Stamped. Emma Alford. Finishing Line Press. Georgetown, Kentucky. 2016.
Stamped comes at a very appropriate time for Today's book of poetry as 2019 has been a year vivid with funerals and wild with wakes. Emma Alford's embracing Stamped is a number of things in its brief pages, a banshee wail, an eulogy, a prayer, all addressed to a recently departed friend.
Most of us are familiar, to some extent, to loss, but Alford nails those first feelings of genuine sorrow, our first real taste of death. These are colloquial poems, journal poems, goodbye poems and they all work.
Last Christmas you sent the standard present package
I had come to expect it every year.
A few weeks later you visited me while it was still cold.
It was the last time I saw you, but it doesn't feel like it.
It never seemed like we were very far from one another;
We never grew apart.
I still feel you now.
Something always kept us calling, mailing cards,
sending packages, buying plane tickets, and driving miles.
You're the only friend I ever bothered to buy Christmas gifts for.
We joked that our other friends were cheap.
This year I don't think I can stand buying one less gift
You were always the easiest to buy for, the first off my list.
So I think I'll mail something to your family.
Some old photos of us, A zine we made in junior high,
maybe a nice scented candle or ornate box.
Your mom loves decorative boxes, we laughed about this.
The last one I saw her with was filled with bits of you.
This exchange won't feel the same,
but I won't feel as much like I've lost something.
Last week I took your card to a tattoo shop in Nashville.
I had your sloppy boyish handwriting inked into my skin forever.
You would call me a hypocrite; I always hated the way you wrote.
Now it's something else, tragically beautiful, your epitaph.
Stamped is one sad elegy, one lonely lament. Emma Alford speaks for us all as she teaches herself how to deal with loss.
Today's book of poetry has been remiss, we should've started this whole thing off with an explanation of Stamped context. In Stamped, Emma Alford is often responding directly to postcards sent by her departed friend shortly before dying. Alford makes anagrams, responds with speculative imagination, builds a new world with her new knowledge. Her friend is gone. These postcards are also published in Stamped and appear on the opposite page to each poem. The affect is quite intimate and emotionally it triggers an instant sympathetic response.
Today's book of poetry doesn't think that we are alone when we say that Stamped opens a door for all of us to that first big loss. The experience of first loss is a sacred one. For many of us it stardates our first steps into real adult life.
Emma's collection of postcards reminds Today's book of poetry of a totem that hangs in our office. Today's book of poetry has a page from his mother's handwritten cookbook, framed. This particular recipe is for butter tarts. All fours of my sisters have similar, but different, framed recipes from my mother's cookbook. All of that to say that Today's book of poetry recognizes the need to remember.
We were starting college when you sent this postcard.
I think you were fed up with cowboys.
Your school had a rodeo, not football, team.
And this was after I called and you answered
"I'm in a cop car, so I may need to call you back"
It was weird to hear you complain about anything.
You always told me I was too quick to hate,
You were just so quick to love—and I think
you had too much of it in a world that wouldn't understand it.
You said, "kill me," the two lighthearted words seize in my chest now.
When we were younger, we wrote our last wishes out
on tiny sheets of paper,
exchanged and swore in jest to carry them out
should anything happen.
Were we setting ourselves up for this all those years ago?
I found the tiny folded piece of paper I followed it faithfully.
We had sunflowers and Weezer, and I didn't wear all black.
Your sister and I gave your eulogy, the hardest words I ever spoke,
the difference in my very tense choking me.
I vowed to live a double life. I will love what you loved,
destroy what you feared and complete what you started.
I'll get us to New Zealand and I'll stop smoking cigarettes.
Taking the fire from your life and putting it to mine.
I can't condense you, I can't feel you, in five minutes of words.
But maybe I can in a lifetime of actions. I promise
I'll always carry you around my neck, tucked into my chest.
Today's book of poetry can identify with Alford and her poems about loss. When a dear friend of ours died several years ago Today's book of poetry got one of his friends tattoos so we would always remember. We're certainly remembering today, that damned wonderful Emma Alford has us blurry eyed and sniffling, drowning in our own tears, remembering lost friends.
Coming to terms with loss is an ongoing dilemma. Loss never ends, we carry it. But the weight of it does lessen with time. The world reminds us that we are destined for the same long nap.
Emma Alford's journey, shared in Stamped is a long way from over so Today's book of poetry sends
all the good karma we can gather in Alford's direction. And we thank Emma Alford for Stamped and the honest, undistracted and unredacted response to loss. As painful as the experience has been for Alford, and will continue, these poems offer Alford, and us, a chance to both mourn and celebrate those we've lost.
"Human Remains" is such a cold, ambiguous phrase
what remains after all, is dust and unbroken bit of bones and teeth
too strong against the funeral home's fires to burn
and I'm still unsure what's human about remains
Grasping for ashes is like reaching for the thinnest grains of sand
Your hand turns chalky white—
bits of bone get stuck beneath a fingernail
There is nothing to romanticize in this
Life so far from those granules slipping between shaking fingertips
I thought that I might find her,
3000 miles from any soil she'd ever graced
By placing her in the walls of an 800-year-old castle
Or sprinkling her in the river floating past the Eye
She wasn't there
Or in the teeth and nails caking my palms
Further away now than she ever was
Returning to dust as anything does
Stamped is a comic-book smart little dazzle from Finishing Line Press down in Georgetown, Kentucky. Today's book of poetry is tickled to have them back in the house.
Today's book of poetry is fairly certain that Stamped is just a warm up for Emma Alford. Her bad engine is just getting warmed up.
ABOUT THE POET
Emma Alford is a writer from the Mississippi Delta. She is an editor and contributor for The East Nashvillian magazine. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee with her over-loved, overweight tabby cat.
BLURBSEmma Alford’s first book, Stamped, is a beautiful elegy. Expertly rendered through a series of poems that transforms a friend’s postcards into a means of coming to terms with loss, this collection participates in the great tradition of English-language poems that celebrate and mourn best friends lost too soon. This is a deeply moving book and one I will read and re-read for years to come.
–Michael Smith, Author of Multiverse and Byron in Baghdad.
Stamped, a touching hybrid chapbook of poems and postcards commemorating a beloved friend. This debut collection, born out of grief, brings to life a vivid friendship and an irrepressible girl who was “just so quick to love.”
–Ann Fisher-Wirth, Author of Dream Cabinet and Carta Marina
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