Emily Rose Cole is a writer and lyricist from Pennsylvania, and the author of a chapbook, Love and a Loaded Gun, forthcoming from Minerva Rising Press. She has received awards from Jabberwock Review, Ruminate Magazine, and the Academy of American Poets, and her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Nimrod, Spoon River Poetry Review, The Pinch, and Southern Indiana Review, among others. She holds an MFA from Southern Illinois University Carbondale and is currently a PhD student at the University of Cincinnati. You can reach her via her website at emilyrosecolepoetry.com.
Emily's poem "MS Nocturne According to Ecclesiastes" will appear in the Spring 2018 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Monday, April 2, for special savings and discounts.
What is the inspiration for or impulse behind the poem?
“MS Nocturne According to Ecclesiastes” draws its structure from Ecclesiastes chapter 3, verse 1-8, which begins like this: “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal.” The verses go on like that, listing pairs of opposites. Initially I wanted the poem to work within that structure: strange dyads that grow a little stranger. But as I wrote it, it spun out into a meditation on how Multiple Sclerosis often forces me to live moment-to-moment—sometimes I have to “skinflint sleep / & cancel plans” and because MS has no cure, I’m talking back to Ecclesiastes by saying there’s also “a time not / to heal.”
Tell us about the spacing and the line breaks; how do you hope this will affect the reader’s experience?
Like its structure, the poem’s spacing and line breaks are tied to poem’s subject matter. When someone has MS, their immune system attacks their brain and spinal tissue, leaving behind little holes called lesions that cause a wide range of symptoms from fatigue to bladder problems to mobility problems and so on. I have a couple of lesions (six, in fact!) in my brain. The tears are small, but the gaps in my brain are causing all these problems in my body, and so I wanted the spacing in the poem to reflect the lesions: I wanted there to be gaps that the reader’s eye has to move across to get to the next idea. The poem’s lack of punctuation works in tandem with the spacing to achieve an effect of slipperiness; all the ideas and images bleeding together (which is what my lesion-addled MS-brain does with images and words sometimes).
What’s your favorite part of the poem? What do you love about it?
My favorite part of the poem is the end, because it was the greatest space of revelation. I always have trouble with endings, but this one arrived naturally and felt inevitable as I was writing it. “Praise” is not a word I use often in poems, but it’s the hinge on which this poem opened. When I first started writing this poem, I was in the middle of an MS relapse and felt helpless and unhappy. It was the best kind of surprise when, at the end, the poem turned from meditation into something closer to an ode. It’s difficult to praise the same body that regularly gives me so much trouble, particularly because it’s sick. I’m glad that this poem gave me a way into doing just that.
What do your communities (at your PhD program or otherwise) mean to you as a writer?
What a fabulous question! My communities are vital to me, so much so that when I teach creative writing classes at the University of Cincinnati, I specifically emphasize the communal aspect of the writing world. It’s so easy to believe that writers operate in a vacuum, poring over their books and polishing their own work, but while there’s an element of solitude to writing, I believe that the work is at its most fulfilling when it’s shared with others. I consider myself unbelievably lucky to be part of the writing community here at UC, and also at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, where I did my MFA. I’m proud to be part of the disability community, though that’s more of an online space right now than an in-person one. But my last artistic space is not writing-related at all, but the folk music community that I grew up with. My dad is an excellent musician in the folk music world, and I’m fortunate to have my writing life buoyed up by an incredible network of musicians from all over America. There’s so much cross-pollination between my artistic endeavors that I couldn’t imagine one without the other.