Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Claudia Emerson (born January 13, 1957) is an American poet who won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her collection Late Wife. She is a professor of English and Arrington Distinguished Chair in Poetry at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. She is a contributing editor of the literary magazine Shenandoah. On August 26, 2008, she was named Poet Laureate of Virginia by Governor Timothy M. Kaine.
She was born in Chatham, Virginia. She lives in Fredericksburg, Virginia with her husband, Kent Ippolito, a musician who plays with various types of bands, including bluegrass, rock, folk, jazz, blues and ragtime. The couple were married in 2000 and together write songs and perform.
JEFFREY BROWN: For Claudia Emerson, the road to the life of a poet wasn't immediate or self-evident. After college, she was soon married and worked as a mail carrier and in a used bookstore before setting her sights on verse.
For the last eight years, she's taught English at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia. Claudia Emerson is the author of three books of poetry; the most recent, "Late Wife," has just been awarded the Pulitzer Prize. It tells of loves lost through death and divorce and examines a newfound love between a couple who came together later in life.
Claudia Emerson joins us now.
And welcome, and congratulations.
CLAUDIA EMERSON, Pulitzer Prize-Winner in Poetry: Thank you very much.
JEFFREY BROWN: Each poem in this book is a kind of letter to someone, a former husband, your current husband, and to yourself. Tell us how this came about?
CLAUDIA EMERSON: Well, I had written two previous books of poems before coming to write this book. And what began it was getting married a second time to a man who was a widower.
And he had lost his first wife to lung cancer, and they had been very happily married. And I began to feel compelled to write about our relationship because of that. I process the world through poetry; it's how I think about things, emotions, that sort of things.
So I began to write those poems first. And then, from that period, I began to look back on my first marriage and see that there might be poetry there that would also be of value to me.
"Close to the personal"
JEFFREY BROWN: So did you think of them as almost letters, direct address?
CLAUDIA EMERSON: Yes. I mean, that's a tricky thing, because when you use "you," I was thinking about a former husband and my husband now, but I also am aware that, in some ways, I'm putting you, the reader, in that seat, as well, or asking you to be with me in the first-person, and maybe relate to some of how I would address that other.
JEFFREY BROWN: Is it normal for you to be so personal in your writing?
CLAUDIA EMERSON: No. No.
JEFFREY BROWN: No?
CLAUDIA EMERSON: I think, sometimes when I look back on the earlier work, my autobiography is in there more than I thought it was at the time, but, no, I had never written anything so close to the personal before this book.
JEFFREY BROWN: But in this case, there was the loss you had to address and then the changes that grew out of that?
CLAUDIA EMERSON: That's right. That's right.
Living with loss
JEFFREY BROWN: There's a poem called "Artifact." Tell us about that, and then maybe you could read it for us?
CLAUDIA EMERSON: All right. I began to find meaning in things leftover from both my first marriage and then from Kent's first marriage. And when someone is missing, their possessions take on meaning.
And so where I would run into these things inadvertently, I would be moved to write poems. And this poem is actually pretty much what happened in Kent's life. He lived in...
JEFFREY BROWN: Kent is your current husband.
CLAUDIA EMERSON: Kent is my current husband. He lived in the house where he and Lynn had lived for three years before he decided he had to move on from there. And so I think that the rest of the poem tells the story.