Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Top Ten Pittsburgh Poets: Lynn Emanuel

Unlike many of the poets I write about, I've never met Lynn Emanuel. Only in the flesh of her poetry have I experienced her intelligence, her pathos, her wry wit. But those pages--ahh. One is all I need to set my own pen to the blank space; her entire body of work is not enough to satisfy...

Hear the proem to her latest collection, Noose and Hook:

My Life

Like Jonas by the fish was I received by it,
swung and swept in its dark waters,
driven to the deeps by it and beyond many rocks.
Without any touching of its teeth, I tumbled into it
with no more struggle than a mote of dust
entering the door of a cathedral, so muckle were its jaws.
How heel over head was I hurled down
the broad road of its throat, stopped inside
its chest wide as a hall, and like Jonas I stood up
asking where the beast was and finding it nowhere,
there in grease and sorrow I built my bower.

Reading "My Life," I am reminded of both Bukowski's "Born Into This" and Spencer Reece's "Tonight." But Emanuel avoids the nihilism of Bukowski and the homiletic nature of Reece and strikes a chord common to everyman: if we can't do our best, we do the best we can: "there in grease and sorrow I built my bower."

Emanuel's wit is not on display as commentary on this existence, but as interactive engagement with it--its particularities--making once again for a familiarity about her work the first time it is read. Many of her poems in Noose and Hook are untitled, giving them a media res feeling. Here is the first poem after the proem:

Martinis, filets and cigarettes, tea sandwiches
with butter and matted snarls of watercress,
coffee white with cream and caffeine black,
the egg's cornea looking up
from a frizzled mat of hash.
The food looks guilty. And why not?
It's cooked by men in wraparound aprons.
There seems to be no motive to it.
On the plate the T-bone bleeds to death.
The ceiling's bare bulb is clear and perfect as a hard-boiled egg.
The block of Stilton's gangrenous and veined.
A cobbler's dark clottedness looks like a hemorrhage in a bowl.
It's a hard and dirty world. Noir,

The poem is right justified, making it seem like the other half of the proem, or something we cannot directly access. Unfortunately, I cannot (or do not know how to) duplicate that typography.

From my reading of Noose and Hook, I highly recommend Lynn Emanuel. I'm going to dig deeper into her work, myself. In the mean time, stay tuned for my next Top Ten Pittsburgh Poet: Joseph Bathanti.