Winner of the Sunken Garden Chapbook Award
WHY MISREAD A CLOUD takes its name from clouds of ash and smoke in wartime which appear to the author as a “storm, blown over the sea.” Both an exploration of the mind’s ability to turn what is into something else, in order to survive, and the mind’s ability to resist the effects of psychosocial warfare imposed by the military and the police. “Who wants you to be afraid” the poet’s friend asks as he “added sugar to his tea.” The realization this question brings enables the poet to explore forces that separate us from one another and ways we rise up within ourselves to move through fear toward love.
“In brief paragraphs that are neither prose nor prose poems, we meet a witness. A speaker who is not in her country of origin. A woman living in the air of violence. Militarization. And very occasionally, a mundane gesture–adding sugar to tea. The spareness creates a poetics that is, at once, elegantly stark and akin to journalism. We read between the lines because what is unsaid, makes this a poetry of image and association. What was once a broom for sweeping a kitchen, is used by a woman to sweep propaganda leaflets off the street. I find myself engaged in a place–to a place, really–where there are ballistic helmets. Yes, strange and strangely familiar. This is how art and dreams work: with the familiarity of knowing and the disassociation that can allow insight.”— from the Judge’s Citation by Kimiko Hahn
“In these spare, bladed, sometime single-sentence, prose poems, Emily Carlson asks us not to let the curtain fall because, ‘what we don’t see, remains.’ These are compassionate, but blistering, poems of witness that twine together the violence, injustices, and ruination of two wartime geographies: the 2006 Lebanon War and the United States police militarization in an historically Black neighborhood. From ‘plumes of ash’ to ‘midnight ash’ to ‘wedding dress ash,’ WHY MISREAD A CLOUD spotlights collapse while simultaneously providing an umbilical cord to hope, because amid fear and devastation, is a newborn as well as a child who simply states, ‘My favorite part of me are my eyes because they let me see the beautiful world.’” —Simone Muench
“In a dizzying and cinematic sequence, the prose poems that embody WHY MISREAD A CLOUD juxtapose images of war with the images of the everyday. Crucially accompanying these sensory moments of alarm are chasms of silence. What these jagged sequences and disruptions urge the reader to do is see that a cloud can transform into a fighter jet’s contrail. And just like that, the roar of a sonic boom disrupts what has been taken for granted. Emily Suzanne Carlson’s razor-sharp language urges us to look deeply at the contours of the sky and learn how, even at the edges of a peaceful horizon, there is the capacity for storm.” —Oliver de la Paz
“‘I needed only to let the curtain fall’ Carlson writes in the introduction to her searing and tender poems, acknowledging at the outset her skin privilege to not see state-sponsored violence—the atrocities of Lebanon’s 2006 war as it unfolds around her, merging, years later, with the atrocities of police violence against her Black neighbors in Pittsburgh’s East Liberty. Carlson’s poems enact the very opposite of not seeing, framing fragments of testimony in high relief: Black families sirened from sleep, machine gunner’s face in close-up, oil pouring into the sea. ‘Would you call it war or invasion?’ she asks, ‘My neighbors empty-handed in the street...’ In the empty hands is gentleness too as, elsewhere, a child lifts dolls through a missing door, or Marvin Gaye’s voice drifts above the poised rifles in a police raid. Details of time and place slip into a singular nightmare that haunts the narrator, yet she does not turn away. In exacting, sensorial language Carlson illuminates the heightened edges that trauma and love evoke, asking us to bear witness with her, while centering a question: ‘whose evacuation, whose drinks on a silver tray, whose mountain, whose moon.’ The question, unanswered, hangs in the page’s white space. This is powerful, wrenching work whose every line makes me feel my heart, want to see.”
—Meg Shevenock, Author of The Miraculous, Sometimes
“In staccato and truncated measures, this long poem propels us through its fraught and lyrical geographies, the tension of making sense inside a despairing world revealed in syncopated flashes that allow us to witness the traumatic and brutal absurdity of life under militarized occupation—jets broke the sound, barrier, sonic booms meant, to sound like bombs, how not to mention it, midnight ash onomatopoeia—Emily Suzanne Carlson reckons in unrelenting and vivid fractures; these images sear, and remain.” —Allison Titus
Poetry. Middle Eastern Studies.
Emily Suzanne Carlson (she/they) is a mother, a poet, a teacher, and the director of Art in the Garden, a liberatory, anti-racist, LGBTQ+ welcoming, and joy-centered program that addresses the impacts of childhood adversity and trauma. Emily is the author of two prior collections: I Have a Teacher (Center for Book Arts 2016), and Symphony No. 2 (Argos Books, 2015). Emily earned a BA from Sarah Lawrence College and an MFA from the University of Pittsburgh. With friends, they run the Bonfire Reading Series. Emily lives with their partner and their three children in an intentional community centered around an urban garden in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.