Dead [Women] Poets Society Blog

Charlotte Wetton resurrects Ellen Taylor

On 31 August 2021, Charlotte Wetton, who communed with Irish poet Ellen Taylor, alongside Geneviève L. Walsh who resurrected US Beat poet Diane di Prima, at an online event [Not] in Halifax. You can watch the whole event back here, and read Charlotte's resurrection and poems in response to Taylor below.

Ellen Taylor published her only book of verse in Dublin, in 1792. It was, in fact, published without her knowledge or consent, as a fundraiser for her. What little we know about her life we gain from the introduction to this book. She came from a very poor, rural family in Queen’s County (now County Laois). After the death of her parents and brother she took work as a servant to a wealthy family. We know that Taylor did get hold of books, reading Milton, Young and Thomson, and her work also contains classical references. Despite her lowly social and financial position - apparently with little chance of improvement - Taylor’s work sings with the assertion of her own emotional and intellectual self, rising above bereavement, financial precarity and servitude.

My poem is inspired by ‘Written by the Barrow Side, Where She Was Sent to Wash Linen’, which you can read below and here. It’s such an authoritative, beautiful declaration of an artist’s spirit, trapped in the wrong job, struggling for survival. To have such a piece from a servant-woman, from over 200 years ago, is an incredible insight. It’s a voice and a sentiment so rarely heard. Working-class women poets have been systematically written out of the literary canon; they are even harder to find in anthologies and educational syllabi than upper-class women of the period like Anne Finch and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. But, of course, their work is of comparable quality. Not only should it be studied critically in its own right, but it can offer us a fresh perspective on a literary period and society which has been defined by male, upper-class viewpoints.