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.”

Catch Me in Charleston This Weekend (10/13-10/14)!

I’m thrilled to say that I’ll be in Charleston, SC this weekend. On Friday, I have the honor of talking lyric essays, poetry, and cats (let’s be honest, cats are always going to be part of the conversation) at the Charleston School of the Arts.

Friday night (10/13 — SPOOPY), I’ll be giving a reading sponsored by the Poetry Society of South Carolina at the Charleston Library Society (164 King Street) at 7:00 p.m. The reading is free and open to the public. I have the great fortune of sharing the stage (or podium) with Miho Kinnas, a phenomenal poet.

On Saturday (10/14), I’ll return to the Charleston Library Society to give a seminar called “Breaking the Block: How Playing By the Rules Can Get You Back in the Game.” We’ll talk about how language games (especially OuLiPo!) can strengthen the writing process from the blank page to the revision stage and back again. The seminar runs from 10:00 – 12:00. It’s free to students at the College of Charleston, $10 for PSSC members, and $15 for others.

You can find out more about the reading and seminar here.

A thousand million thanks to Danielle DeTiberus for working so hard to put this together, and thanks to the good people at the School of the Arts and the PSSC as well!

“The missing girl’s got a mouth on her”

At the beginning of my NEA Fellowship, I worked as a temp. For my first assignment, I subbed for the switchboard operator at a local call center. At this point in the story, people usually say “I’m sorry, that sounds like the worst job in the world.” And it does — it totally does sound like the worst job in the world. In reality, it was actually kind of awesome. Though our relationship was at first strained, the telephone and I soon got33080577092_d5752f0a7d_k along famously. My co-workers were kind and supportive and wonderful, even though they knew I’d only be in their lives for a few weeks.

And there’s something about that, too. Temping is a bit like working as a ghost. People aren’t used to seeing you in the lunchroom or by the busiest Keurig or in the Subway down the street, chowing down on a Veggie Delight. Working as a ghost may sound terrible, but it’s a terrific blessing for a writer or for anyone who likes to eavesdrop, really.

There was a lot to listen to, too. That month, all of the TV and radio stations buzzed with the search for a missing teenage girl, who quickly became the subject of almost every conversation I overheard. No matter where I went, people worked through the details shared on the news, creating their own narrative. When it was revealed that she was traveling with her teacher, the details sometimes turned sinister — and, more often than not, they turned against the girl, transforming her from pitiful victim to predatory vixen.

In the lulled moments between tidal waves of incoming calls, I started putting together a poem about her story, about the ways in which she shifted and changed in characterization until it wasn’t — it couldn’t have been — her story anymore. I’m very lucky to say that that poem, “Amber Alert,” ended up in one of my favorite journals, The Shallow Ends. That link will take you to the main page, where a single poem appears every week. My poem is here, in the archives, if you’d like to visit it, too.

Also, I’ve got some pretty major news coming up, folks. As Rachel Maddow would say, watch this space.

Two Interviews

Around this time last year, I wrote a post in which I talk about the way I’d been presenting myself online as a writer. You can read the entire post here, but, in a nutshell, I realized that writers — myself very much foremost included — often post about our triumphs online: acceptances, publications, grants, awards, and general out-in-the-public-good-things. The truth is, though, that that’s not exactly the full truth when it comes to writing. For every triumph, there are twenty crumpled drafts sleeping in an overflowing trash can. For every acceptance, there are fifteen rejections (yes, I actually averaged that out). For every grant and award and prize and good thing, there are a thousand rejections, deadlines missed, failed drafts and frustrations and blocks of writer’s block so bad that the blank page starts looking like your worst nightmare. In other words, what you see of a writer and their work through their Internet presence is often only the tiniest sliver of a portion of what being a writer and doing that work actually means.

In that post last year, I promised to try to be more open about the writing process and the submissions process. I promised to focus on process, not just on product, and especially not just on published product. I’ve tried to keep that promise, but this whole


This is a photograph from the 1965 World Encyclopedia yearbook, in case you were wondering where my obsession with the Cold War came from.

life thing totally got in the way and I haven’t had time to keep that promise as fully as I’d hoped.

I have, however, been talking about my process in other places. The Bellingham Review was kind enough to publish two of my hybrid pieces — “A Portrait of the Body in Facts” and “Love, N.1” — in Issue 74. I’m always grateful to literary journals who treat their writers well, and the Bellingham Review treats their writers very, very well (if you’ve been thinking of sending some work their way, you should totally send some work their way). You’ll find a brief profile of me in the Contributor Spotlight section of their website. Full disclosure: I answered these questions right after having a procedure on my jaw and was still on pain meds, which may explain why I decided to send them a selfie in which I look angry at cameras, walls, and my own hair. It also may explain why I totally forgot to mention that “Love, N.1” was partially inspired by my obsession with reference books. As a kid, I spent a lot of afternoons with my father’s set of World Book Encyclopdias. A lot of the images that appear and re-appear most frequently in my work — birds, butterflies, human anatomy, planarian worms (honestly, that entry freaked me out more than almost anything else) — are the images I remember most from these books. Later, my love of reference books extended to the dictionary (in case you are at this point wondering, nope, totally didn’t do the sports or the popular thing when I was a kid). After reading David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, I found myself far into an obsession with the mother of all reference books: The OED. “Love, N.1” takes inspiration for its format — and some found content — from the OED.


A messy first draft of one of my Dateline poems.

Also, Stephen McClurg was kind enough to post an online conversation we had up at Eunoia Solstice. I’m not sure that my answers do his excellent and insightful questions justice, but I tried. Topics covered include but are not limited to: ampersands, etiquette books, death birds (which would be an excellent band name), private schools, pop culture, prosody, reality television, sprung rhythm, and sad trees (which would also be an excellent band name). You can check out the interview here.