When Boys for Pele came out, I was fifteen and brim-filled with anger and with the desire to be who I was instead of who I was told to be. The first time I listened to the CD, I was shocked and raw and bewildered and exhilarated and, most of all, irrevocably changed. In Amos’ music, I found the flipside of Southern womanhood, the Goddess of IDGAF who not only allowed herself to be open and angry and powerful but who proved that being a woman who’s open about anger is itself powerful. In her lyrics, I found the inexhaustible possibilities of language, which, I learned, didn’t have to be soft or easy or even entirely translatable. It just had to be real, authentic, individual — another kind of power.
(me talking about my queen Tori Amos in Glass: A Journal of Poetry)
I wrote a poem inspired by one of the most powerful (and maybe my favorite — maybe? — it’s impossible to choose) songs from Tori Amos‘ Boys for Pele, the album I’ve probably played more than any other (seriously — I’ve kept two copies of the CD in my car, just in case one got damaged, for as long as I’ve had a car). It’s called “In the Springtime of Her Voodoo” and I’m proud to say you can read it online in the latest issue of one of my favorite lit mags, Glass: A Journal of Poetry.
While you’re there, you can read more about why Tori Amos has been pretty much everything to me and my work as a writer since that life-changing day in 1994 when I heard the first gorgeous notes of Under the Pink. You can hear me read the poem, too, and, perhaps more importantly, you can see this totally awesome and completely badass live performance of “In the Springtime of His Voodoo” from MTV Unplugged, which, now that I’ve mentioned it, I have to go and watch again. Maybe like five times. In a row. At least.
If you’re in the great greater Birmingham area, I hope you’ll come out to Desert Island Supply Company for what promises to be one helluva night. I’ll be reading from my new collection, House Is an Enigma — with some surprise new poems, probably about finishing schools, Jordan Catalano, and/or Tori Amos songs. I’m thrilled-beyond-thrilled to be joined on the stage under the squid by Kristen Iskandrian, author of Motherest, and Sabrina Orah Mark, author of Wild Milk and The Babies (one of my all-time favorite books). I am a HUGE fan of both of their work, so you’ll get to see me nerding out/being totally awkward (well, more awkward than usual, if that’s possible?). Thankfully, The Whiskey Thief will be there to supply us all with cocktails they’ve created. I’m so looking forward to this one and so incredibly grateful to a.) be reading in my home city and b.) be reading with such incredible writers c.) with the incredible people of DISCO, who I greatly admire.
Alabama peeps, head downtown on Thursday night — y’all don’t want to miss this one!
I’m honored to have my poem, “Incendiary Devices,” appear in the Iron Horse Literary Review‘s NewsFlash series.
The first line — “A bomb has a signature” — comes from a Rachel Maddow Show segment title, which itself came from a quote from fellow Alabamian Joyce Vance. Vance is a former US Attorney, my personal hero, and the daughter-in-law of Judge Robert S. Vance, who was assassinated by a mail bomb in 1989.
Joyce Vance also worked on the investigation into the bombing of a Birmingham abortion clinic. I was 17 and in high school 1.7 miles away when the clinic was bombed. We circled around a TV set in my AP Government classroom, completely terrified. The clinic offered a range of women’s healthcare, including free pregnancy tests in the days before disposable drugstore tests. In fact, it’s the place where my mom found out she was pregnant with me.
When I saw Joyce Vance talk about the bombing on the Rachel Maddow Show, that terrifying day came back to me. I was struck by the endless, circular nature of human cruelty, how hatred begets violence and grief, and also how the forces of goodness can find a way to rise even from ashes.
Are you in the greater Greensboro area? Then I have good news for you! I will also be in the greater Greensboro area tomorrow, Sunday, December 2nd, and my poems will be there with me. Come to Scuppernong Books at 3:00 to hear me read from House Is an Enigma (and some new surprise poems) and to hear Karen Meadows read poems from her new book, almond, eyeless, available from Groundhog Poetry Press.
I’m taking House on the road for a miniature book tour this fall, and I hope to see you at one of these stops!
I’m also looking to schedule readings and/or lectures and/or appearances for 2019. If you’re teaching House Is an Enigma or just interested in having a writer talk to your students, I’m happy to schedule class visits, whether IRL or via Skype. You can contact me through this form or send an e-mail to emmaboldenwrites at gmail dot com.