blackbirdonline journalSpring 2023  Vol. 21  No.3

Introduction and Table of Contents

spacerspacer Claudia Emerson
   Piano Fire
   Stringed Instrument Collection

Brad Efford
   #305: Lucinda Williams, “Car Wheels on a
     Gravel Road”

A Correspondence with Brad Efford
   Conducted by Blackbird staff

A.E. Stallings
   Sympathetic Resonance

Accompanying Instruments
   Selected Photos of Claudia Emerson

  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, observing that objects often provide a way of understanding the rural or small-town women who are frequently her subjects.

Emerson brings grace and sympathy to understanding these women, one clear example being the local piano teacher introduced in “Piano Fire,” its first lines telling us: “How she must have dreaded us and our sweaty coins, / more than we hated practice, the lessons, // scales, the winter-hot parlor.”

She herself was an unfailingly generous teacher, and Brad Efford (a former student) pays attention to that process in “#305: Lucinda Williams, ‘Car Wheels on a Gravel Road,’” an entry republished from Efford’s project The RS 500, a series of essays taking as their prompt Rolling Stone’s ranking of the “500 Greatest Albums of All Time.”

Efford reports that Emerson generated within her students an understanding of “the great beauty in language,” and he remembers her reading the class a Steve Scafidi poem:

. . . in the early days of my first-ever poetry workshop. By the last line, she was in tears. Partly, my revelation came from the poem, which remains to this day one of my favorites, though mostly it was Claudia, exposed and open-hearted and laughing about it all at once. A small, cataclysmic response.

Efford chooses to enter his memories of Emerson through the portal of the Williams song, which seems particularly appropriate, given how critical music was to Emerson’s life and to her life as a poet.

A.E. Stallings explores this tie specifically in a detailed reading of Emerson’s poem, “Stringed Instrument Collection.” Here Stallings writes:

If memory serves, I encountered the poem “Stringed Instrument Collection” first in Claudia Emerson’s own voice at a reading in Sewanee at the Writers’ Conference. As someone who once spent a lot of time playing a stringed instrument—the violin—I was immediately captured by the subject matter and the personification of the instruments through the proper terms for their parts—the necks, the scrolled heads, the hollows of their bodies.

“Piano Fire” and “Stringed Instrument Collection” stand here as moments where we can encounter Emerson through her attention to what we hear—tones that resonate in the poems and in the instruments themselves.

Also appearing in this Loop are a motley grouping of photographs that connect Emerson to instruments and music, notably to her cat Lucinda Williams. A brief correspondence between Efford and Blackbird staff members about The RS 500 and other undertakings rounds out the presentation.

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