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Secure the Shadow


Southern Messenger Poets

80 pages / 6.00 x 9.00 inches / no illustrations

ebook available


  Paperback / 9780807143032 / February 2012
  Hardcover / 9780807143025 / February 2012

Daringly realistic and artfully mediated by past and present, Claudia Emerson’s Secure the Shadow contains historical pieces as well as poems centering on the deaths of the poet’s brother and father. Emerson covers all aspects of the tragedies that, as Keats believed, contribute to our human collective of Soul-making, in which each death accrues into an immortal web of ongoing love and meaning for the living. Emerson’s unwavering gaze shows that loss cannot be eluded, but can be embraced in elegies as devastating as they are beautiful.

The macabre title poem refers to the old custom of making daguerreotypes, primitive photographs, of deceased loved ones. Other striking poems describe animal deaths—mysterious calf killings, a hog slaughter, the burial of a dead jay, “identifiable / but light, dry, its eyes vacant orbits.” 
Death, as the speaker’s heart and mind instruct her, exists in a shadow world. When the body disappears, the shadow also flees. By securing the shadow, the poet finds a representation of the dead’s soul, a soul always linked to the body. Hence, Emerson’s attention to the minute details of the body’s repose—reflected in the long, related sequence of refrained poems—never allows its memory to fade.

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.

Praise for Secure the Shadow

“As a whole, Claudia Emerson's Secure the Shadow is poetry that offers us a way of surviving the dual catastrophes of loss and anguish. These poems awaken our yearning for the eternal even as they help us to defy it. Time is the stillness of a small bird pausing on an old man's hat, and Emerson invites us to take joy in the moment.”—Sonja James, The Journal (WV)

Secure the Shadow is stylistically and thematically coherent. Many of the poems are ambitious—we read, pause, reread. The poems consistently reveal a depth of meaning that compels rereading. I am anxious for Emerson’s next book, and yet also not anxious, for the poems here provide enough to engage me until then.”—Lynn Domina

“With superb artistry and a cool, but never cold, eye, Emerson sublimates her grief into elegant elegy, unsentimental and unforgettable—as when, driving past a house fire’s ‘bright-rising / enravishment,’ she does ‘not stop to watch someone else’s / tragedy burn past this brief, nearly / beautiful suspension that changes nothing.’”—Andrew Hudgins

“I really do not know of another writer of her generation who can weave such diverse materials together to make such a cohesive and urgent whole. With Secure the Shadow, Emerson once again proves that she is among our essential poets.”—David Wojahn

“From the ghostly likenesses of children in postmortem photographs, the architectural remains of small-town businesses gone under—remnants of the interstate’s swift abandon—to the hidden vein of uranium beneath a plot of local farmland, these poems reckon with losses both personal and communal. This is a hauntingly beautiful collection from a poet attentive to measure and the ways of things in both the natural and man-made worlds to reveal to us ‘musings of a lucid soul / or the disclosures of God.’”—Natasha Trethewey

Secure the Shadow may seem to be about death, the brother’s death, the father’s death, everyone’s death. Yet the poems themselves, graceful, sturdy, fiercely controlled, profoundly imaged, are the poet’s brilliant argument for life. With realism and dignity, she balances pain and grief word by word to arrive at startling wisdom and extraordinary freedom. A beautiful, beautiful book that sounds the depths of love.”—Kelly Cherry

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