Hear Me on WBHM!

I think I wanted to give language to the kinds of experiences that women rarely talk about and the kind of introspection that I think is necessary to, I suppose, find the life that you really want rather than the life that other people tell you you should want. Maybe there’s somebody out here that’s experiencing what I experienced and if they pick up this book they won’t have to go through it and feel as lonely as I did.


As long as I can remember living, public radio has been part of my life. I grew up listening to WBHM 90.3, our local NPR station. I always dreamed of some day, one day, talking about my writing on WBHM. That dream came true last week, when I sat down with Andrew Yeager, a remarkably kind, patient, and brilliant reader and interviewer, to talk about my new book, House Is an Enigma

If you missed the story today or you’re not in the ‘Ham, the interview’s now up on their website. You can hear me read and talk about two poems in the collection, “House Is the Word My Doctors Used For My Body” and “Beyond Love.”

And I wouldn’t be a public radio nerd if I didn’t mention that you should definitely donate to your local NPR station. I’ve always appreciated public radio — at this point in my life, I listen to NPR more than I watch television — but, after being in the studio, I realized that I never quite appreciated it as much as I should have. Andrew’s a brilliant interviewer and editor, and watching the team in motion in the midst of a fundraiser was beyond inspiring. These people are doing the real work, y’all, and it’s really important — now more than ever — that listeners support it.

House Is an Enigma is now available!


Today is the day! House Is an Enigma is now available from Southeast Missouri State University Press. I own a depth of gratitude to Susan Swartwout, James Brubaker (who is one of the best editors out there), and all of the editors and readers at SEMO Press — not to mention my own dear readers, family, and friends. Here’s what people are saying about the collection (and I am infinitely grateful for their beautiful words):

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

You can order House Is an Enigma from your local bookstore, from Southeast Missouri State University Press (support them — they’re amazing!), IndieBoundAmazon, Barnes and Noble, Books-A-Million, and Target.

House Poem JPEG


“I Was Told Not to Write About the Body”: About the Poem

29884447682_92e543cce3_hOn Tuesday morning, a deer ran in front of my car as I drove to work. I was struck, as I always am, by her fleeting, fragile beauty, by what a gift it was, to see her and to have that vision, if only for a moment in time. It’s a feeling I connect very much with the way I feel about the body: how it is a gift, a rare and beautiful and fragile one, to have a body at all.

It seemed fitting, then, that the poem featured on Sundress Press’ The Wardrobe on Tuesday was a poem that uses a deer as a central image. It’s one of two poems in the book that began in perhaps the place least conducive to writing poetry: an over-crowded departure terminal during an extended layover at Dulles airport in DC. I was on my way home after one of those beautiful gifts that happen rarely in a lifetime: I’d been in New York to read in the Best American Poetry reading.

The poem I read was actually the title poem of my forthcoming collection, House Is An Enigma. The experience was amazing but also humbling. I felt as though there was some kind of mistake, as though I didn’t belong there, for a lot of reasons, but the main reason haunted me all through the night and through the first leg of my flight and through my airport walks. I’d had the absolute honor to stand on that stage and read with these extraordinarily talented, brilliant, inventive writers. The main thing that stuck with me, though, was their bravery, their willingness to Say The Thing, to be honest and to confront and explore and love into language the deepest, darkest, most beautiful parts of themselves and their experiences and our shared experience, here, on this shared earth, as creatures who share the experience of being human. My poem felt like code. It was about my deepest, darkest, most intense experience — having a hysterectomy at age 33 — but you’d never know that. In fact, I didn’t even know it, when I read the poem. It was only when I had to write a note for the anthology that I realized what it was about. I’d been ashamed of the experience, I confess, and I confess that I’d been ashamed about my lumbering, dysfunctional body, which so rarely felt like a gift. This shame had led to silence, and I knew, after that night, that I owed it to my work to give it all language.

The first draft of this poem was indeed a rare gift: it arrived nearly whole, in that crowded airport, as I waited for the plane to take me into the sky and away to my home, which felt like a new place, ringing and ringing with news words.

House Is An Enigma featured on Sundress Publications’ The Wardobe


We’ve still got a few months before my third full-length collection, House Is an Enigma, is published by Southeast Missouri State University Press in October.

Interested in a preview? Then I have good news for you.

I’m humbled to say that House Is an Enigma was selected for this week’s Best Dressed feature on The Wardrobe, from Sundress Publications. Stop by every day this week to spend some time with one of the poems from the collection.

First up is “Alma,” which is one of my favorite poems in the collection. I’ve probably been writing it since I studied with Kate Knapp Johnson, my mentor, teacher, and all-around life-saver at Sarah Lawrence College.

Kate taught me more than I could ever begin to express about poetry and about the restless, endless, insatiable and ever-unsatisfied curiosity necessary to keep one’s art and craft alive. I learned much about the latter from her example, especially from her passion about the work of Carl Jung. In fact, Jung’s Memories, Dreams, Reflections served as a textbook in her poetry class, and it was life-changing for me.

Though I’m not sure if I can entirely explain how, I know (and really, isn’t that the best tribute to Jung — not being able to explain entirely but still, nonetheless, knowing) that “Alma” comes from my time with Kate and, via Kate, from Jung.

Kate mentioned one day that in many languages, the word “alma” means “soul.” In many ways, that’s exactly what this poem is: an expression of and from the part of my soul that was built in those long, deep, and deeply treasured conversations between a master teacher and me, an eager student who had so, so much to learn.


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.