Featured Emanuel Collection: Then, Suddenly–

Our featured poet as we celebrate this last week of National Poetry Month is Lynn Emanuel. Today we look briefly at one of her poetry collections: Then, Suddenly–. Or, more accurately, we quote Emanuel talking about the book.

In a rare interview, Emanuel said this about Then, Suddenly–:

A number of poems address the reader directly because the central drama of the book is between a reader and a writer, although the writer in this book is becoming an increasingly tenuous entity. Sometimes the writer disappears entirely and the poem or book speaks directly to the reader, because the reader, that good enemy, looms large. The reader has replaced the writer in importance, and the reader is alternately god-like and dog-like.

As I mentioned yesterday, Emanuel is often concerned about the “bookness” of something. But for this particular collection, during her efforts to deconstruct a reader’s relation to a book, a poem, and the writer themselves, her father dies. The poem “Halfway Through the Book I’m Writing,” begins with the line: My father dies and is buried in his Brooks Brothers suit.

While her father’s death impacts the poet’s intentions and direction of this book, it does not put her off course entirely. She still intends to finish what she started, though there are brief interludes when her father “returns” to comment on the poetry she’s writing, to try to change its course.

Emanuel’s father’s death is not the crux of the collection though. To wit:

I’ve built the book around a play on the word moving: What does it mean to be moving? … [W]hat does it mean, as a reader of a book of poems, to be moved?

[W]hile the book is about the argument between writers and readers it is also about the argument between language and the body. One of the heroines of the book is Gertrude Stein. Her cubist experiments in language are, to me, monumental efforts to unmake the page and with it space and time. Against that effort I posit the story of the body with its traditional beginning, middle, and end. Death can’t be written out or written beyond. The body in death is beyond the power of language, unreformable, unrevisable. I suppose the third character is the writer, such as she is, faced by these two powerful and irreconcilable narratives. And, also, the book is very funny. It really is. At times it is laugh-out-loud funny.

Here is some particularly insightful commentary about Emanuel’s first three books – from a blog called Gently Read Literature.

Incidentally, the cover art of Then, Suddenly– is a painting done by the poet’s father, Akiba Emanuel.

More on Lynn Emanuel tomorrow…

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