House Is an Enigma
The winner of the 2017 Cowles Poetry Book Prize, House Is an Enigma is an investigation of the language used to house descriptions of the body, which so often seek to define and determine the boundaries and behaviors of the spirit that lives within. Written after Bolden’s radical hysterectomy, during which she noted her doctors’ use of house metaphors to describe her body and discuss her inability to have children, these stunning poems set out to expose the fissures in the foundations of the language we use to define human bodies and their behaviors, using these cracks as a lens through which she can see her own body, at last, as her own flawed but beautiful home.
“House Is An Enigma is a staggering achievement. These poems worry several stones in their pockets—grief and the body, certainly, rubbing both until they gleam—but also language and its deliciously endless possibilities. What can I say but that the mind whirring inside these poems, this beautiful lyric-building mind, is one I wish were housed in my own skull? What can I say but give yourself over to these poems, and if you’re very, very lucky, some of Emma Bolden’s genius may seep into you—and leave you, too, irrevocably changed.”
—Maggie Smith, author of Good Bones
Emma Bolden’s gorgeous poems brilliantly remind me of learning to draw with colored pencils. To make a pencil drawing really stand out, one must begin with the lightest of touches and unexpected colors—like say, lavender—for a banana. Her poems ache with intelligence while layering desire, melancholy, and a delicate grief—and before you know it, we are transported to years where “we wore leather & guitar music sweet with distortion,” and savored “the taste of peppermint bright as teeth.” Bolden’s poems are visceral and profoundly precise—all while balancing a quiet playfulness and dazzle of color that I know I’ll return to again and again.
— Aimee Nezhukumatathil, author of Oceanic
Emma Bolden writes:“House doesn’t care about your intentions, your repairs. House dares/you.” Every poem in House is an Enigma is a dare –a window opening to a gorgeous room or century, a terrifying or luminous sky. It is also a brilliant, inventive, and deeply-felt exploration of loss – namely, the potential for motherhood and all that future-imagining might entail. Filled with ghosts, skywriters, skulls, mouths, and fragile crinoline beauty, these poems dwell in the liminal space of self-questioning and what it means to inhabit an imperfect female body. Can one separate the body’s lost creative potential from language itself? What are we without our imagining? If the poet is cut off from the metaphor of the body as a home/house, what is there? But Bolden’s questioning is not devoid of life, love, or longing – quite the opposite. Please open yourself to Bolden’s witchy, wise, and breath-taking vision — what’s possible for all of us in the long hallways of our hearts.
— Sarah Messer, author of Dress Made of Mice
Emma Bolden’s House is an Enigma is a masterful book that serves as map through the dark museum of loss. “After great pain, a formal feeling comes,” Emily Dickinson writes, and Emma Bolden’s poems are the light that we, as readers, will “wonder out towards” after the formal feeling has gone: “Let grief be the song that troubles down // the keys of your spine.” The music that emanates from these poems can fill even the largest room that loss can build. These poems boldly become light even in the face of the darkest of darks.
— Adam Clay, author of Stranger