Wilmington poet Emily Paige Wilson's work has been published in various journals and she's been nominated for various awards-but she is most excited about her first published collection: I'll Build Us a Home. Listen to Emily above and see our extended conversation below.
Gina: Emily, what is poetry?
Emily: Oh my goodness what a good question. I think- well, maybe not what it is but what means-the most to me about it is when you hear language that's musical and it's fresh and it's original and you realize that somebody else is articulating a thing that you have felt but had not yet been able to say. And that, to me, is the most powerful thing about poetry. I don't know that I would say that's what it is, the articulation and then that sharing, but to me, that's the most powerful beautiful thing about it.
Gina: Who are some of your favorite poets?
Emily: I really love Mina Loy. She was a contemporary of Elliott. I don't think she gets as much attention as she should. She wrote so beautifully and kind of brokenly, honestly, if you think about her work in the context of her life. I love this press called Night Boat Books Press. I think they're based in New York but I'm not sure. They have Michael Burkard. They have Bhanu Kapil. They have Christina Davis. So many highly lyrical voices that kind of push against, I think, a lot of problematic constructs and just vivid images and language. I love that press so much. I mean, Sylvia Plath. I love Sylvia Plath as well. Those are like the first names that come to mind with that question.
Gina: You just said pushing against problematic constructs. What do you mean by that?
Emily: Yeah I think the voices that I'm drawn to kind of push back on sexism and racism, colonialization, they explore addiction, they explore mental illness. Which I guess kind of goes back to the idea of articulation, right? Like, you take a thing that you feel and express it in a way that somebody else might have not been ready to say about their own selves yet in regards to these topics.
Gina: And what does it mean to you to be a poet? And also maybe- when did you say I'm a poet and that's what I'm going to be?
Emily: Yeah. I think- my mom is an elementary school teacher. We always went to the public library. I was always reading. I was so fortunate in that way that my mom fed me all of these books. And when I was writing I had teachers too who said, "Hey, you should keep doing this." Like my first grade teacher kept a book of my poems and stapled them together and gave them to my mom. My fourth grade teacher did a similar thing and then I had a high school teacher who said, "Join the literary magazine." So I think it was something that I was always invested in. And I feel very, very fortunate in that way. You know, I was talking with some friends actually about being a working class poet and what that means and feeling so grateful that we have this exercise that fills up our time in a creative, positive way. It doesn't cost money, right? It doesn't take many resources from us. I mean, emotional labor, intellectual labor, but not in terms of being cost heavy. And it gives us so much meaning. Especially if we're students, right? And we don't have a lot of money. Especially if we're working jobs that we don't really like. It's such a positive exercise that we get to engage in all of the time and that, to me, that's something that I appreciate so much about having poetry in my life. It just means so much to infuse that creativity in your day to day.
Gina: It's an exercise. Poetry is an exercise that you do. But you are you are making something solid with it, which is your chapbook. This is your first publication.
Emily: Yes. Yes. My first my first chapbook or full length collection, yes. Yes.
Gina: And tell me about it.
Emily: I did not actually mean to write this. I graduated from UNCW, their MFA program May 2016. And the full length collection that I was working on is about traveling to Prague trying to find my great great grandparent's farm village. It's about language it's about translation theory. It's about how magical your grandmothers and your great grandmothers are. I was sending that out to contests for publication and I got, I don't know, like, maybe five or six semifinalists or finalist spots and I get so frustrated with that that I said, "You know what? I'm going to put this aside and let me look at all the poems I've written in the course of the year since graduating." And I said, "You know what? They are, like, themes in here." Right? There's a lot about moving in with my boyfriend. We moved in after we graduated. It was the first time we had either lived with a romantic partner. There's political stress poems after the election. And there's just anxiety poems in general. I think working through this series I was kind of made aware that there were things that I had to work out personally and the page allowed me to see that. And so I put all these poems together. I Was like, "There's a theme here. There's a story here." And I sent it out to three places and then it got picked up. It was really a lucky, very lucky occurrence because I didn't even know that I was working on a quote unquote project, to say.
Gina: You were just working and then this emerged...
Gina: Out of that work.
Emily: The title is just I'll Build Us a Home.
Gina: And are you having an event for its release?
Emily: I don't know the details about that yet. I will. I'm waiting to get the actual hard copies. I was advised by the publisher to wait. And I know they went to printers on February the 1st. So once I get those then I'll be promoting downtown probably. Having readings and such. You can get it online. It's- the name of the press is Finishing Line Press. And if you just go to www.finishinglinepress.com you can search for my name or you can search for the title and you can order it now.
Gina: And so you said that you would share some poems today.
Emily: Yes. So this is I'll Build Us a Home- One. There are three poems in the titular series.
I'll build us a home of banded Amethyst, basil and bird cages. You'll sleep beneath the sink where we'll keep soap and baby teeth. We'll worship the purple morning glories and pretend we planted them outside the window on purpose. We'll learn to read left handed. The trees will apologize for never coming in. Blame it on their roots. We'll understand. Our health will be consistent. No sickness save the ache when August scatters the cardinals. We'll spend so much time together. We'll grow to only speak of silver. The moon, the moss, the bathwater we'll both forget to drain.
Emily: So just keep reading? This is the third poem in that series, I'll Build Us a Home.
I'll build us a home of pollen, plaster and copper wind chimes. Your brothers will bring us linen pajamas with each visit. We won't know how to say, "Please, the closets are full." You'll carve spoons from celonite. We'll recenter our souls with each bowl of cereal. You'll teach me about constellations by spilling curry on our dark kitchen counters, swirling shapes in the spices. I'll still love you even after you drop my favorite perfume. The scent of fresh peonies and pepper. Sharp glass scattered. But I'll ask you to keep your hands unwashed for as long as you can bear.
Emily: And then I have one that's a little bit more political. It's called Friendship in Trump's America.
Emily: You're pregnant with your third daughter. I see the baby bump on social media followed by posts about how protests are unpatriotic, how women have lost no rights yet. You're a good mother. I can tell by the pictures of your two girls, golden haired and napping, smiles sappy with sleep. Their bodies chose such an open posture to plop down on those couch cushions and you are to thank for their sense of safety. I type a timid response. Ask if his comments about snatching women without consent encourage assaults. And you tell me that's ridiculous. I'm entitled to an opinion but that's absurd. I wonder about the first girl he ever grabbed. What color her eyes are. If her favorite animal is a bird or could ever be again. Your two girls are sleeping on the couch and you're pregnant with your third.
Emily: Yeah that one was harder to write. It's about this childhood friend that I had and we drifted apart. And you know, knowing that there there are good qualities about people who I think have been made a bad choice and how to acknowledge the humanity in them and engage in a dialogue that is constructive but it's also a difficult, painful thing to do and I think it's something that we don't do. Well, those of us who are in that position sometimes where we kind of have this privilege of saying, like, I can enter this conversation in a safe way and I kind of should. But sometimes I don't because it's awkward and it's uncomfortable. But then change never happens. So that poem was me trying to figure out how to have a start you know.
Gina: Would you like to talk about anything else about being a poet or about poetry?
Emily: Honestly, this is what I've been telling people recently and I found this to be true in my own life. Just as a final tidbit. I wish I had started meditating earlier. I started last year. I pretty much do it everyday, started the beginning of last year. And the way in which your thoughts begin to kind of reshape themselves. Especially I was realizing that my first instinct is almost always have a negative thought to something. And that's still kind of where I'm at in my own headspace but I can identify it now and I can then redirect to something positive. And the way that is beginning to shape my thoughts, my actions, my relationships, my perspectives, and my art- that's what I wish that I could tell people who are writing poetry. Or maybe even just young people or people who are starting. I mean, really everyone, but when I speak to students especially like, "You know what goes really well with making sure you're dedicating time to the page is meditating. "And I wish I would have known that earlier.
Gina: And what kind of meditating do you do? What does meditating mean to you?
Emily: Right. I just you know say I do have in an app on my phone and I just sit for you know 10-15 minutes in the morning. Listen to silence pretty much and then just kind of keep check of when am I distracted through my thoughts and what are they right. And are they negative. And is this creating like a positive feedback loop of negativity in my head. And most of the time the answer is yes. It's I like not I've never reached the place where I can completely draw a blank and only practice on my breath. But there's something about putting yourself in a situation that's a little bit uncomfortable and working through it that I think is so it just works as a good metaphor for creating art. Right. Like focusing on something that might be uncomfortable and then working through it in a positive way. So I think those two- meditation and art- they're just such a great couple.