On Place Series

On Place: Emily Pinkerton

Of all the poems I’ve written, the ones I like the best are always strongly linked to landscapes whose scenes inspired me. Early in my writing career, it was the American Southwest – its desolation and resolute grit. As I’ve grown as a poet, I’ve turned to explore spaces I’m more familiar with. My childhood home on Texas’ Gulf Coast comes up quite a bit, but so too does my current home of San Francisco.

My fascination with desolation is everywhere. It’s easy to find in California right now – we’re ravaged by the worst drought in recorded history. When I wrote “Earthquake Engineering,” the El Niño rains hadn’t come yet, and everything was completely dried up. The air had this dry heat to it that I’m used to encountering in cities like Phoenix or the Inland Empire area. The Bay Area isn’t supposed to feel hot like that – ours is a very temperate climate, generally generous with a whole season of rain, another of fog, and intermittent humidity. Temperatures rarely get over 75 degrees here. But in the summer of 2015, it was hot. We had multiple heat waves, and when you’d go outside, it smelled the way woods smell before a brush fire erupts. It was a deeply unsettling time. (We’ve had a bit of rain since then, though the drought persists.)

I am fascinated by what I see as landscapes on the brink of collapse. The images that comprised this poem came to me in particular because periods of unseasonable heat are often referred to by locals as “earthquake weather.” This resonated somewhere in my lizard-brain with “hurricane season”, the period between early summer and late fall on the Gulf Coast. The idea of catastrophe being an ingrained part of life, something whose fluctuations are expected – like the weather – forms the basis of the chapbook that houses many of these poems: Natural Disasters.

What’s interesting about landscapes where catastrophe is normalized is that they are fertile grounds for adaptation and transformation – the species that live there grow resilient. These twin ideas of survival and adaptation are deeply informative to my poetic praxis. I can’t stop wondering about how life finds a way to carry on when the climate is inhospitable and the odds are against it.



Emily Pinkerton is a technologist and poet. Previously an editor at Twitter, she is currently an MFA candidate at San Francisco State University. Her writing has previously appeared or is forthcoming in Pith, Anthropoid, Noble/Gas Qtrly, Delirious Hem, Gravel, and LEVELER, among others. She can be found online on Twitter at @neongolden and at Her favorite color is fog.


About the “On Place” Series

In honor of my first poetry collection–I Have Conversations with You in My Dreams, in which most of the poems engage with place in some way–I have asked other writers, authors, and poets to compose blog posts about the effects of place on their own work. To enter a contest for a free copy of the book, please leave a comment on any of the blog posts in the series. One winner will be selected at the end of February and one at the end of March. If the winner already has the book, he or she may select a different book from my collection.

For the schedule of blog posts, please see this page.

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