Poems require patience.
As Emma Bolden and Karen Meadows read excerpts from their latest collections at Scuppernong Books in Greensboro on Sunday, they displayed the results of that patience. Both women have parsed the English language, hoping to find words that match their personal experiences.
The process takes pages and, for the authors, years. Though the poets use different themes, they both hope for readers to return to their books — which aim to describe a bit of what it’s like to be a woman — more than once.
“If I can make one person feel less alone,” said Bolden, “then that will be worth it for me.”
Karen Meadow’s debut full-length collection, almond eyeless, explores relationships both with the self and others, and the difficulties that come with them.
“As I see it, we’re basically all freaks looking for someone to love and understand us,” Meadows said to the audience.
The title came from a work about recalling dreams, but zoological and earthly scenes root the otherwise abstract book in reality.
She stepped out from behind the podium and stood in front of one of the shelves of used books that lined the reading space. She flipped pages sporting lime green sticky notes as she talked about the death of someone else’s pet snake in a poem she described as one of her “greatest hits.”
The theme of the female experience appears as Meadows quotes US senators from Anita Hill’s testimony, and as she connects the events of the hearing to Brett Kavanaugh’s recent confirmation. She relates the male gaze to a farmer shearing a sheep, or to why barns are painted red.
Meadows described poetry as if it it was a possession, with the writer being unaware of the meaning as they create. It’s fitting that outside forces such as these inspire Meadows to write even more.
“I’m really fascinated by how the world acts on us,” Meadows said.
Emma Bolden’s latest full-length collection, House is an Enigma, stems from an experience somewhat out of her control. The poems follow her personal journey with endometriosis since her teenage years, and the medical view of the female body.
“That part of my body became clinical,” she explained.
Based on a connection between the decision-making process to undergo a radical hysterectomy and a house she spotted while driving between appointments, Bolden’s book deals with the comparisons between a house and a body. She kept driving by a certain house, always thinking that it looked angry. Then, during her time in medical offices, she noticed a parallel in how doctors tended to say that her body “could not house a fetus.”
“House is not a metaphor,” she recited from the titular poem.
As she read from her book, the news cycle became dogs, and grief became a small creature in need of nurturing. The motifs carried a distinctly Southern aesthetic — blackberry jam and sweet tea, the word “ma’am” alongside a course word. Yet, the images returned to the body, with the dogs being housed in lungs and the body itself being a blaze of light.
As a graduate student, Bolden was instructed to stop writing about the body so often, but had trouble breaking away. A poem explores the scene of a deer getting shot, but the clearing, deer’s mouth and even the rifle became metaphors for the body.
When asked if it were possible to write too much poetry about one thing, Bolden laughed.
“If it is, I’m gonna find out,” Bolden joked.
It’s taken both Bolden and Meadows many poems and a lot of patience to work through a subject. Meadows hopes the readers do, too.
“I hope they come back,” Meadows said. “I hope they take time with the poems. I just hope people can find beauty there.”