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Impossible Bottle


Southern Messenger Poets

80 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

ebook available


  Hardcover / 9780807160824 / September 2015
  Paperback / 9780807160831 / September 2015
This posthumous volume of poetry from Pulitzer Prize winner Claudia Emerson explores the suspended state of existence that illness imposes upon its sufferers—what she calls the “impossible bottle.” With a strong will and a self-deprecating awareness of the instinct to seek meaning in metaphor, she confronts the indignities, fears, and moments of grace in a struggle with cancer. Her poems forge unlikely connections between the present reality and memories of the past, such as an MRI scan conjuring up images of a June expedition through a tunnel under a Maryland mountain.
Rooted equally in the sterility of the hospital and the vitality of the natural world, Impossible Bottle mines the trappings of illness, showing how disease attempts to rob us of our humanity even as it reminds us of our mortality.

Claudia Emerson published six poetry collections with LSU Press, including Late Wife, Secure the Shadow, and The Opposite House. A professor of English and member of the creative writing faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Emerson served as the poet laureate of Virginia and won numerous awards for teaching and writing—including the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry—before her death in 2014.

Praise for Impossible Bottle

“Emerson never tried to overwhelm the reader with a lot of curtain chewing and scene stealing. She was a solitary, an off-in-the-corner type, a classic observer—as observant as a sniper. . . . In her last months, Emerson added much to an art that was delicate but indomitable.”—The New Criterion
“These poems, and Emerson’s poetry at large, merit attention for their vitality in image and sound. Through careful attention to place, the rhythms of speech, and the patterns of a life, Emerson’s poems achieve a living form on the page. Her career as a poet has been built on this accomplishment, and in Impossible Bottle she attains otherworldly clarity. . . . Emerson’s poems see beyond our present “sill of ash” to the wild beauty of the fire, leaving us at last with that “brightest-ever” gift of heat and light. May Emerson’s poems impart such gifts to readers many lifetimes over.”—Harvard Review
“A poet capable of revealing startling discoveries inside quiet, quotidian circumstances. . . . The marvel of Claudia Emerson’s Impossible Bottle is that the highly charged, collaborative perspectives of sitter and artist in this final encounter are made available to the reader simultaneously, indivisibly, as one.”—Virginia Quarterly Review
“[Emerson’s] final collection, Impossible Bottle, is one of primal power and beauty, a distillation of nothing less than a life into page after page of music impossibly clear, which is not to say, easy. The poems here gaze unflinchingly at a world of incomprehensible pain in the face of inevitable loss. The true wonder of this collection, then, is what a joy it is to read, how easily the music builds and flows from one line to the next. If the poet’s task, as some have said, is to transmute the thing, the world, into something other and more beautiful, then Claudia Emerson was a poet of unmatched excllence. The really extraordinary part is that she does not simply metaphorize or sleight-of-hand what is into something we would rather behold. She shows us what is, and tell us gently, This too is beautiful.”—Fogged Clarity
“The poems of Impossible Bottle reveal that Claudia Emerson felt the shadow of mortality upon her but refused to flinch and devoted herself to shining a light through that shadow. In her observations and meditations, Emerson found a new radiance as she beheld a wide range of subjects, many relating to questions of dying, ‘the familiar art of sorrow,’ all pulsing with her love of life and words. This new volume gives us some of the most deft, intimate, passionately understated and generous poems in the language. The range of her compassion is astonishing, the precision of her verse heartbreaking, as she navigates the undiscovered country. These brave and brilliant poems will long inspire us as “the body of light that hangs from the rafters,” for Emerson is a poet of the truest measure.”—R. T. Smith, author of In the Night Orchard
“Delicately subtle, but always steel-eyed and honest, the poems in Claudia Emerson's posthumous collection, Impossible Bottle, serve as witness to the cliff's edge where she must have been living to write them. The edge where opposites bleed into each other, where ‘sorrow is ecstatic’ and where the dying might feel ‘a lightening, the way a snake must / on slipping through its discarded // mouth into another year, or, knowing nothing / of a year, into time itself.’ These are translucent poems, transcendent and shattering.”—Alice Friman, author of The View from Saturn
“This book, completed shortly before the author’s death, displays all the depth and bravura technique which made Claudia Emerson one of our indispensable poets. These are fearless reckonings with mortality, rendered with a formal control that somehow also suggests abandon, a state where, as the book’s opening poem insists, ‘sorrow is ecstatic.’ Impossible Bottle is a harrowing collection, but also a wise and deeply consoling one. It is the work of a contemporary master.”—David Wojahn, author of World Tree
“Smart, intense, satisfying, and approachable.”—Newsweek
“The sustained quality of her accomplishment, poem by poem, is rare. . . . The voices . . . are authentic, their conflicts and complexities universal.”—Georgia Review
“One of the most honored, decorated, and revered poets in Virginia history.”—Richmond Times-Dispatch
“Emerson’s poems . . . are characteristic of the poet at her most human, by offering the subjective as human, its freakiness intact, and by making us believe that this offering is the most poetic of documentary rituals.”—Cortland Review

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