Thursday, April 25, 2019

30 Great Poems for April, Day 25: “Artifact” by Claudia Emerson

Read “Artifact” on the Poetry Foundation site here.

Claudia Emerson may be my favorite modern poet, and this poem is a prime example of why. The form is a sonnet, of course, but it’s a soft one; at times the lines rhyme exactly, while others almost don’t at all. The meter, similarly, is sometimes iambic, but mostly there are rolls and lilts that bend the rhythm into more of a meander than a march.

And then of course there’s the story, the outline of which you get in the first line and half. But with each graceful detail, Emerson layers the paint until the fuller picture comes into view, covered at last by that quilt at the end—which turns out to be much more than just a quilt. But in this house, everything that belonged to the former wife is more than what it appears. I love the way this poem imbues objects with spirit just because of what the speaker knows of their past, and because of her place in their world. This poem is from Emerson’s book Late Wife, which won the Putlizer Prize in 2006.

Emerson’s poems always had a weightiness, a gravity that seemed wise beyond her years, or really, anyone’s years. And since her death in 2014 at the too-young age of 57 (I say that completely without irony because I’m 57 now), her poems, to me, have taken on a different kind of prescience. Many of them have always choked me up, but they seem all the more brilliant, all the more hard-won now.

[All through April, I’m featuring a favorite poem every day, along with a link where you can read it. Some are classics, some are newer, but each one is the kind of poem that I read, love, and immediately want to tell all my friends about. What better to time to share them than National Poetry Month?]

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