The Dig

According to a note in the coda, the speaker of these poems sits “typing by the window, a thin woman in a flowered housedress . . . . I was poor. I wrote. I killed myself.” Sections entitled “The Beginning” and “Beginning Again” reflect the chronology of this woman’s life and afterlife. And while this format is contrived, it does produce the book’s best piece, “The Dig,” in which the speaker’s “reassembled head” watches an archaeologist “mend with glue and wire the shallow saucer of my pelvis.” Emanuel’s most convincing poems are drawn from her youth in Ely, Nev., a 1950s landscape of bomb-testing sites, seedy motels and “pawnshop windows filled with wedding rings and guns.” At the local movie house, teenagers join “grandmothers with their shanks tied up in the tourniquets of rolled stockings.” Emanuel ( Hotel Fiesta ) is witty and brave in drawing family vignettes and depicting a poverty-scarred childhood. “Outside Room Six” finds the speaker on her knees polishing linoleum when “dead Grandma Fry looks down on me / from Paradise and tells me from the balcony of wrath / I am girlhood’s one bad line of credit.” This volume was chosen by Gerald Stern for the National Poetry series.

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Selected by

Gerald Stern