Memphis. This Weekend. Me. You, Maybe?

IMG_1532This weekend, I’m heading up to Memphis to read in the Impossible Language Reading Series. Here’s the thing about reading series: sometimes, being a poet is a sad and isolated thing, but readings give us the rare opportunity to gather and listen and love what others do with their work. Readings become the place where we meet each other, fall in love with each other, remind each other of what we do with language and why it’s so damn important. Readings become the place where we carry our love of language to meet our love of others who love language like we do. And if any reading series has brought this experience to me, it’s the Impossible Language Reading Series.

I’m grateful-beyond-grateful to my friend, soul sister, collaborator, and poetry compatriot Ashley Roach-Freiman for inviting me to read this weekend, in the last ever edition of the Series. And I’m also unbelievably grateful (NOTE: I just accidentally typed “great-ful,” which is appropriate for the information I’m about to drop) to be sharing the stage with Christian Anton Gerard and Heather Dobbins, two phenomenal poets who are also phenomenal and positive pillars in the poetry community. So often, the literary community can feel snarky and competitive and generally just kind of dark. Ashley, Christian, Heather, and all of the other beautiful people I’ve met through this beautiful series have shown me what this community can be at its absolute best: a group of people supporting each other and carrying each other as we do this difficult work in this difficult world. It’s such an honor to know them.

The reading will take place at 7 pm on Saturday, December 15th. It’s at story booth, one of my favorite places in Memphis and, well, anywhere. Here are two things you need to know about my reading:

  1. By 7 pm on Saturday, December 15th, I will not have had time to go see a Star War, so PLEASE PLEASE DO NOT SPOIL THE NEW STAR WAR FOR ME. If you’d like to discuss a Star War once I see it, I will totally give you my e-mail address because I am going to be SO READY TO DISCUSS. I am, however, already ready to talk about porgs.
  2. I’m traveling to Memphis from Alabama. I don’t know if you’ve heard, but some stuff has been going on here lately. I moved back to Alabama about a year and a half ago, and it’s been wonderful and terrifying and lovely and terrible and wonderful again. This week has given me the kind of hope for and deep pride that I’ve never felt for my state. This weekend, I’m going to be reading some poems from my forthcoming collection, House Is An Enigma (it is still so exciting to type those words). I’m also going to read some brand new work about living in the Deep South because this is the first time I’ve felt safe enough to read it. So fasten your seat belts and make sure your tray table is in the upright and locked position, Memphis. We’ve got a lot to talk about.*


*Just as a reminder, that does not include The Last Jedi. Yet. But it does include porgs.

House Is An Enigma has found a home!

(Dear Internets: a pre-script.

It has taken me twelve thousand years to post this information on my blog (actually it’s just taken me like three months, but I am not going to let facts deter me from an exaggeration this morning apparently). Honestly, though, the news still feels just as new as when I first got the phone call back in July. It also feels just as joyous and still kind of unbelievable, which makes it even more joyous. And I’m going to — perhaps unwisely — be honest about one of the reasons why.

The book involves two of the most difficult decisions that I have ever made: having a total hysterectomy and leaving academia. Though the first was, clearly, life-altering and terrifying and freeing and sad in ways that I will probably mourn for the rest of my life (though I’m getting to the point of being okay with that, the mourning, because it reminds me of my humanity, and because it reminds me of hope), the second was also intensely terrifying — and freeing in ways I’d never expected. Doing so, however, meant facing a tremendous fear: I thought that I would never publish again, if I wasn’t in academia, if I wasn’t teaching, if I left the only work and world I’d known behind. It was especially wonderful, then, that I got the call about this contest on the Friday of my first week of working a new job in a new field that I absolutely love. Don’t get me wrong: I also loved being in the classroom, and I loved my students, too. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. But I wasn’t happy, and it was time for me to find a way to be happy. It scares me a little to speak openly about that, but I feel like I owe it to my students. I feel it’s crucial, now more than ever, to talk openly to young writers and scholars about other options, other fields, other ways to live and work and grow that can sustain us while we keep doing these wonderful strange things with language. 

Now, onto the news …)

Gertrude Stein and her house

This is a photograph of Gertrude Stein (feline) standing on top of her own house (I know, it’s a giant dog crate, but she loves the space and also somehow crate-trained herself, which is the only way any cat of mine has ever been trained). May we all similarly triumph and lord over our own houses. Amen.

I am proud, humbled, honored, and humbled again to share the news that my third full-length collection, House Is An Enigma, was chosen as the winner of the Cowles Poetry Book Prize and will be published by Southeast Missouri State University Press.

This book’s been a long time coming. It’s wandered from contest to contest, hopeful, under different titles and incarnations. It’s taken until now, though, for me to take the book to a place that feels right — and now, the book has found the right place in this press.

House has found a home.

Theses poems were born out of great pain, and it’s a great honor to see this good news come of them. I own a depth of gratitude to Susan Swartwout, James Brubaker, and all of the editors and readers at SEMO Press — not to mention my own dear readers, family, and friends.

You can read the full announcement — including a list of incredible finalists, with whom I am blushingly proud to share this space — here.

Here’s the press release part, if you’d like to take a look and see what this book is all about:

“Southeast Missouri State University Press is pleased to announce that Emma Bolden’s manuscript House is an Enigma is the winner of the 2017 Cowles Poetry Prize, judged by Susan Swartwout. The prize includes $2,000 and publication of the winning manuscript by the University Press. Ms. Bolden’s book will be published in October 2018.

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.

Emma Bolden is the author of two books, Malificae and medi(t)ations, and several chapbooks. Her poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in Colorado Review, Beloit Poetry Journal, Salamander, National Poetry Review, Nimrod, Triquarterly, Fairy Tale Review, Prairie Schooner, Cimarron Review, StoryQuarterly, Bellingham Review, DIAGRAM, Monkeybicycle, and Gulf Coast among other venues. Bolden received a 2017 Creative Writing Fellowship in Poetry from the National Endowment of the Arts.”