we’re ready to begin: meet Taylor Byas

Submissions are open and you have 8 weeks to send us your poems. If you’ve ever had doubts as to the importance of your words, I hope 2020 has laid them to rest.

The North Carolina Poetry Society is committed to the support, promotion, and celebration of poetry. Now more than ever we need all heart-felt poetic voices to ring out loud.

This year I virtually attended the Dodge Poetry Festival, which was presented as a series of online readings and panel discussions. During a session titled “Imagine a New Way,” poet Martin Espada sounded a rallying cry to poets by saying, “If those in power are going to divorce language from meaning, we have to reconcile it.”

I have asked our judges to consider the question, “How have the challenges of 2020 impacted the role of the poet in our society?” Over the next couple of weeks I’ll share their answers with you as I introduce them.

I’ll start with our preliminary judge for the Poet Laureate Award, Taylor Byas. She writes:

This year has been incredibly difficult for writers. I find that a lot of writers are understandably struggling to produce. There’s this internal debate sometimes about whether to write about the grief and the loss that we seem to be constantly experiencing. Book releases and networking events have been affected. The writing takes a hit when so many other things are falling apart. But I think as a result, we’ve had to find these different ways to support one another. More than anything, I think this year has been a reminder that being a poet is not just about showing up to the page, but it’s also about being a member of a community and lifting each other up. I think the challenges of this year have often increased conversations surrounding politics and poetry and if the two can be kept separate. As a poet who is also a Black woman, I don’t have that luxury of keeping them separate. And I don’t think I would want to if I could. More than anything, for me, this year has been a reminder that being political as a poet is necessary work. And I know that looks different for everyone, and I don’t think the work of revolution or change stops at the page. But 100 years from now people will look back on what we’ve written and produced and published, and I hope that they see the world changing in our work. I hope that we try to change the world in our work.

Taylor shares the following poem with us, which was originally published in January of this year with Glass Poetry.


“If Mike Espy and the liberal Democrats gain the Senate we will take that first step into a thousand years of darkness.”

—from a tweet by Phil Bryant, Governor of Mississippi, 1/2/2020

They say eating the soil might
be good for you. To have your pale
chiclet teeth redlined
by clay, your ocean-clear
mouthwash bloodied when you spit
in the sink. Mistake this for a split
lip, a back-alley beating
that has left the tongue fat enough
to rick your cries for help.
Your grandmother tells you to avoid
the clay cooling in the shade
of the taller trees, and you don’t.
After rain, the clay goes garnet, clumps
of wine-dark up to your
elbows, smeared around your lips.
My God, you’ve gone

cannibal. They say eating the soil
might be good for you
with all its minerals, the blood
that wept from swollen
black toes and dried in the shape
of another country. In death,
someone fed this tree. After a few
mouthfuls tonight, you feel
a little madness creeping in. You watch
the sun set while sitting back
on your heels, its half-step into darkness
packing the world into red
clay. This is blood-warm, the heat
of night closing in like a mob. Bribe
the sun to set on you instead, let
it light you aflame.


Here is Taylor’s bio:

Taylor Byas is a Black poet and essayist from Chicago. She currently lives in Cincinnati, where she is a second year PhD student and Albert C. Yates Scholar at the University of Cincinnati. She is pursuing her degree in Creative Writing (Poetry). She is a reader for both The Rumpus and The Cincinnati Review, and the Poetry Editor for FlyPaper Lit. Her work appears or is forthcoming in New Ohio Review, Borderlands Texas Poetry Review, Hobart, Pidgeonholes, The Rumpus, SWWIM, Jellyfish Review, Empty Mirror, and others. She also loves hugs.

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