Emily Bobo is a poet, mother, and professor. She’s also a colleague and friend. Her book Instrumental is described as “a non-linear, verse novel” about the relationship between the Recovering Musician and her Piano. However, this relationship — as beautiful and fraught as any love affair — is, I think, symbolic of the real heart of the book: the difficult development of the Recovering Musician’s sense of self. Is she the Piano’s friend, lover, or abuser? Is she the Father’s victim, the Mother’s showpiece, or her teacher’s student? Outside of all external relationships, can she define her self herself?
Instrumental is sometimes tough — there is anger and sadness and hurt — but it’s so authentically told that the collection is remarkably beautiful. And if you know anything about music and/or pianos, this book will resonate with you; Bobo herself is a ‘recovering’ musician and she weaves the musicality of her language and voice throughout the book.
Instrumental (Hemlock House Press, 2019)
Feelings while reading: As a woman, an ache with glimpses of recognition and hope. As a poet, admiration for a writer open enough to allow ideas to find the form they need and trust her ability to refine and polish.
Favorite poems: The Book of Ruth; Lessons; Dear Piano, (1); The Recovering Musician Quit the Piano Because (5); The Recovering Musician Quit the Piano Because (8); Coda: Counter and Repeat.
Favorite lines: “Let us pretend we are gold colored fish in dark water. / Let us not betray our anger. / Let us pretend not to have the power.” (Dear Piano, (1))
Emily Bobo also has another new book out: Tattle Tales, Grimm Retellings, a collection of updated fairy tales. Each one packs a gut punch as it shows us that contemporary America is as scary as any ancient, witch-filled forest. It also features appropriately Grimm illustrations by artist Amy Brier.
Final Thought: I greatly respect Emily Bobo’s poetry and craft. I had read drafts of some of these poems, yet I was still amazed by the power of them all together. Instrumental is a solid collection.