An Introduction to Carolyn Hembree by Henk Rossouw

Carolyn Hembree’s stunning long poem, “For Today,” begins by taking the reader on a walk through a New Orleans neighborhood on “any spring morning.” While “Kiddo and I,” the speaker and her child, are the initial “we” of “We pass the riverside neighbor’s magnolia ...We pass the shotgun house with a Fresh Eggs $5/Dozen sign,” this superbly paced long poem soon includes the reader in its “we.” Step by step, line by mesmerizing line, even the tiniest details in “For Today”—“We turn at a pothole-turned-birdbath (finch ablutions!)”—welcome the reader in, both as a political gesture of democratic welcome and as a formal move. Often the contemporary long poem is a spiky, intimidating work, its form designed to keep intruders out, as if readers need to leap a locked gate, a gate with wrought-iron spikes, before they get to the garden inside. Hembree intervenes in the tradition of the long poem by offering the reader a formal openness. In this sense, the first lines of “For Today” resonate: “Our gate flung open / Every gate in the neighborhood flung open / World at large, world at home / Hand in hand / Any spring morning”.

And so it’s apt that Louisiana State University Press will release Hembree’s third poetry collection, For Today, which includes the titular long poem, this coming spring. Perhaps it’s the easy-going, occasional, and shifting anaphora, from “We pass” to “Here” to “I pass,” but as a reader I want to be in this poem, walk around its neighborhood, participate in its flow of time, so marvelously conjured through repetition and variation, both at the level of the line and through its leitmotifs: “Here, our favorite house, yellow with a great palm / palm where wild parrots roost”. Questions punctuate “For Today,” as a reminder that openness in the long poem includes radical uncertainty, whether “What do I know of anyone’s inside lives?” or “How long until a river swollen with spring floods / tears through land?” If the poem is a walk, as AR Ammons writes, then I want to take a daily walk along the pages of “For Today.” And you can, too: Tupelo Quarterly excerpts here the first few pages of this welcome—and welcoming—long poem.

Carolyn Hembree‘s third poetry collection, For Today, will be published by LSU Press as part of their Barataria Series, edited by Ava Leavell Haymon. She is also the author of Skinny and Rigging a Chevy into a Time Machine and Other Ways to Escape a Plague, winner of the Trio Award and the Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award. Her poems appear in Beloit Poetry Journal, Copper Nickel, Poetry Daily, The Southern Review, and other publications. She is a professor in the MFA program at the University of New Orleans and serves as the poetry editor of Bayou Magazine.