I've only read this book once, which isn't really enough for most poetry - or for these poems - but the fleeting impression of something deeply wrong, something radiantly right, something lost but always retained leads me to write about it now. This book haunts you the way an old love affair, a failed marriage, or a missed opportunity lingers in your mind after the second cup of coffee. I read these poems in a parking lot waiting for someone to return, in an airport waiting for a loved one to arrive, and in bed when I couldn't fall asleep. Claudia Emerson was there with me - or actually it felt like she had been there before and I heard her echo, felt her departed presence. The language of the poems felt intentional, concrete, full of meaning and suggestion. The poems tingle, poised between death and renewal, loss and discovery, and that owes something to the language. I haven't lived with them long enough to know how they work, but this is a group of poems worth the time.
Wow-- an incredible book2006/5/31
Timeless poems that reveal, through domestic detail, the complexities of the heart. I am so glad this book won the pulitzer. Deeply heartfelt, yet complicated and brave enough to resist declining into the sentimental. I can think of no recent book that writes of the shadowy emotions of loss and hope as this.
Needs a second readthrough...2006/8/7
Chris A. Humston
This is the first Clauidia Emerson book I've read and it makes me want to read her others. I have to admit though, that on my first reading, I thought, "Big whoop." But after sitting and really digesting it, it started to win me over. She has the great poetic ability to capture, with candid detail, those rare emotional moments we have in life, like: divorce, death, lost love, fear of being lonely, etc.
There's no questioning her poetic skill. She uses all the tools and uses them well. But I think what turned me off initially was her ryhme scheme and use of white space. Sometimes her ryhming is too thick and noticeable, which gets in the way of what she is trying to convey. Also, many of her poems are long and structured using tercets (3 line stanzas). After reading five or six poems that look the same, you begin to grow weary and lose interest. Other than those considerations, "Late Wife" is an excellent collection. I am looking forward to her next piece of work.
Favorite poems and quotes from "Late Wife":
1. The Autobon Collection- "There will always be/such things I regret knowing."
2. House-Sitting- "Evenings/I lit candles as though for guests/and danced with my own vanishing/as the prisms moved in the draft/my body made of the stillness."
3. Rent- "But I imagine the walls still disappear inside/themselves, vacant forms, and the house grows/lighter, a deceitful ruin that lingers, rising//longer than it should above you and the fertile/hunger that will, with enough time, consume it-/before going on to another survival."
GOod for a non poetry reading person2006/7/14
Jimbo in Virginia
I almost exclusively read nonfiction, but saw this author on tv after winning a pulitzer. I decided to give it a try, and find her poetry to be very moving.
Well Worth a Careful Read2008/4/16
I read about this collection by Claudia Emerson on a list of recent Pulitzer winners, and its marital themes appealed to me, so I gave it a try. These poems seem deceptively simple upon first reading, but as I've reread and lingered over them, they have grown deep roots. There is indeed a lot going on under the surface here.
The first two sections of this slim volume offer restrained yet poignant snapshots of a marriage viewed in retrospect--domestic moments that serve as subtle metaphors for a failing relationship. For instance, Emerson describes various homes that she and her husband occupied--houses that appear sound on the surface, but that include occupants like spiders, bees, bats, and termites, suggesting a marriage that is internally unsound. "Natural History Exhibits," for example, describes the newlywed poet opening up her silverware drawer to find a coiled snake. Rather than killing it, she hesitates and eases the drawer shut, letting the snake exit the way it came, but washing "every fork, spoon, and knife" afterwards. Her misgivings and her attempt to overlook the event mirror her handling of her early marital regrets. Another recurring image involves trapped birds--an orphaned cedar waxwing, a hawk caught in a batter's cage, and, in "A Bird in the House," the poet herself as a bird... the displaced "late wife" that her ex-husband's new wife chases out.
In the collection's final section, Emerson opens a window on her current relationship--one haunted by the ghost of her beloved's deceased "late wife," yet ultimately hopeful. In "Leave No Trace," a conscientious hiking trip becomes a meaningful metaphor for the subtle footprints we can't help but leave in each others' lives, yet Emerson's eyes are fixed confidently on her companion "on the trail just ahead."
This lovely, empathic collection is well worth a careful reading.