blackbirdonline journalSpring 2022  Vol. 21  No. 1

Introduction and Table of Contents

spacer Claudia Emerson

Brian Brodeur
   How A Poem Happens: Claudia Emerson

Emerson’s Study
   Photographs by Lauren Miner

  A link to Blackbird’s “Claudia Emerson Reading Loop” menu appears at the bottom of every page of related content. You may also return to this menu at any time by visiting Features. 

Welcome to the Claudia Emerson Reading Loop, materials gathered to recognize the life, work, and mentorship of Claudia Emerson. Here, Blackbird seeks to support her legacy through her poetry and other related content.

Blackbird’s relationship with Claudia Emerson’s work began in v1n2 with a review of Pinion: An Elegy and continued in the following issue with poems that would subsequently appear in Late Wife, her Pulitzer winning third book. In an essay in v5n1, Susan Settlemyre Williams noted Emerson’s appreciation of the quotidian, particularly of how objects often provide a way of understanding the rural or small-town women who are frequently her subjects.

Emerson brings a particular grace and sympathy to understanding these women and was a generous teacher when taking the time to talk about her process and her own desires and motivations as a poet.

This issue’s Loop pays attention to that process by presenting poet Brian Brodeur’s interview with Emerson for his blog “How a Poem Happens: Contemporary Poets Discuss the Making of Poems.” The poem that Emerson discusses is “Photographer,” from her fourth book, Figure Studies, and that poem is reprinted here, as is “Triptych,” which follows “Photographer” in the collection.

As Emerson says of the poem:

I was working on a book . . . that I knew would include a lyric sequence featuring girls in an imagined boarding school as well as poems about women in isolation, refusing to “school”—a hoarder, a cat lady, an elevator operator among them. The photographer I conceived as being isolated or isolating herself in the camera, or behind it . . . She also dovetailed nicely with the other poems about women in solitude, since her solitude lies in the act of photographing, developing, and printing.

In “Triptych,” the woman we are watching also is trying to manage an emotional distress that she keeps in check through the discipline of routine—observing a cardinal, retreating to a writing studio, gardening, welcoming the presence of a neighborly cat.

In both poems the women at the heart of them use their outward directed work—photography, writing, gardening—to control and, as Emerson says, “artistically manipulate chaos.” Emerson also notes that the well she draws on, the “inspiration” for her work “simply comes about by never being bored, by paying attention to what’s going on around you.”

Also appearing in this Loop are a collection of photographs taken after her death of her study in her house in Richmond. Each picture or totem seems carefully curated, and the space gives a sense of Emerson’s cleanly honed connection to her objects and to the natural world. Birds figure here, as they do in her poems. “Triptych,” like many others nods to the birds and to a reserved space.

Please continue to take pleasure in, and be inspired by, Claudia Emerson’s poetry and the work of countless others she influenced, taught, or mentored.  end