blackbirdonline journalSpring 2016  Vol. 15  No. 1

Introduction and Table of Contents

spacerspacer Claudia Emerson

Poetry Reading, Sewanee 2013

Allison Seay
   The Disappearing Threshold

Claudia Emerson Remembrance
   Amanda Bausch, Justin Belote, Leia
   Darwish, Christian Detisch, Gregory
   Donovan, Kathleen Graber, Catherine
   MacDonald, Lauren Miner, Elizabeth
   Seydel Morgan, Lynda Fleet Perry, Emilia
   Phillips, Annie Rudy, Ron Smith, &    
   David Wojahn

Poetic Principles: An Evening with
the Poetry of Claudia Emerson
   Betty Adcock, Debora Greger,
   William Logan, Debra Nystrom, Dave
   Smith, & Ellen Bryant Voigt.

Lauren Miner
   Anderson House 212

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

A suite of six poems from her yet-to-be-released, posthumous collection Claude in Time and Space anchors our presentation.

These poems recall the elegies that appear early in The Opposite House, and, like the work in Impossible Bottle, are interested in locating that which has passed or is unsecured. But where these previous collections focused more intently on mourning the things of the world, or on grounding themselves through the Impossible Bottle’s mother figure, these selections featuring Claude explore the father figure and more specific trappings of memory. They also employ the form of the persona poem, a device which she had largely abandoned after Pinion and often claimed she would never use again.

Often written in the gruff, austere voice of her namesake—her father, Claude—these poems are a sort of “call home.” Not only do they directly address where and who she comes from, but they are written in a conversational and often instructive manner—

     You should know better than to rent that acre
     alongside the river to those boys,

says a patriarchal figure in the poem “Acre.”

Time and speakers feel malleable here, where the retelling of a story transforms it into a living event, as in the poem “Rabbit”

     To hear him tell it, the hotel in town
     still stands, wants to buy every rabbit      
     you have for a quarter a piece . . .

The “you” address, while not fully intersubjective, accommodates the seamless movement from the narrator's voice into—and out of—the father’s voice, as well as their simultaneous embodiment. Claudia’s core subjects—ritualistic traditions, ordering, family, and loss—dominate in the selection.

The video recording of Claudia’s poetry reading at Sewanee in 2013 provides a generous visit with the breadth of her work and includes poems from each of her three posthumous collections; more importantly, however, the video provides a firsthand experience of her joyful vibrancy, humor, and charm. The year 2013 was one of pivotal transition in Claudia’s life, as it was the year after her first battle with cancer and was marked by her relocation to Richmond, Virginia, to teach in the Master of Fine Arts program at Virginia Commonwealth University. In this regard, the recording chronicles that too-brief interlude before she would once again struggle with illness. In her reading, she recounts her experience with chemotherapy, which inspired the series “Infusion Suite.” She also reads the series “Early Elegies,” poems that explore the disappearance of common pastimes, such as drive-in movie theatres.

Claudia was known for her warm, inviting personality, and as many of her students and coworkers can attest, she made it easy to bridge the strictures of professionalism into friendship. She often hosted parties, grabbed coffee with students, and would go out of her way for those she cared about. In the “Claudia Emerson Remembrance” audio recording, students and fellow poets from VCU read their favorite Emerson poems and retell stories about her.

The recording of “Poetic Principles: An Evening with the Poetry of Claudia Emerson”captures a similar event at which poets who were her particular mentors and friends formally remember her through her work. Reading were Betty Adcock, Debora Greger, William Logan, Debra Nystrom, Dave Smith, and Ellen Bryant Voigt. David Wojahn provides the introduction.

When a cherished friend whose poetry is widely appreciated dies, how to appropriately grieve their loss becomes an intensely difficult proposition. In the essay “The Disappearing Threshold,” Allison Seay, a long-time friend and former student of Claudia’s, discloses her personal struggle with writing about her mentor—taking the risk of idealizing the deceased in an attempt to honor her as a friend and a poet. Discussing grief as it forms the subject of elegiac poetry—of which Claudia Emerson was a master—only introduces further complicated considerations.

In “Anderson House 212,” which features photographs of Claudia’s office at VCU, Lauren Miner (a graduate student during Claudia’s time at VCU) describes meetings held there. Miner’s photographs bear witness not only to the space in which Claudia worked but also to the books and objects that embody her last academic preoccupations.

Claudia Emerson’s 2013 Sewanee reading is reposted here with the kind permission of the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, and Alison Seay’s “The Disappearing Threshold” is reproduced with the permission of The Hollins Critic.

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

—Christie Maurer  end