The Place of Our Meeting

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In a heart-stopping poem in Donna L. Emerson’s richly varied debut volume The Place of Our Meeting, a woman and her daughter find a fawn whose leg is caught in a fence. Will the poet be able to lift the barbed wire without cutting and killing the young animal that struggles against it—and assuage the terrified child? Read the tensely significant “For No Reason” to find out, then read on to discover a panoply of places where human beings meet nature, where generations (especially mothers and daughters) meet one another, where frenzy meets solitude, health meets illness, the rural life of the past meets the California of the present, and where modern love meets modern death. A new American pastoralist, Donna L. Emerson uses poetry’s own set of special lyric keys—observation and metaphor—to bring a vivid specificity and profound importance to all the startling meetings and transitions of our lives.

Molly Peacock, Author of The Analyst, poems

Praise for The Place of Our Meeting

Donna Emerson‘s The Place of Our Meeting is full of meticulous observation of the natural world and of its connection to people and to art. While there is grief and loss in these poems, more importantly there is peace and gentleness, serenity and celebration. These poems are rooted in a rural California landscape and the poet leads us almost by the hand to bathe in the still beauty that she describes. This a book you will return to again and again for the comfort and beauty it offers.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Author of All That Lies Between Us, winner of the American Book Award

What does a poet see, when she goes away from the city of our moment in time?

Donna Emerson sees trees stand like pews and cornfields’ spirited congregation.

In this book, Emerson brings together different tonalities, writing both from the landscape of memory and the natural world of her beloved California, often bringing the two into the same poem, even the same stanza: “Remember when we listened / to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons? / Only one season here: / red summer hum.”

This is a poet of many tonalities, yes. On one page you will find an elegy or an image of a memorial for her father, and right next to it will be the world of hollyhocks, stalks growing “beside her house, / up the windows, toward the roof. The abundance here feels natural: one is grateful for the wild abandon of riding horses in shorts “so I’d feel her girth” or by flying with “cousin Shelly…a full gallop.” And, one is also heart-broken by the moving scene of verbal assault in a poem such as “Standing on the Desk” where the young girl is placed on the table, in front of the whole room, and told to stand there, quiet.

In the center of the many portraits and eulogies, pastorals and rhapsodies of this book, stands the poet herself “buoyant, a trumpet in a brass choir.”

There is much to choose from in this book, this journey of days. But always the poet is open to the sensual: open these pages and you will find “every shape greets us—new, soft, still.”

Ilya Kaminsky, Author of Dancing in Odessa

I spent a tender afternoon with these poems. Donna’s ability to focus on and carefully describe a bed of hollyhocks, a snowfall, a cow on a hill, gives them almost mythical properties.

She starts and ends with the family farm. These poems seem to spring from the soil of the farm where the poet spent her childhood, ground so deeply known we can almost feel the sun, wind, and rain that shaped her sensibilities. Here, in The Place of our Meeting, the beauty Emerson finds is solace for the lessons in heartache and cruelty human relationships can offer. It has given her a place to stand and meet whatever comes. She tells hard truths without bitterness. I am deeply impressed about the way the land itself comes alive in these poems. Always in her poetry. No matter how intellectual and wise she can be, she is so of this earth. I mean this as a compliment, the biggest compliment I know.

Susan Bono, Author of What Have We Here: Essays about Keeping House and Finding Home

Donna’s poetry in The Place of Our Meeting illuminates the small and large moments of life, causing us to pause and experience, through her simple and beautiful lens, from our hearts, from our bodies. Her inspiration springs from moments of beauty in nature to poignant times with parents, children, lovers, and friends. She addresses universal themes that speak to the very human person in all of us.

Joyce Ward, Architect, MAT in Art, Yale University

Donna Emerson’s poetry turns ordinary experiences into timeless themes that resonate with so many people: family, marriage, death, sorrow, fear, love, and loss. "The First Day of Kindergarten" reminded me of my own children going off to school for the first time and coming home with their first pictures. They too grew up and started to fly away like the birds – free but “unfinished.” "Heroics" is a picture in words: a portrait of her young mother enduring the painful, hopeless journey through breast cancer to her death. "Thirst" takes us to the farm with the barn, the cornfields, the trees, filling her soul with their beauty. "Beyond" portrays snow “white on waxy green” grass covered by just-fallen snow. Often, nature and relationships are intertwined, as in "Letter to My Sister During Drought," which draws parallels between her feelings toward her estranged sister, “releasing her from her life” and a California drought.

These poems express universal emotions and reveal a deep empathy with common experience. Reading them evokes emotional insights that offer therapeutic value beyond their artistic expression.

Barbara Robey, MSW, LCSW, Breast Cancer Coach and Counselor

Reading Donna Emerson's poetry is like taking a journey into discovery and pleasure. Her words illuminate meetings with nature, experiences with friends, family, and acquaintances, in a deeply moving way that allow the reader to share in the experience as if they are a part of it. The poems open one’s eyes and expands one’s heart, showing the beauty and depth in everyday experience. They are both wondrous and intimate at the same time.

Diana Jorgensen, MSW, LCSW

Reading Donna Emerson’s The Place of Our Meeting feels like taking a walk with a close friend, the kind of friend I long for, who risks living deeply and openly shares her life and perceptions in intimate and revelatory ways. Emerson keenly observes and tenderly embraces the ordinary in life, revealing what is wondrous and profound. I am delighted and moved by her poems, such as “First Day of Kindergarten and Eleven Years Later”.

First Day of Kindergarten and Eleven Years Later

A blue bowl of lemons collects light,
holds it, on the table in front
of her still-wet tempera painting.

My daughter’s made a primary blue sea.
Blustery waves fill up the torso
of her canvas.

Just enough room at the top
for a red boat boasting a red sail,
placed jauntily on the waves
with yellow birds flying in an unpainted sky.

I’ve looked at this painting for eleven years.
At times I see the deep ocean, the height
of wave-splash against the boat.
At times I see how red the sturdy ship.

At times I feel the wing flap
of the five large water birds above.
Of late I see how free the birds,
how unfinished the air in which they fly.

In this poem, a “blue bowl of lemons “collects light, holds it,” and her daughter’s tempera painting becomes luminous with portent and poignancy. Emerson transforms the ordinary into an experience of the ineffable, expressing that which transcends words. I read and relished every poem in The Place of Our Meeting. I highly recommend this eloquent, eye-opening book of poetry. I return to it again and again.

Connie Parsons, Women's Circles