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Genevieve Taggard: Biographical Note

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 Guggenheim Fellowship.

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

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