“The stranger morning that would come”: Betty Adcock’s Rough Fugue and Claudia Emerson’s Claude Before Time and Space

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Betty Adcock and Claudia Emerson both write in a Southern tradition not so much agrarian as it is domestic. Like other Southern women poets before them—here I’m thinking especially of their press-mate, the late Eleanor Ross Taylor—both poets hew close to the trappings of daily life: a gravel road, a mirror, an axe, a cup, a match. The natural world is very present for them too, but it’s nearly always in its intersection the domestic sphere. My favorite image from Emerson’s work, for example, will forever be Late Wife’s snake curled up in a silverware drawer. In the case of the collections presently under consideration, both poets make use of the materials of everyday life to consider death. Death, after all, is one of those moments when the natural world makes its presence known despite all we’ve done to domesticate our lives. In Adcock’s Rough Fugue, the death most present is that of her husband, Donald. In Emerson’s Claude Before Time and Space, the death is her own.