Claudia Taylor is a quiet, soft-spoken young woman. Her fragile blonde beauty lends her an air of softness and vulnerability, but when you listen to the words of her poetry, you get a clear picture of a strong, confident young woman with ideas and a voice mature well beyond her years.
Claudia is only 17, a senior at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, but she is already an accomplished poet who has carved out a niche for herself in the large Vineyard poetry community. A regular reader at poetry nights at Pathways at the Chilmark Tavern and a two-time winner of the Vineyard’s Promising Young Poets award, Claudia amazes adult audiences with the depth and emotional impact of her work.
She started writing while still in grade school. “For a long time I’d been very interested in books and poetry, but I didn’t really start writing poetry on a regular basis until about the age of 12,” she said. “I guess it started out as a way to write about my feelings. Sort of a diary. Then I got really interested in poetry as an art form.”
She is an avid reader of poetry and her tastes are varied: “When I first started out I was very much infatuated with the poetry of Emily Dickinson. She was a very big influence on me. So was e e cummings. At the moment I like Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage. I’m also really into French and Spanish poetry: Rimbaud, Neruda, Baudelaire.”
The daughter of James and Natasha, Claudia is a member of the talented and successful Taylor family. Singer-songwriter James Taylor is her great uncle. Her grandfather was Alex Taylor, who was making a name for himself as an exceptional singer/songwriter before his life was cut short at the age of 46.
As well as writing verse, Claudia plays guitar and clarinet and sings. “I’ve had an interest in singing as long as I can remember,” she said. Her voice is strong and lovely and, like her writing, her interpretations of songs show a surprising emotional depth for one her age. She has been a member of the Minnesingers for the past three years and hopes to stay involved in music after graduation.
But her first love is poetry, a craft she started to take seriously early on. “When I first started out I submitted poems to Poetry Zone [a children's poetry website]run by a British poet, Roger Stevenson. He was sort of a mentor for me,” she recalled. “We corresponded. He helped encourage me. When I got to high school I developed really good relationships with my English teachers. They were always really supportive of my work.”
For the past two years, Claudia has been a finalist for the international Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award. In both cases she was among 85 entrants out of more than 7,000 who received commendation.
Claudia started reading her work at Pathways last year, appearing as a regular guest at poetry and mixed discipline events. At the end of the organization’s season she received an honorarium to serve as the liaison between Pathways and the teen community.
“It’s not about teaching a class to kids per se but more about encouraging young poets, artists, dancers and musicians. Saying to them, ‘If you’re really interested in these things, come to Pathways and we’ll work with you.’”
Claudia refers to this year as her internship with Pathways. She will also be instrumental in putting together this spring’s Promising Young Poets competition. “I’m hoping this year that we can extend the reach of the competition to middle schoolers,” she said.
Claudia’s twin sister, Paige, is also a talented poet and writer but their styles and objectives are quite different. “I think most of her writing has been for herself,” said Claudia. “I think what we do share in common is a contemporary voice. Neither of us writes traditional poetry, but her work can often be construed as humorous — a lot more fun and bawdy. I guess our poetry is a product of our different personalities.”
Claudia will graduate from high school this spring and will defer college plans to take a gap year. This summer she says she will either go to Ireland to attend a choir school seminar or possibly take part in a workshop for young adults in Asheville, N.C. After that her plans are uncertain but she would like spend some time in a Latin American country in order to learn Spanish.
Although friends have encouraged Claudia to work on getting her poetry published, she feels that she is not ready for that step. “I’m still pretty young,” she said, “and my voice is still developing. I really want a polished mature sound before I let everyone hear it.” She’s also concerned about the trap an artist can fall into when focused on creating work to please an audience. “If I constantly want everything to be publication-worthy or ready to show to the public, it becomes less about writing for me than for writing for other people. I’m trying to work as hard as I can to not let that happen. Writing for other people is not authentic and therefore not good.”
While she may think otherwise, polished and mature are two words that could certainly be used to describe Claudia’s work. Judge for yourselves.
“There’s lipstick on your collarbone,” I said
to my father, the pastor — he replied,
“The Blood of Christ, my naive son,” and read
me scripture, asked me if I’d spilled my seed
(but grown no fragrant rose, no tall fruit tree)
and now I think I finally have a grasp
on why Muslim women hide their bodies:
(I saw the Virgin Mary’s thigh and gasped,
I dreamed of Magdalene, her copper mane
sweeping my skin and sticking to my sweat…)
The bright bold mouths have driven me insane,
the fragile necks, the scents I can’t forget,
and I would think when Eve and Adam kissed,
he loved the pounding blood within her wrist.