In celebration of LSUP’s 80th anniversary the staff selected 80 of our most memorable titles. Adding to our “Around the Press in 80 Books” blog series, Designer Barbara Bourgoyne writes about The Opposite House.
Part of our distinguished Southern Messenger Poets series, The Opposite House is Claudia Emerson’s sixth book of poems published by LSU Press. It is also the fifth book of Claudia’s that I had the privilege to design.
It’s difficult for me to write about Claudia’s work without writing about her. They are so intricately connected, one cannot exist without the other. Claudia was gracious and funny, and had such an exuberance for life that it was infectious. She brought out the best in everything that she touched, including the people around her. And during the time that she was working on this collection, when she was writing about the harsh realities of aging and the limitations of the human body, she was also experiencing them. She intensely felt the loneliness, fear, and anger that can accompany us as we live. She was dying, yet she wouldn’t give up writing—even when her own body betrayed her and she wasn’t able to hold a pen. She wrote.
I came across an interview she gave in the spring of 2013 with Susannah Mintz. In this interview (which can be found here in its entirety at http://poems.com/special_features/prose/essay_mintz_emerson.php), Claudia said a few things about her work that I feel resonate in The Opposite House, as well as in those collections before it.
“History is always a function of the present, whether a shared, cultural history or a personal one. Museums are filled with objects, artifacts that imply the narrative of a life, give evidence of the work or joy of a life—and most of us collect the stuff of our own museums, in attics and cellars, the objects that become catalysts for memory, for narrative.
“I am extremely aware of the passing of time, sometimes too aware! . . . My lens happens to be language, the highly ordered language of poetry. It’s a slow exposure, though, and a poem can take anywhere from days to years for me to bring it to its finest clarity. My forms have indeed been quite spare but can also become quite language-rich, with long dense lines. This could change, I know—but I sometimes find that the more personal and the more extreme the emotional subject or context, the more spare the form I choose, to distill the emotion, perhaps, and certainly to restrain what could so easily be overwritten.
“Yes! I am aware of the knife-edge we walk as artists when we realize that the compulsion to write the hard emotions refuses to be ignored. I am not alone in telling my students that when emotions are hard and overwhelming, the way to come at them is from the side, the “slant” that Emily Dickinson advocates, and to look “small”—to focus in on the object, the detail that might have just the metaphoric resonance you need. But I have also been accused of coldness for trying to exercise such restraint, and I suppose that will always be the risk, one I am obviously willing to take time and again.”
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