University of New Orleans English professor Carolyn Hembree will ring in the new year with added cheer. Her third poetry collection, “For Today,” is set for release January 31, 2024, from LSU Press as part of its Barataria Poetry series.
Hembree is an associate professor in UNO’s Creative Writing MFA program and poetry editor of Bayou Magazine, the University of New Orleans' literary magazine. She received a Board of Regents Awards to Louisiana Artists and Scholars (ATLAS) grant to complete her poetry collection. The ATLAS program provides support for major scholarly and artistic productions with potential to have a broad impact on a regional and/or national level.
“For Today,” a revelatory collection of poems set in the Gulf South, chronicles the experience of a woman who becomes a mother shortly after her father’s death and struggles to raise her child amid private and public turmoil.
The collection, which explores motherhood, grief, Anthropocene climate disaster and redemption, was a decade-long journey, Hembree said.
“Ten years in the making, including a treasured ATLAS year spent spreading the pages all over the floor of my little bungalow,” Hembree said. “I feel relieved to hand these poems to readers who will create their own meanings—it’s not mine anymore.”
Hembree’s two previous collections are set in the Deep South and greater Appalachia, around places she once lived. The themes in her newest collection were born out of her experiences over the past decade, as well as her sensibility, and what she finds provocative about those experiences, Hembree said.
“What I mean is that another poet in the world experiencing her father's death, daughter's birth, storm evacuations, carnivals, local floods, friendships, teaching and reading might produce a collection with different themes,” Hembree said. “It's a matter of proclivity, obsession, which direction one turns one's head.”
Hembree holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Arizona and a bachelor’s degree in English and theatre from Birmingham-Southern College. Born in Bristol, Tennessee, she has lived in New Orleans since 2001.
She is the author of two other poetry collections: “Rigging a Chevy into a Time Machine and Other Ways to Escape a Plague” (Trio House Press, 2016), which earned the Trio Award and the Rochelle Ratner Memorial Award, and “Skinny” (Kore Press, 2012).
Her poems have appeared in Beloit Poetry Journal, Colorado Review, Copper Nickel, Ninth Letter, Poetry Daily, The Southern Review and other publications.
To “usher” her newest book into the world, Hembree will take part in literary festivals, conferences and poetry readings, she said. Her official book launch will take place on Feb. 16, 2024 at the Zeitgeist Theater and Lounge in Arabi, Louisiana, which is the venue for UNO’s CWW student-run reading series.
Blue Cypress Books will have copies of “For Today” available for purchase and Hembree will sign them.
Hembree said she hopes that readers will not only share her work, but also that of other local poets.
“I hope that my poetry works on them and that they re-read the book, read my poems to a friend, give the collection away,” Hembree said.
“I hope that they go on to read other Louisiana poets, especially those reared around here, such as UNO Creative Writing Workshop alumni Gina Ferrara, Skye Jackson, Shaina Monet and M.A. Nicholson, as well as poets Alison Pelegrin, Valentine Pierce, Karisma Price, Brad Richard, Mona Lisa Saloy and others.”