8 concrete poems


autobiography of a murder is ransom notes on top of love poetry on top of rumors. The two particular adaptive techniques I used in its composition are Wite Out and collage. I used Wite Out to obliterate the poems collected in the 1972 Peter Pauper version of Emily Dickinson’s love poetry. Then, like the author of a ransom note, I collaged short lyrics over the Wite Out by cutting and pasting individual letters from a variety of vintage media. Writing these ransom notes was the last stage of turning a group of poems into a cohesive manuscript. Eventually, the ransom notes metamorphosed into the headers and footers—the narrative arc—in my third book of poetry, whosoever has let a minotaur enter them, or a sonnet— (McSweeney’s, 2016).

The layering—like sediment—of texts foregrounds the processes of intervention and interpretation involved in any reading: of self, of sex, of history, of memory.

I found, for example, that I liked transforming the machine-made aspect of a text (the reproduction of it) and turning it back into something handmade, the way our myths themselves are handmade before they are “saved” and reproduced.

The ransom note is thus a lyric strategy, however short-term, for “keeping it real”: to defer conclusions, prolong suspense, and interrogate meaning (like Scheherazade of the one thousand and one nights). Rather than scoring a perception or a performance occurring somewhere else, the text is the experience. Consider the narrative drift and disruption that every day produces by chance: you participate in the reconstruction of the story not by filling in the gaps and elisions, but by (as a detective) appropriating whatever fragment is “useful” to you.
























from “YOLK (V.)”


he’s gonna havta reach inside you.

he’s gonna do it. you asked him to. he’s gonna tell you how old it is. he’s gonna decide when old is too.

then you’re gonna wait.

you’re gonna stand against the wall, in your paper gown.

you’re gonna wait in line. wait for him to vacuum inside you.

you’re gonna listen. the other girls, like a sorority, they dont consider this any more than the Piggly Wiggly line. for all they know, they could be buying lipstick.

you’re thinking this is gonna hurt. he’s gonna havta reach inside, again.

what’re you gonna do then?

you gonna scream? you gonna clench your teeth?

you gonna say to yourself, you gotta do this?

he’s waiting, too. there’s a window, a TV, two face-to-face rows of stained upholstery. by now, it’d be Regis and Kathy Lee. he wouldnt watch it; he’d be out smoking. he doesnt smoke inside anymore, not since May.

you’re gonna do this, for him, who doesnt smoke inside anymore, who’s out there, shivering, wrapping his lips around the filter, his saliva wetting the paper, his fingers absorbing the sweet raw tobacco smell. he, who doesnt know anything about this, how it’s like an assembly line, except it’s not assembling, it’s taking apart, tossing out, special receptacles.

you’re gonna do this, right?

you havta. you are not, you are not gonna chicken out now, not now. the corridor pan, thins, readjusts.

you are just not gonna do this. the fluorescents fracture into halos. time spools.

you gotta remember what is now, what is here. the light disco-balls, in/out, light/dark. you cant feel your toes, cant feel your fingertips. the line of girls shimmies, sways.

you gotta dance, if you’re gonna keep perspective.

gotta put one foot in front of the other and dance. you gotta find somebody’s hand, you gotta find their hand and hold on.

you gotta find somebody who’s gonna help you do this, who isn’t chicken-shit, whose knees aren’t buckling as she keels, who isn’t letting the room go black, who isn’t skipping ahead, to a rust-stained recliner, a handful of Saltines, sour OJ in a Dixie cup and a wastepaper basket. you lean over now, if you feel sick, the nurse says. her voice is centuries away, filed behind a metal desk.

you better come back later, she says. you cant speak because you’re leaning over the wastebasket, because the room smells like talcum powder and citrus fruit, because your womb feels like an argument, because you are,

you’re chicken shit. you wipe your mouth, exhale.

I gotta do this, you say. we drove three hours for this. I already paid. I gotta do this now. I cant send you in like this.

you gotta pull yourself together. the words are like a steel trap, snapping.

you gotta explicate yourself. the room bulges, contracts. you bowl over, you hold your stomach and you forget. she’s standing over you now. her fingertips cool on your forehead, cheek. this your first time, honey? her words syrup, slush.

you gotta close your eyes to make sense.

you gotta lean over the wastepaper basket, you gotta wipe your mouth, you gotta swallow.

you havent gotta answer. you gotta do it, that’s all






Emily Carr writes murder mysteries that turn into love poems that are sometimes (by her McSweeney’s editors, for example) called divorce poems. After she got an MFA in poetry from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, she took a doctorate in ecopoetics at the University of Calgary. These days, she’s Visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at the New College. Her newest book, whosoever has let a minotaur enter them, or a sonnet—, is available from McSweeney’s. It inspired a beer of the same name, now available at the Ale Apothecary. Emily’s first collection of short prose, Name Your Bird Without A Gun: a Tarot romance, is forthcoming from Spork. Visit Emily online at or on Instagram as ifshedrawsadoor.


I originally conceived of The Emergency of Feeling Manual as an antidote to our cultural obsession with self-help. I wanted to tell a story that didn’t hinge on getting better, or fixing yourself, or that peculiar narrative of adults as Survivors. I wanted to focus on the act of questioning itself, without reaching for solution—to really interrogate the consequences of what happens when the “I” does things that are harmful to the self and others.

To stay in the moment of transgression and test out some strategies for post-traumatic stress growth, which, as I see it, is how we get past our false selves—the ones that get us through the day—to our true selves—the ones who inhabit life’s difficulties.

What’s at stake for me in this kind of writing is telling a story about how to live well within chaos and/or urgency (versus “progress”). In this pursuit, I am indebted to CAConrad, who coined the term post-traumatic stress growth in a recent conversation with Eileen Myles and for whom there is no distinction between the poetics and the life.

Given these ambitions, it was important for me to blur fiction and fact in such a way that the distinctions become unimportant—hence the hybridity of this book, which includes a poetic micro-memoir, craft essays, lyric essays, prose poems, concrete poems, and lyric questionnaires. I’ve chosen to feature two excerpts: concrete poems from footnote to forfeit and a prose poem, “yolk (v.).” The concrete poems have never been published and are particularly suited to the online format. “yolk (v.)” has been published in print several times—in So To Speak 12:1 (2008) and my first poetry collection, directions for flying (Furniture Press, 2010). “yolk (v.)” is also forthcoming in Annie Finch’s anthology Choice Words: Writers on Abortion. Given the current precariousness of Roe vs. Wade, I’m delighted to be able publish this poem online; please share it fearlessly!