Praise

For The Place of Our Meeting (2018):

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


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




For Following Hay (2013):

When I am reading this excellent poetry book, I feel as if I am stepping into memory, not the harsh, savage type of confessional poetry, but memory softened by years, a clarity of approach that reveals hope and beauty in the commonplace. In such poems as Zanesville, Ohio, Barn's Down, and She Wore a Garden, Emerson uses the simple but majestic imagery of a clothesline, bales of hay, and garden flowers to build a beautiful domestic archetype that opens up the theme of trust and family under the direst of circumstances. The language is wonderfully crafted without a hint of artifice or confusion. This direct style gives us a very understated, but intimate view of a world we once knew but have forgotten until now. A must read. One of my favorite poetry books this year.

Ann Robinson, Author of Stone Window



Of the many books of poems extant, some leave the reader without a mark, some have a poem or several poems that stay with you, and then there’s a collection that stays in the mind almost whole. Following Hay embodies that kind of poetry collection, for Donna L. Emerson’s poems are for those who are passionate and restless about poetry. I’m reminded of an old country dance, called the Hey, where the dancers weave in and out of a circle around their partners; these poems do just that, they have that kind of cohesive movement, they have the linked passages of time, they have the passing down of stories about place and desire and lives lived.

Joseph Zaccardi, Poet Laureate of Marin County California, author of  The Nine Gradations of Light and Render


Donna Emerson’s “Following Hay” pulls the reader into a world of memories, the patina of the past overlaid with a sharpened sense of the present. Images pop up, swirl around like bales of hay, held together by delicate prose and the glue of memories, some of which hint of darkness. The imagery is exquisite, as in this passage from the poem “Zanesville, Ohio 1953”:  “Sparrows slip into the pockets of Dad’s/shirts, robins nest on clothespins, rocking/warbling with the wind…” Emerson’s poems are like paintings to me. Their brushstrokes create portraits that are complete and yet hint of so much more below the surface. Like all good art, Emerson’s poetry leaves us longing for more.

Rita Gardner, author of The Coconut Latitudes
 
 
I first met Donna Emerson at Healdsburg Literary Guild’s Third Sunday Salon, reading from her chapbook, “Following Hay.”

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term “chapbook,” it is a small collection of poetry, generally no more than 40 or 50 pages. It’s typically saddle-stitched (like a pamphlet or magazine) and is a format well suited to smaller print-runs.

Her title poem, “Following Hay,” made me an instant fan. With her beautifully evocative words, she brought me back to my own Montana childhood, pitching bales into the back of a pick-up truck.

Hay on trucks, hay in barns, in fields before it is mown,
during its harvest, after it lies in piles, or old-fashioned haystacks.
Watching Wally on the hay bind, the combine, walking behind John
on the new baler shooting round bales like babies out the back.

Donna divides her time between her home in Petaluma and her family homestead in western New York. That family homestead figures strongly in her work, with images coming again and again, young girls slipping out the screen door early in the morning to ride horses, or the delightful “Silhouettes,” which starts out as a poem about five Holstein heifers and ends comparing the cows to her Grandmother Florence and her sisters, walking into church. She has a keen eye for her natural surroundings, and brings it all close and alive for us, whether observing a pair of hummingbirds, mating salmon, or describing an apple orchard.

But Donna is also unafraid of delving into the complicated human world, with all its criss-crossed webs of emotions and confusions. A clinical social work consultant, she brings us to hospital beds, sits us down next to chemo patients, and lets us listen in with poems like “The Princess Who Told the Truth” and “Red Car.” Her own family history is both lovingly and painfully remembered, in poems such as “You’ll Meet New Friends,” which starts, That’s what Dad said every time we moved, and a poem about her mother, “Doris Lucille in January,” which has these lines,

“Smart as a whip,” her father said,

She mustn’t put on airs, so he whipped her,
and she had no airs, and later she whipped us and we lashed

out at each other, all cracked and able to be cornered
until we broke apart and left her house
to find more air.

Yet you as a reader are not left with bitterness or anger. Always there is a search for, and eventual finding of, forgiveness, as complicated as that path can be. Donna’s chapbook “Wild Mercy” is dedicated to her parents. There is always a sense of coming home.

Michelle Wing, Poet, Introduction of Donna at the Cloverdale Performing Arts Center, March 12, 2015

 



For Wild Mercy (2011):
 
WILD MERCY is nature and family -- a dovetail of relationships that merge and separate: girlhood to parenthood, to the frailties of age, and hospital rooms. Emerson's poetry awakens our memories of family, experience, loss. The first horse ride, a late pregnancy, an old barn, a river and a dance with I.V. in tow. Liberally sprinkled with unexpected images, these are lovely poems to savor and then read again.

 

CB Follett, author of And Freddie Was My Darling

 

 

Donna Emerson’s poems in Wild Mercy are like the Holstein heifers she describes making their way up and down the hill, delicate silhouettes, like rivers that demarcate the edges of states, like Grandmother Florence and her sisters…walking into church…solid shapes against stained glass windows. And like them, her poems mark where everything important meets.

 

Ellen Bass, author of Mules of Love and The Human Line

 

 

In Wild Mercy, Emerson weaves the twin threads of bios and zoë: the life bound by time and mortality, and the life-force that is eternal, binding the generations, the living and the dead. Like its namesake river, Wild Mercy’s poems lead us from a child’s first world, brimming with numinous presences, to those moments of terrible and ineffable wonder that lie nearest grief, but just beyond our realm of knowing.

                                                                       

Terry Ehret, author of Lucky Break

 

 

Those of us blessed enough to hear Donna Emerson read her poems know how her soft voice delivers poetry of force. Wild Mercy, a fitting name for a collection of untamed vision and unapologetic empathy for both human and animal, signifies Emerson’s voice of might. While both imperative and valuable, Wild Mercy is a smoothly truthful examination of many of those rough and scratchy places: isolation, aging, illness, adolescence.

 

Stefanie Freele, author of Feeding Strays; Fiction Editor, Los Angeles Review


Donna Emerson’s poems often seem simple, effortless – quiet meditations on life, people and places. But there’s an undercurrent, a swift-flowing stream that can sweep the reader right off her feet. In “Wild Mercy,” the poems tackle impermanence, illness, friendship, birth, and—in “The Wild Merced”—river as metaphor for civilization and what it has done to the wildness of the land.  A favorite line in that poem: “Our relentless Lady of Mercy / offers none today…” This is a lovely book by a brilliant poet.

Rita Gardner, author of The Coconut Latitudes




For Body Rhymes (2009):

In Body Rhymes, Donna Emerson offers us her marvelous gift for litany, her love of imagery, and a humor that’s always pierced by the sharpest arrow of tenderness. Deeply felt, the twenty poems of this debut collection range across a spectrum of wide experience and connection—daughter, lover, mother, counselor, teacher, and poet. Body Rhymes distinguishes itself by its fierce loyalty to this difficult world, by its compassion, and its keen eye for the truth. 

Lynn Lyman Trombetta, author of Falling World 


Donna Emerson is a poet who speaks eloquently and elegantly about the body, focusing on sexuality as well as on love and loss. Writing with a righteous anger yet with a tenderness toward the world, she conveys a sense that the words and actions of one person can make a difference, can be redemptive. 

Susan Terris
, author of Contrariwise 


There are moments when you are reading a poem and a description of an ordinary experience begins to resonate with a parallel, but unconscious memory you can feel, but can’t explain. Donna Emerson’s Body Rhymes is filled with just such deep rhymes, expressed with a lyricism that is richly sensual, and emotionally charged. At the same time, her photographer’s eye for detail and her instinct for dramatic dialogue reveal the hand of a skillful storyteller. Whether we are seeing the face of a stranger on a train, feeling the first stirring of sexual awakening, or witnessing a young bride’s despair as she faces terminal illness, what sustains these poems is Emerson’s profound compassion and sense of resilient joy. 

Terry Ehret, author of Lucky Break


If you want the rare privilege of spending time with a woman of keen perception who reveals your own heart to you through disclosure of her own, then brew a cup of tea and sit down with Donna Emerson's, Body Rhymes. In her poems, Emerson shares transformative moments of life experience, including, the first stirrings of sexual awakening, in "Morning Ride"; return to the scene of sexual hunger, love and loss in "One Hundred Hudson Street; and the raw, redemptive emotions of facing her mother's death in "She Lay Asleep Wearing Oxygen". I couldn't put Body Rhymes down. I read every poem, in one sitting, and longed for more. 

Connie Parsons, MSW, LCSW


 

For This Water (2007):



Through music, image, and mind, Donna Emerson’s poems tell human stories. What appears, at first, to be a simple telling, opens up into wide vistas of the imagination, captivating qualities of sound, complex emotions and deeper meaning.

Katherine Hastings, contributing editor
Hunger Mountain—A Journal of Arts and Letters


A lilting voice from a new poet. A new daughter is not all that Donna Emerson gave birth to in her 50s. Her poems are loaded with rich imagery and memory.

Susan Swartz, author of The Juicy Tomatoes Guide to Ripe Living After 50

Donna Emerson’s poems—each a small, complete world—reveal their tenderness in detail. The poet William Carlos Williams once said “Perception is the first act of imagination,” and with her photographer’s eye, Emerson invites the reader to see, as if for the first time, what is extraordinary even in the most familiar. But as a poet, she also listens, deeply and intently, to her subject, whether it is a landscape, a memory, or one of those unforgettable souls she has counseled, struggling to reconcile themselves with mortality. And it is with a listening heart that the reader feels with her a wonder at the courage she has witnessed, and inspiration at the truth she captures.

Terry Ehret, author of Translations from the Human Language