Emily Dickinson

The wisdom of crowds comes to modern poetry

A week before the 10-week ModPo course begins (current enrollment, as of this moment: 28,000 people worldwide) several thousand of those in the course are already talking in a Facebook group and on Twitter. We were discussing a poem by Emily Dickinson. People began saying things about the poem that in all my years of reading and teaching it I hadn't thought of. Then I posted this, above (apologies for the enthusiasm).

Armantrout on Dickinson

Rae Armantrout reads and briefly discusses Emily Dickinson’s “My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun”: MP3.

PennSound pedagogy

Al Filreis draws poetic connections

Emily Dickinson and Rae Armantrout

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When Al Filreis and Charles Bernstein founded PennSound in 2003, one of their impetuses was purely pedagogical. They wanted to make a digital audio archive of free, downloadable files of poets reading their own work and of discussions about poetics available to teachers and learners looking to parse out poetic lineages and differences.

As Al Filreis explains in this 2007 podcast, PennSound is an archive for those seeking to make aesthetic connections between different poetic trends: a site of convergence for the reader (in this case, listener) and the poetic tradition. This makes PennSound a particularly useful resourse for teachers who are looking to demonstrate to their students the relationships between contemporary poetry and earlier poetic movements.<--break->

On Emily Dickinson's social life

On an evening when seven people each talked for seven minutes about some aspect of isolation, I chose to speak about a well known yet nonetheless difficult poem by Emily Dickinson.

Nesting

Looking up from 'sparrow,' with Dan Beachy-Quick

swallow's nest (with an egg that did not hatch) in nesting box
Swallow's Nest

While I said I would write about nomadic poetry architectures, I got caught up reading some books I need to return to the library. One of them is Dan Beachy-Quick’s  This Nest, Swift Passerine, a book-length meditation on love, sparrows, sight, orb spiders, language, self and other, in the transcendentalist tradition Beachy-Quick has made so particularly his own. It is also a thorough demonstration of poetic intertextuality as nesting. (In his previous collection, Mulberry, Beachy-Quick imagines writing poetry as a silkworm’s work, “the weaving back and forth, as the head moves almost unnoticeably left to right and right to left as one reads, of those leaves I had devoured, those pages I read.”) Into his own looping syntax, the poet weaves “Themes” from Charles C. Abbott, Martin Buber, Emily Dickinson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Meister Eckhart, Ronald Johnson, Edward Taylor, Henry David Thoreau, Leo Tolstoy, Dorothy Wordsworth, amongst others.

Each blank page a month 
Arctic this every January
The sparrows minus zero
In the leafless tree do not 

Teaching Emily Dickinson on line

Does success in circuit lie?

the 32nd PoemTalk

From left to right: Marcella Durand, Jessica Lowenthal, Jennifer Scappettone. They’re in my office at the Writers House, having just finished discussing Susan Howe's reading of Emily Dickinson’s “My Life had stood — a Loaded Gun.” It’s the 32nd episode of the PoemTalk podcast. Please have a listen.

Art and power (PoemTalk #32)

Emily Dickinson's 'My Life had stood … ' and Susan Howe's 'My Emily Dickinson'

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Art and power (PoemTalk #32)

Emily Dickinson's "My Life had stood..." and Susan Howe's "My Emily Dickinson"

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Jennifer Scappettone, Marcella Durand and Jessica Lowenthal joined Al Filreis for a discussion of Susan Howe's understanding of a crucial and extraordinarily complex poem by Emily Dickinson--the one that begins "My Life had stood - a Loaded Gun."

My Life had stood--a Loaded Gun--
In Corners--till a Day
The Owner passed--identified--
And carried Me away--

And now We roam in Sovereign Woods--
And now We hunt the Doe--
And every time I speak for Him--
The Mountains straight reply--

And do I smile, such cordial light
Upon the Valley glow--
It is as a Vesuvian face
Had let its pleasure through--

And when at Night--Our good Day done--
I guard My Master's Head--
'Tis better than the Eider-Duck's
Deep Pillow--to have shared--

To foe of His--I'm deadly foe--
None stir the second time--
On whom I lay a Yellow Eye--
Or an emphatic Thumb--

Though I than He--may longer live
He longer must--than I--
For I have but the power to kill,
Without--the power to die--


Attempts to read and understand the poem form a central analytical narrative, or, one is tempted to say, a viscerum in and through Susan Howe's book My Emily Dickinson. Our group not only took a cue from Howe's sense of the poem's centrality; we used the recording of Howe's reading of the poem--and several passages from her book--as our basis and starting point. The recording comes from Charles Bernstein's interview with Howe for his LineBreak series; the entire series is available through PennSound.

Jen Scappettone's comments help us contemplate Howe's working out Dickinson's sense of the way war enters the details of domestic existence. Al presents the extended conceit (the woman is to the man as a gun is to its hunter-owner) and then the four proceed--immediately--to complicate it, aptly. The gendering, Marcella and Jessica remind us, is not at all straightforward. Among the many questions pondered here: How do we know for certain that the gun is gendered female?

Dickinson offered several variant words. One of these is "art," which might have replaced "power." "For 'art' you need an artist," Marcella notes, "the creative power. Can the gun be the artist? Do artists extend power? What was the role of the artist or writer in America?" We listen to Howe (reading from her book) say, "When I love a thing, I want it and I try to get it." Sounds to us, at least partly, like a predatory version of the subject-object dynamic. Jen adds: "Love brings the owner and the gun together, but also the predator and the prey." Jessica speaks surely for all of us at PoemTalk when she says, in her final word, that she's glad to return to this crucial poem over and over.

Emily the gardener

New York Botanical Garden’s upcoming exhibition, Emily Dickinson’s Garden: The Poetry of Flowers. The show is on display April 30 June 13, and gives visitors a new look at Emily. She was an avid gardener, and took visual cues for many of her poems from flowers such as tulips, roses, and lilies.

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