Taylor Byas (she/her) is a Black Chicago native currently living in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is the 1st place winner of the 2020 Poetry Super Highway, the 2020 Frontier Poetry Award for New Poets Contests, and the 2021 Adrienne Rich Poetry Prize. She is the author of the chapbook Bloodwarm from Variant Lit, Shutter, from Madhouse Press, and her debut full-length, I Done Clicked My Heels Three Times, forthcoming from Soft Skull Press in August of 2023. She is also a co-editor of The Southern Poetry Anthology, Vol X: Alabama, forthcoming from Texas Review Press, and of Poemhood: Our Black Revival, a YA anthology on Black folklore from HarperCollins. She is represented by Rena Rossner of the Deborah Harris Agency.
What excites you about writing? How has it affected your life?
As we try to survive this really chaotic and painful world, writing becomes more and more of a safe space. Every day I wake up, there are less things in the real world that I can control. But every day I wake up and also have the capacity to build my own world on the page, to reimagine and re-narrativize my life. Writing is an act of magic. Writing is healing. I am continually struck by how writing makes me more connected to others. What excites me the most is the constant cycle of trying to find a new way to say something or to describe the world, and in doing so, changing someone else’s world. How intimate is that, sharing your world with someone else? Through writing, I have come to know myself better, and I think I have also created some of my most meaningful relationshipsthrough my writing community. I have learned how to be brave, have learned how be more open to critique and influence in all aspects of my life. I have always valued humility, but writing humbles me every day.
What mindset does a writer need to continue to grow and learn?
The things that harmed my writing the most were being inflexible and being too attached to first/early drafts. I believe it was a result of having just really found some sort of poetic voice, and since it was still so new I felt like I had to have a death grip on it. I was more resistant to feedback then, less willing to play and experiment (unless I was prompted to for a class or an assignment). Now, I knowthat openness and curiosity are crucial to growing and evolving as a writer. My most successful writing happens when I allow myself to entertain those what-ifs, when I read a poem so unlike my own and give myself permission to try something out of my comfort zone. It’s hard sometimes but we have to leave our egos behind when we come to the page. You have to be willing to give yourself over to the poem and commit to feeding its desires.
What makes a good writing mentor?
A good writing mentor is first a good listener. The mentee/mentor relationship should be a collaborative one, one in which the mentor listens to where the mentee is in the work and what guidance they need to get closer to their vision. I have always believed that it is never my job to prescribe what I want for the piece, or to engage in anything that moves a writer away from what they are trying to accomplish. A good writing mentor also recognizes the seriousness of the relationship, how much trust is involved. On one level, the mentor is potentially working with the mentee on very vulnerable and personal pieces, and that requires a certain degree of care and consideration. On another level, the mentor is working on pieces that the mentee is likely going to send out into the world for publication, contests, financial opportunities. It’s a big responsibility. And mentorship isn’t limited to the page either. These relationships have a large impact on how people see the literary community and how willing they might be to make connections with other writers in the future. As a mentor, it is important to me to be generous with time, sharing resources, advice. I didn’t get to where I am now without the generosity of others. I am always looking for ways to pay that back.
What is your style of feedback?
I like to get a good sense of what a writer needs in case there are specific things I need to keep in mind as we work together. I typically do a combination of things (unless a writer has indicated they want something different), and my mission is always to remove any barriers I see that might be in the way of the piece’s objective. In my own PhD program, I took a workshop with Aditi Machado, and she said something about revision that continues to stick with me to this day: “It’s not about writing a better poem, it’s about writing a different poem.” Thinking of revision as just an exploration of possibility is at the foundation of how I see feedback. As a result, my feedback is very question-based instead of prescriptive. I ask questions to open up possibilities, to show the writer alternative roads to reach their destination so that they might find which road they like the best. Line edits tend to be reserved for clarity, as I don’t want to tinker too much with a writer’s unique voice and style. In addition to marginal comments and line edits, I often provide a large overall comment about what I see the piece doing, what is working really well, and things to consider as the writer revises. I find that this combination gives writers a good amount to think about, and helps them to return to their piece(s) with fresh eyes.
I’ve been very fortunate to gain some meaningful editorial experiences within the last few years. As a current Assistant Features Editor for The Rumpus and an Associate Editor for The Cincinnati Review, I’ve been exposed to a wide variety of writing styles and voices and have become a better reader. My time in my PhD program, in which I’ve had the opportunity to study poetry and craft quite closely, has also made me more attentive and inquisitive. I also complete freelance editorial work in multiple genres and have helped some of my clients get publications after we’ve worked on piece together. I am confident that I can approach my students’ work with a sharp editorial eye, and that I can provide suggestions with their needs (and my own knowledge of what might stand out to publications) in mind.
Of course, I am also deeply invested in formal poetry. I have taught multiple workshops on form and have also published multiple formal poems myself. I would love to work with students who are looking to work in form, who want to consider how form and content can inform one another, and who might be looking for ways to revamp existing formal drafts. I provide tips and tricks to help making formal poems more accessible, and to help students access more freedom and possibility within formal constraints.
Additionally, I would also love to work with students who are thinking heavily about wordplay and the erotic, as these areas were topics of my PhD exams and remain areas of interest. My background in fiction also influences my own writing and love for narrative within poetry. I am happy to discuss and further develop narrative poetry pieces, and to also examine the narrative trajectories of larger projects such as chapbooks. With two chapbooks published, my debut full-length poetry collection forthcoming, and my second full-length (dissertation) in its final stages of construction, I can provide insight into considering the organization and order of longer projects.