Getting To Know Emily Cooper & Her New Book, The Heart Is A House

Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?

I would certainly like to develop one! As they say, any great artist has a studio practice. For me, lately, writing just happens and at the most unexpected times–strolling into work, walking the dog, driving home without pen or paper, running from a spider in the bathroom–you never know when the traces of a poem or story might stream into your mind and demand attention and materiality. The best I can do in those moments is repeat the incoming words to myself like a mantra until I have pen in hand or a keyboard beneath my fingertips.

Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?

I heartily believe that every little thing in life has its own story to tell.  We have a relationship with everything around us, and this is worth exploring and painting through words. To write, I try to keep my heart, eyes, and ears open to it all. You never know what will jog your muse. I find myself writing about the things that make me wonder, marvel, and pause. That could mean literally anything, really. The most grievous heartache, the sweetest love, the common and extraordinary wonders of our wild and domestic lives, the most quiet, simple beauty in the smallest moments of our days–all of it begs interpretation. I recently heard a quote by author Henry Miller which I thought perfectly captured my feelings on writing: “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” We should pay homage to the great and small things that make up the significance of our living.

Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what’s the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? 

Have you ever stored something away that was of great value to you but of no intrinsic value to anyone else? Perhaps a birthday card, a photograph, a love note, a drawing? Maybe someday, you let someone in to see what you’ve privately treasured and when witnessed, you may feel something deep inside you is validated, seen, understood. Such is the publication of this book for me. I’ve been storing up these poems since I was thirteen years old. They’re from a great range of life and are incredibly special to me. When I think of some of the most influential years of my life, many of them were from my upbringing in my childhood house. So many of my dreams and feelings and sense of self felt tied to that physical place for years. The Heart is a House has so many layers to me, as a statement and a title. Can one’s own heart be a place of safety, shelter, feeling, and of pain and dysfunction? I think many would say so. The overarching themes are my own childhood, adolescence, and journey into adulthood. This includes all of the love, sweetness, loss, trauma, and questions that arise out of simply being alive.

As for assembling the collection, I printed each poem and spread them all out in stacks across the floor, organized by common theme. I then created a single master document formatted for publishing, and printed nigh on fifteen versions of the book in full which I edited countless times with the help of a thesaurus, a three-ring binder, and some colorful pens. I wonder if that’s more literal than what you were asking…

Who are your major poetic influences, your poetic ancestors, so to speak? Are these influences seen, directly or indirectly, in the new collection?

My family, surely! As long as I can remember my father has spoken poetically about the world around him. Just ask him what he thinks of Autumn and as though red curtains have drawn aside, he becomes an elocutionist. He will wave his arms around him as he passionately enacts the part of a greater power, painting the leaves in explosions of awe-inducing color and might. More understated but equally poetic, my mother and her warm heart. She taught me how to love others, how to put them first and lift them up. When you take that step back from yourself you see a lot more of the world and its nature and you make room for your heart to fill. It wasn’t until college that I became more closely acquainted with Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver, Pablo Neruda, Frank O’Hara, Emily Dickenson, and others. They demonstrated all the ways a poem can be written and everything a poem can be made of. They guided me, and yet it was my family who influenced the heart of my worldview and exploration. They are both seen and unseen in this collection of mine. My mother and sister both have a poem featured within.

What are you working on now that your book is out in the world?

I’m planning a book launch party and working on bringing the collection to local book shops, which is exciting. I love getting out in the community and meeting people and this is a great way to do it. What I might be most excited about, however, is embarking on a work of fiction. I’ve got a running list of ideas and characters and I’m curious where it will take me. And, if we’re really going to dream big, in the same way that I’d stored up all of these poems over the years, I’ve also stored up songs. I used to be a pretty prolific songwriter and more regular performer. It’s been years now, but in the same way I was compelled to see my poetic treasures dusted off and shared, I feel the urge to create a CD (or two or three) with everything I’ve composed. It’s all full of love. I want to give it back to the world.

What art, writing, or media is moving you right now?

Oh my. What an interesting question. I feel as though there’s too much to weed through in regards to media, although Colossal does a wonderful job of feeding me interesting new works. Overall I’m moved by those who create a sense of magic realism or magic altogether, like author/illustrator Shaun Tan, artist Yayoi Kusama, artist Alex Andreyev, and the wild miniature dioramas of Curtis Talwst or Kendal Murray. Writing-wise, I’m absolutely enamored by what Leigh Bardugo and Naomi Novik are doing with new takes on fables and fairy tales. It’s amazing. They’re ridiculously talented storytellers with wonderful voices. I also can’t stop thinking about the “Small Books” series from Poetry East, edited by Richard Jones. It features poems selected from their pages and curated by theme. Please–go read and reread as he suggests. I keep on coming back to them.


Read an excerpt from The Heart is a House:

Beasts of Wilmette

A paste of dirt and rainwater
smeared on smooth cheeks.
Cakes of muck in our hands.
Clover stems woven flat are pressed between palms
and hurled into the air while their tiny little heads
lay tucked behind our ears.

Birch and oak and maple wave over our wildling rituals.
The skull of an acorn cracked; innards spat out
are ground with heels back into the earth.
Milkweeds lure the butterflies to feast and the cattails
on the dunes hail high, thin white clouds
streaking over the blue-green waves.

How we love the world to be clawed up
by our fingernails and stuck there—
twenty dark-realm crescent moons.
How we love to tear the bark as we climb and
pluck the golden tops of weeds and smear them
across our inner forearms, to stain.

Wild, loose, unstoppable.
How I miss this now that the days are long and
I’m so prim and cleanly—
so utterly tame and exhausted—
now that everything and everyone
has its place.

Purchase The Heart is a House

Emily Cooper grew up in Wilmette, IL and has been a writer and diarist since she was very little. She graduated with a B.A. from Bowdoin College in 2010 where she majored in Visual Arts. Cooper lives in Massachusetts with her husband Evan and their two dogs, Wendy and Hank.