Pharaoh, Pharaoh is a meditation on time, memory, inheritance, and the irony of loss—loss of one’s land, of one’s past, of love itself. With senses keenly attuned to every nuance of light and landscape, Claudia Emerson Andrews invests her lines with a scriptural fire. She captures equally and with apparent effortlessness the bewilderment of the culturally bereft in the “stuttered eloquence” of an auctioneer and the evanescence of appearances in the image of a dying firefly “coughing up light.”
In this postlapsarian pastoral of the modern Southeast, Andrews summons a cast of characters bound to times and places of desolation, yet unable to leave because it is that very desolation—the plagues, the scourges, the losses and heartbreak—that has defined them. Their collective cry of exultant despair is compressed in the astonishing final lines of “Plagues”: “Pharaoh, Pharaoh, as if there were something keeping us, as if we could be let go.”
Andrews brings to these poems a vision so clear, so miraculously right, that the pages themselves seem suffused with the scents of sunlight and new-mown hay. Pharaoh, Pharaoh is a lovely, spellbinding reminder of what we discard, what we keep—and why.
Claudia Emerson published six poetry collections, including Late Wife, Secure the Shadow, The Opposite House, and Impossible Bottle. Before her death in 2014, she was professor of English and a member of the creative writing faculty at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond. Emerson served as poet laureate of Virginia and won numerous awards for teaching and writing, including the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
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