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Literary Treasures: Remembering Poet Claudia Emerson

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The following post is part of our From the Catbird Seat series, “Literary Treasures.” The monthly series champions the Library’s literary programming by highlighting audio and video recordings drawn from the Library’s extensive online collections, including the recently released Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. The series, by showcasing the works and thoughts of some of the greatest poets and writers from the past 75 years, helps further Library’s mission to “further the progress of knowledge and creativity for the benefit of the American people.”

This month’s Literary Treasures post remembers American poet Claudia Emerson, who died a year ago today.

Claudia Emerson
Claudia Emerson. Still image taken from The Cortland Review’s “Poets in Person” web series, directed by Guy Shahar and edited by Samuel Markus

A former student of hers, I had the great pleasure of studying with and getting to know Emerson. She was no doubt a poetry lightning rod, and it was her mission to introduce everyone she met to the art of poetryan undying effort she made both inside and outside the academic sphere. I did not know it then as a 19-year-old college sophomore, but Emerson would become one of the most influential people my life has known. She opened my heart to the love of poetryand of artand helped foster it for almost a decade. The same can be said by many of her friends, colleagues, and former students, and I am lucky to know such lovely people through the community she gathered.

Simply put: I would not be writing this blog post, nor have the pleasure of working in an office such as the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center, if it was not for Claudia. She showed me how poetry changes lives, a priceless gift I try to transfer in my work here at the Library. So today, like most days, I remember her life, her poems, and her advocacy work as a poet.

Emerson published eight collections of poetry, which include Pharaoh, Pharaoh; Pinion: An Elegy; Late Wife; Figure Studies; Secure the Shadow; The Opposite HouseImpossible Bottle; and the forthcoming Claude Before Time and Spaceall of which are or will be published by LSU Press as part of its Southern Messenger Poets Series edited by Dave Smith. See below for two videos of Emerson reading from a few of the aforementioned volumes for the Library of Congress.

Her many accolades include, most notably, the 2006 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her collection Late Wife, National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim Fellowships, and being named Virginia’s State Poet Laureate in 2008. Emerson was also the recipient of one of the Library’s 2005 Witter Bynner Fellowships, chosen by then U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Ted Kooser. Click the link below for a reading and conversation with her and The Poet and the Poem’s Grace Cavalieri, during which Emerson reads from her work:

The Poet and the Poem: Claudia Emerson

Who encouraged or inspired you to let poetry into your life? Let them know they gave you such a gift.