Poetic Catharsis

The call came at 3 a.m., a time of day when phone calls rarely bear good news.
     A little more than five years ago, East Nashville writer and poet Emma Alford was at her boyfriend’s house in her hometown of Cleveland, Miss., when her ringing phone woke her at that wee hour from a restful sleep. By the time she had finished hearing what her best friend’s sister had called to tell her, more than Alford’s sleep had been disturbed.
     Much more.
     “When you get a phone call like that at 3 in the morning, you know it can’t be good,” Alford says of the moment she had learned that her absolutely best friend, Cassidy Grant, had been in a car accident and suffered severe brain injuries that would lead to her death just a few days later. “It completely shook me, I was very numb. I was sick to my stomach and really, really angry at that point — and then it turned to sadness.”
     Alford and Grant had both just turned 20 that summer of 2010 — within a week of each other, in fact — teetering, as Alford puts it, between adolescence and adulthood. The two had known each other since middle school, where they became fast friends and were each other’s foundation through high school. Grant left to attend college in Texas, but a physical distance was not enough to keep them apart.
     Grant’s death left Alford out of sorts and in a haze, but she soon found that writing about it eased her pain somewhat. She continued writing and found it had a way of bringing forth all those feelings she had internalized.
     Those writings have led to Alford’s completion of a new chapbook titled Stamped, a collection of poems in which she taps into the experience of losing someone who is very, very close. Scheduled for publishing in mid-January, Stamped incorporates a series of postcards that Grant had regularly sent to Alford after she had moved to Texas. Alford’s poems are a conversation of sorts with her deceased friend, directing each line toward her. They capture the experience of loss, but also the humor and subtleties of a friendship cut short much too early.
     “I know the feeling of loss is very universal, it’s something that everyone experiences and something we all have to deal with at some point,” says Alford, who is also calendar editor and a regular contributor for The East Nashvillian. “I hope that, in that way, it can be comforting to someone else who has lost a friend. I hope that someone who has lost someone can read it and know it’s OK to feel the way they feel and that it is probably healthy to feel that way.”
     Alford has enjoyed writing since she was a little girl, her jottings-filled notebook always at her side. When classes at Delta State University in Cleveland resumed a few weeks after Alford had lost her best friend, she enrolled in a poetry workshop class taught by poet Mike Smith. One of her assignments was to write an anagram of another piece of work, and she chose to use one of the many postcards she had received from Grant. The idea to merge the postcards with the poetry took off from there.
     “Writing these poems was very cathartic for me,” she says. “I had things I needed to get out, and I couldn’t say them because when you’re that sad about something, your voice breaks and you can’t vocalize it. But you can write about it. I think writing about her — I was talking to her when I was writing them — was my way of communicating things that I couldn’t say to her anymore. I think that was more helpful than anything else I could have done.”
     The chapbook’s title has a double meaning, with one being the more obvious reference to stamps that are used for
mailing postcards.
     “It also refers to the imprint that someone leaves behind on a person, the way someone marks you in life and shapes the way you live your life,” Alford says. “I can safely say that Cassidy has left a huge imprint on my life, the kind of person I am. She actually did that before she passed away. I think people have that with a lot
of relationships.”
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