“Free Fall: The Chosen Poetry of Emma Bolden,” by Casey Clabough

Casey Clabough

Casey Clabough


Essay by Casey Clabough


“I never chose a story: the story chooses me.”

—Emma Bolden


True enough. The above epigraph’s declaration is neither unusual, nor particularly profound, yet it succeeds in revealing and articulating the sensibility of a true artist. By “true” I mean uncompromisingly receptive to whatever the imagination affords and presents, however strange or incomprehensible. A great many writers of my acquaintance—myself included, on occasion—stymie or seek to govern their imaginations when they should not. “I am composing a novel,” a writer may think to herself, and what arrives into her consciousness is filtered through her preconceived notions—a collection of hazy rules and limiting characteristics—of that which constitutes “a novel.” To be sure, good—even great—books have been written in this manner, yet for whatever it may mean in the end (perhaps nothing), the writer who works in such a way has not been entirely true to what her imagination gave her.

One of the pleasures of reading Emma Bolden’s work, poetry and prose, is that it remains perpetually open and true to the imagination. It is the more difficult way for a writer to go about things: it results in fits and starts; it invites self-doubt; it can lead to despair. The conscious mind wrestles with the problem of affording utterance to the mixed inspiration (feelings, ideas, images) it is receiving from . . . . Well, that depends on the individual writer.

Can there exist but a single avenue of expression for an artistic impulse? I think not. And so intellect—thinking—comes into the picture, offering a number of beguiling and entirely logical, sensible forms for what an artist may be seeking to articulate. However, giving into one of these forms—not unlike selecting a single color—remains the easy way out and to allow the artistic impulse to be governed by intellect cannot help but compromise verisimilitude (a little or a lot). So the process of giving utterance necessarily must remain a thing the artist herself does not entirely understand. It is a good thing, then, when Bolden characterizes her process as messy, slow, immersive, and riddled with states of terrifying anxiety. For the thing that at last emerges to embody true utterance, it must run this—or some similar—gauntlet.

Although this essay will be concerning itself with Bolden’s poetry, it is essential to appreciate that she does not, by default, immediately interpret imaginative catalysts, as they arrive to her, through that one genre alone. To evoke the essay’s epigraph once more, they choose her and she admirably listens closely to what it is they wish to become: poem, essay, story, etc. As she notes elsewhere, “I think that it’s essential for a writer to practice their craft in multiple genres – and, perhaps even more essentially, to explore the spaces between genres” (“Book”). Thus all bets are off when it comes to the best way for a thing to manifest itself. And if genre lines are to be crossed, blurred, or even broken, then she is willing to do it. So much the better. The thing that emerges will be far closer to the truth it seeks to embody.

It is one thing for a writer to profess such compositional sentiments as these. Indeed, they sound most laudable and clever—perhaps even noble. But does one actually practice it? The answer and evidence, of course, lie in the nature of the writer’s work, and Bolden’s entire body of output includes not only stories, but flash fiction, creative nonfiction, reviews, and several cross-genre experiments. A genuine fellow writer or serious reader cannot help but be touched by a writer so given over to—overwhelmed even—by her imagination: to the point that she can barely process the sheer volume of rich, promising ideas and images arriving into her consciousness. I employ the word “touched” since it surely would constitute the perspective of a kindred writer. The reaction of a smaller, meaner imagination? Envy.

Unfortunately, though necessarily, there are dangers that accompany such powerful imaginations in seeking to artistically render all that they receive. In fact, it is entirely possible to become overly enamored of one’s own imagination—to stray timelessly within its fascinating, borderless expanse. One must take care then, for the scenarios in which writers wander in too far for too long—even should they emerge with masterly work—rarely are accompanied by happy biographical endings. Thus, a kind of balancing act is required. Writer R.H.W. Dillard has been known to identify this endeavor in his classes as “going out into the crazy,” which suggests a type of artistic reconnaissance mission. I have grown quite fond of this particular articulation, even though it evokes in my mind action films and lines such as “Get your people out of there!” or actor Tony Burton in the Rocky franchise yelling “No!” as the pride and stubbornness of Balboa or Apollo Creed finds them beaten into a yet another seemingly hopeless, even life-threatening, situation.

Depending on their artistic inclinations and personal resilience (or lack thereof), some writers exhibit more caution than Dillard would recommend—staying clear of the “crazy” altogether, perhaps in compliance with their survival instincts—while others are willing to press their luck, embracing greater risk. With regard to the latter degree, I am reminded of the never-ending assignment James Dickey announced to his students during his final class, only days before his death: “I want you to fight this thing through. Fight the thing through that we start with your own unconscious and your own dreams and see where it comes out. That’s the excitement and the fun of it. Deep discovery, deep adventure. It’s the most dangerous game and the best.” And so there exist writers who plunge into the depths of which Dickey spoke. They do so of their own accord, despite its plentiful risks to themselves and the people around them. Some emerge from their plummets in one piece, albeit never fully rid of certain residual elements of their own imaginations. The world politely labels such people eccentrics, though it has far worse names for them as well. But then there are those—by their own free will or not—who become stuck in their plunge, so to speak: falling without end. For these beings the imagination through which they continually journey becomes as real as the so-called everyday real—perhaps more so. These are our prophets and sages, though often they never are recognized or named as such. Is Emma Bolden one of them? I do no not know. What I do know is that she is extraordinarily imaginative, artistically fearless, and already the creator of outstanding work. The matter of plunging and free fall is something for her to know and—if she so desires—her alone.


Emma Bolden

Emma Bolden


There comes with an artist’s free fall a necessary breaking away: from ascribed roles, the conventional world, and what she once was. We find aspects of this necessary split in Bolden’s first grouping of poems, How to Recognize a Lady. In a review of the collection, Mindy Kronenberg notes how the poems “exuberantly claim the page in both free verse and prose-poems, her lines sprawled or laddered according to their own dictates, in satiric or raw depictions of intimacy (of oneself or others)” (10). While I applaud Kronenberg’s formal and thematic characterizations of the collection, I must respectfully disagree with her assertion that these poems are waywardly following “their own dictates,” regardless of Bolden’s intentions or involvement. Such a premise leaves me with the unfortunate image of a confused author sitting at a writing desk, wondering what her poems up to: “Where’d y’all go?”, “Whatch y’all been doin’?”, and the like. On the contrary, there is a generous portion of Bolden’s biography at work in these poems. Indeed, the fact that she grew up in Alabama and endured Catholic school makes her collection’s focus on an initial breaking away from rigid societal norms appear quite necessary and logical. It is against the rules of etiquette and gender assumptions that Bolden chafes, and so do the poems in this collection. For instance, the speaker in the title poem “scrubs her hands spotless when burning soft coal” (35). This is a critique of etiquette’s wasteful pointlessness, as well as its draconian penchant for oppressing one’s true feelings and impulses. Paradoxically, however, in such concealment there also dwells a certain degree of power: no one knows what the practitioner of etiquette truly is thinking, and that makes her unpredictable—even potentially dangerous.

The collection’s conceptual agenda identified, the poems themselves exhibit a diverse array of inventiveness, critique, humor, and sadness. “[W]ant only/to be wanted, whatever the price” (38), read the final lines of “The Established Household,” as if spoken by both the narrator and the house itself. They evoke—all at once—pathos, anger, hopelessness, longing, suffocation, and vulnerability. Despite the chronological remove, one thinks of some of the women in books like Revolutionary Road and films such as Strangers When We Meet. Although these works were products of the early 1960s and served in part as commentaries on the 1950s, their themes remained relevant to many parts of the turn-of-the-century Deep South.

Given the dynamics already identified in the collection, it is not surprising when gender conflict arrives front and center. “Marry a man,” advises the tongue-in-cheek speaker of “Courtships and Engagements,” “who swallows lobster claws whole, / fells age-old oaks with one stroke. Marry a man who’ll thaw your / cold nature, who’ll force you to take it—a shot of rum, a public fist, a young dog’s blood wet coat” (46). Here, good ‘ol traditional masculinity is synonymous with prodigious appetite, destruction, invasion, inebriation, abuse, and death. In truth, perhaps that it is all that it can be in the 21st-century United States, which makes this 2007 poem still quite timely. Indeed, skim the news in 2015 and the barrage of athletes alone—college and pro—raping, stealing, and assaulting is disconcerting enough to drown out whatever mischief and villainy the rest of the American population may be up to.

As the poem “Courtships and Engagements” attests, the news generally is not good in How to Recognize a Lady, though the articulations of what precisely is dysfunctional are penetrating, clever, and sometimes beautiful. Things simultaneously proceed to get worse (the content) and better (the poems) in Bolden’s 2008 chapbook The Sad Epistles. Read the title and look at the Bolden-sketched cover—which portrays a robin perched inside a human ribcage— and the reader may believe she knows what she is in for. However, read the first line of the opening poem (“Why I Can’t Write You a Love Poem”) and it is even worse than she probably imagined: “People are liars” (1).

The Sad Epistles is in fact sad. The epistles constitute better poems than those which appear in How to Recognize a Lady. This stems in part from the ironically mannered tone accompanying the first collection’s mode of critique all but disappearing in the chapbook, which consists instead of raw lamentations regarding an intensely personal relationship gone bad. As the speaker mourns in the third epistle:

I would weave nests for you. I would hatch myself whole.

I’d wallpaper myself to your back, learn the language of glue.

This is a lexicon: hopeless. (3)

Should there exist a place for hope in this chapbook? No. Its equations, if worked out honestly, must come to nothing, though not without a remainder which is the beautiful recounting of what was and could have been. It is sad indeed that human beings must learn these kinds of lessons and answers for themselves; that they cannot, instead, be passed on—meaningfully transmitted—like prior abstract knowledge, so as to spare new pain to new people. Unfortunately, each individual must learn it for herself and for the artist it is particularly difficult on account of how vividly she experiences all things: the best, the worst, the end. So we are left with utterance (the nature of the remainder): to tell the particular tale—so similar to millions of others—yet authentically one’s own. “These lines are lies,” Bolden writes, “these lies are lies,” and yet that is the truth of the matter. It is a truth which finds similar expression at the conclusion of Bolden’s award-winning short story “Sympathy,” published only a year before The Sad Epistles:

I’d like to say something beautiful. I’d like to say it so well you’d cry. I’d like pretty words, a pretty ending. But I don’t have one and I can’t make one up, because stories like this aren’t beautiful. It wasn’t beautiful, it wasn’t profound. It was just one foot and then the other. It was just walking away. (66)

Yes, for all we would like to make it—and it is so very tempting for artists to attempt to make experience into something, anything—sometimes the end is bluntly and simply just that: The End.

Also in 2008 Bolden published another chapbook entitled The Mariner’s Wife. Before reading this collection, one might assume the catalyst which makes The Sad Epistles a beautiful, poignant poetic gathering would have found within that chapbook’s tragic pages a ready-made, permanent home. Such an assumption, however, would prove incorrect. The same forces of longing, loss, and sorrow which inform The Sad Epistles do not disappear in The Mariner’s Wife. Rather, they assume new nautical forms. Indeed, the final lines which appear in the collection’s opening poem (“Invocation (to Man)”) easily might have constituted part of the other chapbook:

            You were the thud

of my own blood, and you were the leech

who drank it. (2)

And so the land-based angst of The Sad Epistles sets sail, removed to a degree this time by expanses of salty waters, yet bubbling forth, cauldron-like, with generous, similar portions of memory, blame, loneliness, and longing. However, there exists also—and this is at variance with the other chapbook—potent measures of bitterness and retribution (both imagined and real).

Just as The Sad Epistles constitutes a better collection than How to Recognize a Lady, so The Mariner’s Wife collectively proves a superior accomplishment to either. Its content veiled and adorned by tides, barnacles, and fishnet, the actual poems deliver with greater force and conviction. “I once,” begins the third poem:

            knew a man who wanted nothing

            more than wanting, searched

            shifting seas for shifting shore,

            anything past the familiar . . . . (5)

This feels like the same male-figure of The Sad Epistles—appearing in overwhelming doses and then gone again, until departed altogether—though the voice articulating and addressing him in The Mariner’s Wife is more sure of itself: more powerful. The reason for this, I believe, arrives from the narrator’s imagined identity as a seaman’s wife, who—by the very nature of that way of life—is perpetually left in wake. Yet, she does not merely weep and pine at this arrangement. Instead, she dreams, as one poem insinuates, of retribution: of herself as “a scroll/that writes itself in a language he can’t stomach” (18). True, the speaker(s) in The Mariner’s Wife expect(s) loneliness and neglect, but that does not keep her/them from passionately objecting to and merely accepting such phenomena as the inevitable way of things. However, where the collection takes on a new dimension altogether is in its final and best poem, “The Mariner’s Homecoming.” Of course, what had come before, if not about the mariner, was largely because of him. Yet, in this last poem, in which the reader discovers he has perished at sea, he is, if not forgiven, at least laid to rest with all his:

            never quite thereness, his body always

a reflection she could never actually

touch or see, his wavering, his waving. (27)

So long, mariner . . . .           



               . . . . And hello, witches! For they are the topic of research Bolden passionately would pursue in the years following the three chapbooks she generated across 2007 and 2008. Why witches? Well, Bolden likely never would have thought of them when she did had it not been for the pop-novel, The DaVinci Code. That’s right, it is to Dan Brown we owe our thanks for the in-depth study and poems that eventually would conspire to create Bolden’s first full-length book of poetry, Maleficae.

As the tale goes, Bolden was convalescing at her parents’ Alabama home following a medical procedure, when her mother swung by a local library to gather an indiscriminate pile of books for her frustrated, bed-ridden daughter. Among the titles was Brown’s novel and, as Bolden explains:

When I came across the brief passage about the European witch trials and the Malleus Maleficarum, something clicked inside of me. I read the Malleus Maleficarum soon afterwards, along with everything I could find about the European witch trials. I was shocked about how little I knew about the trials, and how they seemed to be buried in so many history books — especially since the trials and subsequent executions were such horrific examples of gendercide. I’m not sure that I made a conscious decision to write these poems: once I came across the stories, there wasn’t really a choice to be made. I had to write them. (Lott)

And so the witch narratives chose her, yet no without the aid—and it should never be forgotten—of novelist Dan Brown and The DaVinci Code.

An aside, perhaps, is in order here that I hope will aid readers in appreciating, quite apart from its formal poetic concerns, the cultural value and timeliness of Bolden’s collection. When I first encountered some of the poems destined to help make up Maleficae, it was as editor of a literary journal. I immediately was interested in them, not only because they constituted passionate, well-written poems, but also on account of the fact I recently had been delving into my state’s rich, albeit mostly buried, legacy of witchcraft.

Among the titles in my admittedly eclectic personal library is the third number of the first volume of the journal William and Mary College Quarterly Historical Papers, published in 1893. The journal—still in existence today under the title William and Mary Quarterly and functioning as a dry, scholarly histiographical endeavor strictly for use by academic historians—was, in its earliest incarnation, by turns, a delightful or disturbing, as the case may have been, tour through Virginia’s rich genealogy and myths—much of its content provided by the equally delightful or disturbing founding editor, Lyon Tyler: the son of U.S. President John Tyler and President of the College of William and Mary from 1888 to 1919.

The faded, dusty volume I have described opens with a short article entitled “Witchcraft in Virginia” and relates a 1656 incident in Northumberland County in which a Mr. William Harding was accused of “suspicon of witchcraft sorcery etc” and received a sentence of “ten stripes upon his bare back and forever to be Banished this County.” Two decades later, Tyler quotes, a jury “delegently Searched the body” of a Norfolk woman, but could find “noe Suspitious marks whereby they could Judge her to be a witch butt only what may and Is usuall on women.” Yet these were isolated instances according to Editor/President Tyler. Having poured over numerous county court records in arduous search of such elusive witches (and it is both interesting and unexpected that the first witch incident of record happened to focus on a man), he concludes his article—not without a degree of palpable disappointment: “Virginians were not without the absurd and cruel severities of the age, but superstitions do not cut much figure” (Clabough 19).

Yet it seems they did cut something of a figure for Tyler, who, in the July 1894 number of his journal—a copy of which also has found its way into my library—saw fit to begin serialization of a series by a Mr. Edward W. James entitled “Grace Sherwood, The Virginia Witch.” Of special note in James’s article is the accusation in 1681 by Elizabeth Barnes that Sherwood “came to her one night and rid her and went out of the key hole or crack of the door” (Clabough 19). This was only the beginning of Sherwood’s legal troubles and over the years she was subjected to a number of then-acceptable judicial tests to determine the extent of her suspected sorcery or lack thereof, surely the worst of which were bodily examinations (in which she proved less fortunate than the Norfolk woman of 1678 on account of certain avowed physical abnormalities) and trial by water (in which she floated rather than sank, and thus was labeled a witch and confined in shackles until the court could decide what to do with her).

Not until 2006 was Sherwood’s legal status rehabilitated when Virginia Governor Timothy Kaine pardoned her on the three hundred year anniversary of her initial conviction. This relatively recent development brings us back to Bolden’s collection and her concern with ongoing witch persecution in various places around the world. The witches of her book are both culturally and chronologically removed from the Virginians I have recounted, as well as from the people undergoing torture, mutilation, and death at this particular historical moment. Yet one need only consider recent American film and television to observe that witches of all kinds and all times are more interesting and popular to the public than ever. As a testament to this fact, the journal number in which Bolden’s poems eventually appeared morphed into an all-out witch-themed issue and proceeded to sell out its print run: the only occasion on which that has occurred during my half-decade editorship.



As for Maleficae itself, the book begins with words—or rather “the Word”—of a Christian God who must appear darkly alien to most 21st-century readers. It is a deity who speaks of woman turned “creature” and “beast,” and “granted by His Good Grace to the Devil’s hands” (3). In Bolden’s world of European witch trials the sorcerer of interest is “always a woman” (3), meaning—on account of cultural and religious variations—the comparatively equal-opportunity Devil of 1600s Virginia had yet to emerge and broaden his employee base. Indeed, thinly disguised throughout much of Maleficae is the practice of blatant misogyny rendered via male/church-dominated law. Under such circumstances and working from a 21st-century sensibility, it would be easy for a writer to fall prey to the seduction of one’s art compromising itself in the form of a heavy-handed, revisionist—yet ultimately polemical—righteousness. However, Bolden’s poems avoid this pitfall by evoking the awful details of historical records and, more important still, affording voice to the male prosecutor. This latter development serves as an extension of what begins to occur at the end of The Mariner’s Wife and lends valuable degrees of scope, perspective, and objectivity to Maleficae, strengthening the collection immeasurably.

In terms of organization, the book moves from opening poems of song and apprenticeship; to verse containing heightened scenarios of tension involving witches, villagers, and officials; to a lengthy interchange between the Word of the aforementioned dark Christian God and the witch’s testimony; and—lastly—to sentencing and burning, though not without the witch indirectly having the last word by way of her daughter. As the incomparable Costa Rican reviewer Ricky Rodriquez observes:

[Bolden] avoids sentiment in exploring her witches and plays around the edges of their complicity in crossing the boundaries of their society. They are persecuted, yet powerful. Indeed, their dying words—their screams and curses—possess the ability to psychologically torture people for the remainder of their lives. (16)

The reader knows what is coming—knows what, historically and inevitably, must transpire—but, as Rodriquez notes and Bolden beautifully portrays, the victors exercise their “justice” at a terrible, if unconscious, cost to themselves. And the book implies there is yet more to come. The witch’s daughter shall see to it, “so long as the sky/is a color” (69).



If Malefacie possesses one slight weaknesses it is that both its male and female speakers—witch and prosecutor—polarize gender characteristics and the sexes themselves a bit too rigidly. Perhaps this is an inevitable result of faithfulness to the historical documents, though it seems unlikely a speaker as nuanced and intuitive as the witch would be so absolutist in her thinking as to damn all manner of men. Yet given her personal experiences, perhaps that is all she can do.

As we have seen from the very first chapbook, gender roles and dysfunction between the sexes constitute perhaps Bolden’s major areas of inquiry (at least to date), and in Malefacie she makes tremendous progress in interrogating and affording voice—awful as it was in that time and place—to a male speaker in the form of the prosecutor. In her latest collection, however, Medi(t)ations, she discards male voice altogether. Yet this is not a step backward. Rather, she had more important things on her mind: namely, her fundamental health and mortality. It is part of what makes Malefacie and Medi(t)ations sister books across time: one concerned with the sufferings of a historical woman and the other with those of the poet herself. As Bolden explains:

[T]here are a lot of similarities between medi(t)ations and Maleficae. Both are book-length projects: in Maleficae, the poems link together to form a narrative about a woman was both worshipped and persecuted for being a witch; though not exactly narrative, the poems in medi(t)ations also build an arc that follows the out-of-body-like experience of severe illness . . . . At the center of both books lies the idea of silence: the silence of fear and the silencing of women in Maleficae, and the silence of illness, of an inability to articulate the ultimately inarticulable relationship between the bodies we inhabit and the selves that inhabit our bodies, in medi(t)ations. (“Book”)

There were other projects Bolden had planned to pursue after Maleficae; other narratives that beckoned. Yet, in the end—and as we have seen already, more than once—she acquiesced to the story that chose her. And in the case of medi(t)ations, it is a story of herself.

Books about personal illness, in any genre, prove difficult to write. There exist great hosts of them already and only so many ways in which a human body may suffer. Thus the challenge comes to lie predominantly in the rendering rather than the content. Moreover, the endeavor is compounded by the fact that many writers find it difficult to explore—down to the last molecular detail—the nature and functions of the human body. The topic alone can cause writer and reader alike to squirm, and while a little squirming may function as a good thing, if one’s reader squirms too much then one runs the risk of losing her altogether. However, Bolden has proven that exploration of the body is one of her chief strengths as a writer, both in poetry and prose, with perhaps the best example to date appearing in her autobiographical prose piece “The Penis Game” (Harper Palate 13.2 (Winter/Spring 2014): 6-18). This work of creative nonfiction simultaneously manages to be lively, sad, uncomfortable, and funny as Bolden reflects on some of her earliest notions of sexuality by recounting the activity in the title: jumping on a trampoline with a fellow girl from Catholic school while yelling “Penis!” louder in the midst of each progressive leap. Even were this piece not particularly strong in terms of writing (actually, it was a finalist for an award), it certainly demonstrates Bolden’s willingness to explore the body’s cultural and visceral relevance regardless of any potential constraints.

Of chief interest to Bolden in medi(t)ations is the medical treatment (or lack thereof) received by a compromised woman’s body. Though her own medical trials serve as the impetus for the collection, Bolden wisely saves it from any accusations of navel-gazing by applying her own experience to those of all women. As she explains:

I found that in case studies and in the theories they supported, women’s personal lives, experiences, thoughts, and physical symptoms were summarily ignored in privilege to the theory; the theory was primary, the person secondary at best. The poems in medi(t)ations are an extension of this study and an exploration of how those ideas have manifested themselves in my life. I chose to explore these ideas in creative writing as a way to resist the impersonalization of theory in academic writing. It felt vital to explore theory in this very intimate way, to see how theory plays out in real human experience, and poetry/hybridity gave me a way to replicate the experience, a structure that individualizes the experience. (“Book”)

medi(t)ations, then, functions as an exploration and indictment, not only of medical theory, but of literary theory standing between writer and expression as a force that serves to bind, rather than liberate, meaning by virtue of its cold, impersonal jargons.

To evoke mathematical formulae again, medi(t)ations searches for meaning and existence beyond the often neatly-packaged answers and conclusions offered by phenomenon such as science and literary theory while rejecting outright their too-often dismissive and sometimes dehumanizing allowance for the human self to enter into their equations. As the collection itself states, it resistsa circle stretched gray as a zero” (13). Put another way:

I am not a

or subject nor

silence . . . . (18)

But the speaker is a variable and, as the collection would like to have it, the primary one. For when treatment loses sight of that/who which/it is being treated and for what reasons, it ceases to constitute treatment and becomes instead its inverse: a form of torture.

Though admirable in its aims, such a collection runs the risk of over-victimizing the victim. To save it from that scenario Bolden provides her speaker with a number of flaws and questions to which she does not possess answers. She states, for instance:

                                                                                                                                                                              no eye

                                                                                                                                                                              can un-


                                                                                                                                                                              the I in-

                                                                                                                                                                              side of it (34)

And pain—physical, psychological, emotional—further hinders the speaker’s ability to learn anything which might be labeled reliable. Moreover, the physical presentation of the poems on the page—their alternately sprawled, dislocated, and condensed appearances—reflect the various levels of consciousness in which the speaker exists and the content that triggers them. Occasionally, this approach leads to both overlapped levels of consciousness and words, as in the following:

leaving is a failure of     language is      a constellation

of letters                           each a star       a failure

souls I stacked

                                           (she must say

                                           of the illness

                                           a lock) & her

                                           in- side

                                           a seeing she) . . . . (60)

For some traditionalist readers of poetry such formal choices will prove difficult to stomach, yet ultimately that is not for them, nor even Bolden, to judge. It is how the experiences which led to the poems bade the poet to express them, and so she faithfully did.

What medi(t)ations leaves us with, then, is a universal articulation of suffering evident across many levels of expression (form, narrative, autobiography, cultural critique) and the spaces—both the whiteness which separates printed words on a page and the gaps between our various selves—that best articulate the rendered experience. There appears, too, toward the end of the collection, resignation (“we/must learn/to love our/remains)” (68). However, that is not the same as complete or total acceptance. For as the speaker reminds us:

for-      give

-ness is for-


And so we do not.



We happen to exist in a tragic time—not far from a quarter of the way into the 21st-century—in which—by choice, illness, or neglect—more people than ever are falling out of their bodies, of their minds: of themselves. With sufficient medical access, however, one possesses the ability to choose the nature and, in some cases, the outcome of one’s particular plunge. One may emerge, in fact, not only a new variant “someone” in mind and body, but even a new and different “something.” As with nearly all technological advancements, fear is an accompanying factor, and especially in this case, given certain tragic remnant specters of the twentieth century: eugenics, genocide, and their more subtle, interconnected submanifestations. Yet, possessed of the ability to work heretofore impossible alterations upon one’s fundamental essence—mind and body—there exists also an unprecedented capacity for great dreams and aspirations: to become what one wishes; what one wills. That art should recognize and articulate such cultural and scientific developments requires artists of progressive and unorthodox intuition and experience. Such an artist Emma Bolden has become and her most recent poetry gives tragic voice to those dispossessed of choice with regard to the manner of alterations visited upon them, as well as the inadequacy of contemporary science—with all its proud manifold powers—to correct or even properly address many of them. This is particularly true of those among us who fall out of ourselves only to keep on falling. Yet there exists, too, the potential of providing a certain measure of aid even to those in the midst of descent. And, yes, I am speaking here of hope. For when words make memorable record of a singular plunge, they increase the possibility that the rest of us might fall a little easier, shifting our positions in mid-air.

Works Cited

Kronenberg, Mindy. “Review of Edge By Edge.Book/Mark (Winter2008): 10. Print.

Bolden, Emma. How to Recognize a Lady. Edge By Edge. Chappaqua (New York): Toadlily

Press, 2007. 33-48. Print.

_____. Maleficae. Grafton (Vermont): Genpop Books, 2013. Print.

_____. The Mariner’s Wife. Georgetown (Kentucky): Finishing Line Press, 2008. Print.

_____. medi(t)ations. Noctuary Press, 2015. Print.

_____. The Sad Epistles. Chicago: Dancing Girl Press, 2008. Print.

_____. “Sympathy.” Georgetown Review 8.1 (Spring 2007): 62-66. Print.

“Book Preview: Emma Bolden’s medi(t)ations.” The Best American Poetry (26 February 2014).

Web. 24 October 2014.

Clabough, Casey. “Witches of Virginia.” Dark Deeds in History. Ed. Dorothy Davis. London:

Static Movement, 2011. 16-21. Print.

Lott, Cynthia. “Interview with Emma Bolden.” Cynthia Lott (April 2014). Web. 24 October

Rodriquez, Ricky. “Three Young Southern Writers Reviewed: the Sinners, Whiskey, and

Witches of Charles Dodd White, Jon Sealy, and Emma Bolden.” James Dickey Review 30.2 (2014): 14-16. Literature Resource Center. Web. 23 Oct. 2014.

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