Contributor Spotlight: Emma Bolden

“A Gun is A Gun is A,” “The Prodigal Daughter,” and “American Eschatology” by Emma Bolden appeared in Issue 20 and can be read here.

We’d love to hear more about “A Gun is A Gun is A.”

I taught middle school for a year and was, admittedly, completely unprepared for most of that experience. Still, I found myself most unprepared for the shock of one particular experience: the school shooting drill. I’d gone through training and read (and re-read and re-read) our instructions. When the moment came, I checked off the steps. I made sure my students were hidden under tables, as quiet as middle schoolers can be. I knew I had to secure the classroom: close the doors, locks the doors, close the blinds – except, I discovered, the blinds didn’t close. And even though I knew it was just a drill, it felt real. I felt terror. I realized, at that moment, that we’d spent all of this time talking about guns in schools in a way that separated the idea of shootings from the reality of violence: the pure, helpless terror in the face of death. I thought of Gertrude Stein’s “A rose is a rose is a rose,” how naming a thing evokes all we associate with that thing but also how, in language and its repetitions, that thing can lose its meaning.

What was the most difficult part of this poem?

I tend to draft in prose blocks and then, in revision, take a chisel to them in the hopes that the right form appears. Sometimes that happens instantly; sometimes it takes years. In this case, it took me two years to find a way to situate the language on the page that forced a continual focusing and re-focusing of attention.

Recommend a book for us which was published within the last decade.

Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric should be required reading.

If you could have a drink with any living author, who would it be? Why?

Jo Ann Beard. I re-read The Boys of My Youth every year. I’m not exaggerating when I say it changed my life. I would totally embarrass myself by the sheer breadth of my fangirling if I met her.

What are you working on now? What’s next?

I just finished a draft of a memoir about my experience with women’s medicine and asexuality. I’m working on (what I think are?) two poetry collections right now. One centers around the American cultural obsession with true crime and violence against women. Another centers around my experience living in the Deep South, which is both the only place that feels like home for me and the place that most insists it is absolutely not my home.

Our thanks to Emma for taking the time to answer a few questions. Read Bolden’s poems “A Gun is A Gun is A,” “The Prodigal Daughter,” and “American Eschatology” here:


Emma Bolden is the author of three full-length collections of poetry — House Is An Enigma (Southeast Missouri State University Press), medi(t)ations (Noctuary Press) and Maleficae (GenPop Books) – and four chapbooks. She received a 2017 Creative Writing Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. A Barthelme Prize and Spoon River Poetry Review Editor’s Prize winner, her work has appeared in The Best American Poetry, The Best Small Fictions, and Poetry Daily as well as such journals as the Mississippi Review, The Rumpus, StoryQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, New Madrid, TriQuarterly, Conduit, the Indiana Review, Shenandoah, the Greensboro Review, Feminist Studies, Monkeybicycle, The Journal, The Pinch, and Guernica. She currently serves as Associate Editor-in-Chief of Tupelo Quarterly.

Photo credit: Jennifer Alsabrook-Turner of BANG Images