Renee Emerson

“Most of my writing takes place in a composition notebook while I’m sitting on the floor somewhere quiet….”

The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants (Belle Point Press, 2023)

How do you decorate or arrange your writing space?

I have five children at home, and I homeschool, so my writing space isn’t much—just a small, roughed up desk once found on the side of the road in the corner of my bedroom, and a bookshelf choked with my favorite poetry books. But there’s good light from the windows, and, to be honest, I rarely do much more than editing while sitting at the desk. Most of my writing takes place in a composition notebook while I’m sitting on the floor somewhere quiet (often next to my bed and a pile of clean laundry) while the kids are playing.

Could you share a representative or pivotal poem from your book? Perhaps something that that invites the reader into the world of the book?

With Kit, Age 7, Outside the Hospital

After William Stafford

We would walk out those glass doors
sighing open so easy at last,
the way the windows never moved
in the higher levels of the ICU,
and spring was just for looking at,
raging as it was with fair blue skies
and dots of daffodils between streets.

She would grip my hand
as I led her to our car,
pocketed in the dingy maze
of parking garage. Would she
ask every question, as I buckled
her in, of home, family, the life
she was beginning again,
like an Easter Sunday, like an Easter
lily, with her pale eager face?

I would grip the steering wheel
and drive as fast as I dared,
my child unaware of the death
that pursued her, and I pretending
it wasn’t with us even there.

Why did you choose this poem?

I wrote this poem after reading William Stafford’s poem “With Kit, Age 7, at the Beach”; I also had a child named Kit, except she didn’t make it to seven years old but died at six months old from a heart condition. I was moved by Stafford’s poem, which, to me, was about how a parent will go through any difficulty that they must go through for their child. In my version, Kit and I are leaving the hospital at long last; but even then, death is inescapable. That is something that a mother has to live with, even with a child who isn’t terminally ill. So my “With Kit” poem is really the crux of this chapbook.

What obsessions led you to write your book?

Why some plants (and people) grow and live and thrive, and some plants (and people) do not (no matter what you do or do not do).

What’s the oldest poem in your book? Or can you name one piece that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the book? What do you remember about writing it?

The oldest poem in the book is “Warm Weather, Arkansas,” a poem about growing up in tornado alley, likely written sometime when I was in college (so fifteen years ago now). I grew up in Tennessee actually, but was addressing the poem to my husband from Arkansas, hence the title. Tornadoes are kind of funny in how they strike, and everyone from the area where I’m from has stories about how a tornado mysteriously destroyed one thing and spared another. A baby left alive in a corn field completely decimated right down to dirt, that kind of thing. I included this poem in the collection because I think it says something about the chaotic nature of calamity—how some, though maybe deserving, seem to be spared from tragedy, while others who try to do everything right have their houses flattened.

Which poem in your book has the most meaningful back story to you? What’s the back story?

“Family Therapy” was written about my family and my time with Annie’s Hope, a nonprofit in our city that ministers to grieving kids. We participated in their two month, once a week program directly after Kit died, and I think it was my first real exposure to how common grieving is, how many people go through these horrific losses and have to continue on with their lives. We sat around and ate pizza together and learned about parenting our four young children at the time through the grief of losing their sister.

The first poem in the collection, “Grapefruit Tree in Cubicle,” is also a special one; my dad was a brilliant engineer, charming story teller, and, in his last days, overcome by alcoholism, but he could grow absolutely anything, anywhere. Long after he had been laid off from that engineering job, the grapefruit tree was three-feet tall, growing in the corner of his home office.

Which poem is the “misfit” in your collection and why?

“Do You Still Pray” is different stylistically in that it is more repetitive, somewhat of a list poem, compared to the others in the collection. It also only refers to plants in passing (“bury them to dissolve in the garden”) whereas many of the other poems directly deal with plants. I included it toward the end of the collection, in a spot where the reader has perhaps begun to understand the weight of loss in these poems, because it is a poem of spiritual despair; a poem about continuing to pray when none of the prayers have been answered how one would hope. While I would say most of my poems offer a glimmer of light at the end, this one ends on “no one / can help you; no one/ can help you.”

Could you share with us a glimpse of your writing practice or process for this book?

I wrote half of these poems in the month of April, 2022, as a write-a-poem-a-day writing challenge with my friend and fellow writer, Heather Cadenhead. About halfway through the month, I began to notice themes of growth and death emerge that I felt I could shape into a mini-collection.

What has the editorial and production experience with your publisher been like? To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your book?

Casie Dodd, the editor at Belle Point Press, has been wonderful to work with. She sent me a few options for the cover and did a beautiful job putting this chapbook together; the font is gorgeous. She’s an attentive and detailed editor, and also good at promoting the chapbook, which is a quality hard to find with small works like this one.

What are you working on now?

I am working on a full-length collection about the loss of my daughter Kit, who died in 2019 at six months old due to a congenital heart defect. Many of the poems in the chapbook indirectly (and some directly) touch on this experience; the full-length collection I’d say stares it full in the face.

What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing?

1) Read as much poetry as you can, every day.
2) Write every day, by hand, in a notebook.
3) Stay curious and don’t be afraid to mess up.

*

Renee Emerson is the author of the poetry collections Keeping Me Still (Winter Goose Publishing 2014), Threshing Floor (Jacar Press 2016), and Church Ladies (Fernwood Press 2022). She is also the author of the chapbook The Commonplace Misfortunes of Everyday Plants (Belle Point Press), and the middle grade novel Why Silas Miller Must Learn to Ride a Bike (Wintergoose Publishing 2022). She lives in the Midwest with her husband and children.

https://reneeemerson.wordpress.com/

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