Claudia Emerson wins pulitzer for poetry
May 4, 2006 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Claudia Emerson, a Virginian poet and English professor, has won the 2006 Pulitzer prize for poetry for her book The Late Wife. Here is an interview from 2002, and here is a podcast of Professor Emerson reading from The Late Wife in 2005. Some of her poems: "Bone," "The Bat," more.
posted by whir (23 comments total)

 
Seconds after I finally posted this, I came across this page on Emerson containing most of the links above. Also, here is a not-so-favorable review of The Late Wife.
posted by whir at 4:06 PM on May 4, 2006


After Rilke, not so much for me really.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 4:09 PM on May 4, 2006


Oh, and here is the direct link to the podcast mentioned above--it's a 26MB mp3 file. (shutting up now)
posted by whir at 4:15 PM on May 4, 2006


MAYOR CURLEY

The Steaming Turd

I want to get money and fame
           for writing poems but I don't wish to burden myself
                      with the challenging parts. Those are for stupid assholes.

So I'm just going to slap some shit from my day into this.
           You're not going to say anything if the Emperor's naked. You might just not get it.
                      Or maybe I'm deep. Ha ha! I'm e.e. fucking cummings. eat my shit and thank me for it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:40 PM on May 4, 2006


Curley you've crossed the line from being mean spirited to being a dickface.
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 4:46 PM on May 4, 2006


I think it better to be a dickface
than to be mean of spirit
posted by I Foody at 4:53 PM on May 4, 2006


Ok, I'm ducking out for good after this, but kudos for the most literal thread-crapping I've ever witnessed.

(Kidding! Really, it's no skin off my nose if you don't like her.)
posted by whir at 5:08 PM on May 4, 2006


Poetry is prose with unnecessary carriage returns?

Color me enlightened.
posted by Makoto at 5:15 PM on May 4, 2006


Poetry is prose with unnecessary carriage returns?

In many American poetry MFA programs today, yes.
posted by bardic at 5:57 PM on May 4, 2006


THIS IS THE WORST KIND OF SOPHISTRY!
posted by delmoi at 5:59 PM on May 4, 2006


God, why do all these poets write about this boring farm life, plants, crap, etc. It's so boring.

That waxwing story poem was kind of intresting.
posted by delmoi at 6:11 PM on May 4, 2006


Delmoi, awesome.

That bat poem is interesting -- I dig the icy ligature bit. However, that last stanza and a quarter:

So you killed it

with the broom; I heard you curse as you
swept the air. I wanted you to do it until
you did. I have never forgiven you.


Cripes, lady. Interesting work, keen on the heads up.
posted by undule at 6:24 PM on May 4, 2006


God, why do all these poets write about this boring farm life, plants, crap, etc. It's so boring.

By "all these poets" you mean the ones who are the most widely published and recognized.

There are a ton of poets out there writing about a lot of different things, in a lot of different ways -- but you'd never know it because the big publishers won't take the risk on them. The big publishers only publish what they think they can sell to the widest possible audience. And riskier stuff than plants and farm life probably wouldn't sell to a public who generally doesn't read poetry in the first place.

If you want to read about something other than plain, simple, everyday things written in plain, simple, everyday language, then you've got to seek it out in small presses or on online.

And while I'm on my soapbox, this war on "inaccessibility" that Garrison Keillor, Billy Collins, etc., are waging is only going to make things so much worse . . . seriously, I sometimes think it's conspiracy to keep poetry irrelevant for fear of another Allen Ginsberg or William Burroughs waking up another generation or two.

All that aside, I must admit that I did kind of like the bat poem.
posted by treepour at 6:48 PM on May 4, 2006


Why is it that
simple disregard for proper punctuation,
grammar, and sentence construction,
coupled with the insertion of
carriage
returns
in nearly-random spots
can in and of itself
without further alteration
transform a sentence
suddenly
into
a
poem?
posted by aeschenkarnos at 7:17 PM on May 4, 2006


Well maybe it doesn't turn it exactly into the message you want:

carriage and returns sit on seperate lines drawing attention to themselves. Those two old-fashioned words, proudly sitting there isolated suggest you pride yourself on typing this all on a type-writer [other-wise you would have used line breaks]. Except the reader knows that you've used a computer. So what are you saying? You're a hypocrite? You want to return to the past [take your carriage back to the carriage return] etc etc etc etc

You know what? Your favourite poet sucks.
posted by meech at 7:59 PM on May 4, 2006


Meech, I've always called the {CR} character "carriage returns". It's a legacy term, but as far as I know, the correct one. Line breaks are a different thing, hard to represent in a proportional font: an immediate movement of the cursor to the next line, without returning to the beginning.

Look, I like a good turn of phrase too. I just don't think it gains much from being set out in a typographically peculiar manner. Example: "We didn't know what woke us—just something moving, lighter than our breathing. The world bound by an icy ligature, our house was to the bat a hollow, warmer cavity that now it could not leave. I screamed for you to do something. So you killed it with the broom; I heard you curse as you swept the air. I wanted you to do it until you did. I have never forgiven you." To me, that's just as compelling and evocative an image, without the visual distraction. It's good prose, it reads like a quote from a book. Segmentation across lines doesn't turn it into a poem. The effect that segmentation has, as you pointed out above, is to draw attention to particular words. It screams, "look at how awesome that word is."

I don't care for it, and this is not because I "don't understand it" or have "plebian tastes" or whatever else you're implying. It's because the poetry I do like and respect is is like this, something that splits the difference between prose and song. The syllable emphasis forms part of the structure of the poem. The line breakage is natural, at the end of syllables and following along with the rhymes. I'll concede that the enjoyment of poetic style is a matter of taste. However, I do consider that the effort and skill required to line up syllables into a rhythmic structure without compromising the imagery with poor or awkward word choices is greater than that required to create imagery alone.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:31 PM on May 4, 2006


First off, a disclaimer: I know very little about poetry.

I do agree with you to a certain extent, but I think your criticism should only apply to bad poetry. W.H. Auden wrote:

The poet who writes "free" verse is like Robinson Crusoe on his desert island: he must do all his cooking, laundry and darning for himself. In a few exceptional cases, this manly independence produces something original and impressive, but more often the result is squalor-- dirty sheets on the unmade bed and empty bottles on the unswept floor.

Within a good poem we should not find random returns, but ones that emphasis the metre, tone or increase meaning. If you believe that poetry is best served by being read aloud the varying breaks change the way poem sounds - changes its music.
posted by meech at 10:10 PM on May 4, 2006


The effect that segmentation has, as you pointed out above, is to draw attention to particular words. It screams, "look at how awesome that word is."

That's one effect it can have. It's certainly not the only one and probably not even the most effective/important one.

Having said that, I don't particularly like what I've read of Emerson from the linked poems, aside from that one bit "I wanted you to do it until / you did." but removing that line break there reads completely differently. If you can't see that then you're wrong, you don't understand it.

However, I do consider that the effort and skill required to line up syllables into a rhythmic structure without compromising the imagery with poor or awkward word choices is greater than that required to create imagery alone.

This is a false opposition. On the one hand you have, as you stated, lining up syllables into a rhythmic structure without compromising the imagery with poor or awkward word choice, but the other axis is not creating imagery alone, it's creating imagery and then molding it into the unique structure that most effectively communicates that imagery.

Whether Emerson is successful at that, however, is debatable.
posted by juv3nal at 11:21 PM on May 4, 2006


This is a false opposition. On the one hand you have, as you stated, lining up syllables into a rhythmic structure without compromising the imagery with poor or awkward word choice, but the other axis is not creating imagery alone, it's creating imagery and then molding it into the unique structure that most effectively communicates that imagery.

Point taken. Presentation is as important as the mere word content. As Meech pointed out the momentary pause of an
>> interrupted line <<
will affect the reader's voice (aloud or internal monologue). It seems my original comment came across as more sarcasm than satire, for which I render my apologies.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 11:58 PM on May 4, 2006


I saw Mark Doty at some event a couple of days ago.
He says that the poetry tide in America will soon turn from inward looking poetry to stuff about trees and bats and wildlife.
So, you've got a hell of a lot more of that nature stuff coming to you.
posted by seanyboy at 12:40 AM on May 5, 2006


This would be a project for a high school English class, really a challenge!
posted by grammajan11 at 6:01 AM on May 5, 2006


I really liked her stuff. This is my favorite:

Bone
by Claudia Emerson

It was first dark when the plow turned it up.
Unsown, it came fleshless, mud-ruddled, nothing
but itself, the tendon's bored eye threading
a ponderous needle. And yet the pocked fist
of one end dared what was undone
in the strewing, defied the mouth of the hound
that dropped it.

The whippoorwill began
again its dusk-borne mourning. I had never
seen what urgent wing disembodied
the voice, would fail to recognize its broken
shell or shadow or its feathers strewn
before me. As if afraid of forgetting,
it repeated itself, mindlessly certain.
Here.

I threw the bone toward that incessant claiming,
and watched it turned by rote, end over end over end.


I think that it is weird that people are not into poetry. It's so alien a concept to me that I don't really have a way to think about it. It is just like when people say that they don't want to have children... I respect that but I really can't see how anyone could think that way. Different folks and all that.

In my mind you do have to read it differently than prose. I generally read poems out loud to myself a few times when I really like them.

I think that this particular poem is amazing. Very rich and deep and a lot of things to think about. I think that I mainly am in love with 'watched it turned by rote' I love that inversion, that the rote-ness of something can be what actually makes it happen... I always think about the other way around, but this is a much better way to see it.

We are mostly made of language and good poetry can really get into us and move us, change us and make a mark. My life would be totally different today if not for the poetry I've read.
posted by n9 at 11:53 AM on May 5, 2006


I think that it is weird that people are not into poetry. It's so alien a concept to me that I don't really have a way to think about it.

I have W. B. Yeats Collected Poems a few feet from my head as I type this. I even read it occasionally. She's not William Butler Yeats. She's not even Wesley Willis.
posted by Mayor Curley at 1:36 PM on May 5, 2006


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