NEA Literature Fellowships

Emma Bolden

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(2017 - Poetry)

"Of Flora, Of Fauna"

The women are beautiful but they are not
gardens, nor are the gardens beautiful

women. The clearing clears to another
clearing. The heart is a copse

of trees waving and waiting and hearing.
The heart is an ear of its own. When summer

comes with its sounds each tree will tell
its twigs: matches. There will be wind and all

in bloom winding within it to spark.
There will be smoke and smoke will be

signal. Every tree speaks to the heart.
Every tree tells it the way of all things.

Bark and the soft flesh underneath burning.
Heart and the beauties it keeps, burning.

(originally appeared in inter|rupture)

Born and raised in Alabama, Emma Bolden is the author of Maleficae (GenPop Books, 2013), a book-length series of poems about the witch trials in early modern Europe, and medi(t)ations (Noctuary Press, 2016), a book-length hybrid meditation on the schism between the body and the spirit. Her work has been featured on Poetry Daily, included in Best American Poetry; she was also the recipient of the Barthelme Prize for Short Prose from Gulf Coast Magazine and the Spoon River Poetry Review’s Editor’s Prize. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in journals including TriQuarterly, Story Quarterly, The Pinch, Waccamaw, The Rumpus, Prairie Schooner, Conduit, the Indiana Review, the Greensboro Review, Redivider, Verse, Feminist Studies, The Journal, Guernica, and Copper Nickel. She currently serves as Senior Reviews Editor at Tupelo Quarterly. You can find her online at

Photo courtesy of Emma Bolden

Author's Statement

This grant is the most beautiful shock of my life. I don’t remember what I said when I received the call – that is, if I said anything besides a tumbling mess of syllables meant to express gratitude. The shock remains, but I can now say that I am humbled both by this honor and by the responsibility it carries.

The financial freedom granted by this award is an astounding relief, but there’s another gift that means much more to me: encouragement, and the ability to turn that encouragement into bravery. Programs like this, which award artists with the kind of financial support that can translate, even if in a small sense, as safety, are essential not just for the progress of one artist’s work but for the progress of our nation. I recognize that my voice is but the smallest, briefest sparkle of a sound, but this award encourages me to keep writing, to keep fighting, and to project all of the light I can towards the darkness.

This grant will help me to work on a series of poems that began to appear as I finished a memoir about my experiences with women’s medicine. As I wrote, I began to read the work of St. Teresa of Avila, who celebrated the life of the body and of the spirit in ecstatically feminist ways. Her words helped me to consider and challenge social and medical perceptions of the female body – and empowered me to reclaim my body as my own.