems over the
air. She was also interested in writing for music, and her poems appeared in
compositions by William Shuman, Aaron Copeland, Roy Harris, and Henry Leland Clarke. In Long
View (1942), Taggard continued her preoccupation with social themes as found in such
poems as "Ode in a Time of Crisis" and "To the Veterans of the Abraham
Lincoln Brigade." She further explored her musical interests as well by celebrating
indigenous American music in her four-part poem cycle "To the Negro People."
Considering Taggard’s rather short lived career–she died at age fifty-three of
complications from high blood pressure–she was remarkably prolific. She published
thirteen books of verse, including a selection of her early work, Traveling Standing
Still (1928) and Collected Poems 1918-1938 (1938). She edited four books,
including Circumference: Varieties of Metaphysical Verse, 1459-1928 (1929) and her
biography of Emily Dickinson. None of her books are currently in print.
By Nancy Berke