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Bob Holman & Margery Snyder

Emily Dickinson: Her Rhymes, Her Dashes, Her Flowers, Her Fits?

By July 15, 2010

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Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are the binary stars at the center of the American poetry galaxy—as readers, we orbit around them like comets, dipping into the poems of one or the other and then wheeling back through the lesser poets further out. This summer, it seems many readers’ orbits have passed through a Dickinson perihelion, as radio listeners have surely noticed:

from Fresh Air (NPR):
Billy Collins: A Poet’s Affection For Emily Dickinson
In this radio interview, former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins has a number of interesting things to say about Dickinson’s poems. Of her consistent use of “common meter” (a ballad meter, alternating lines of four and three iambs), Collins says “It’s widely known that almost every one of her poems can be sung whether you like it or not to the tune of ‘A Yellow Rose from Texas’”—anybody want to test that out? Of her “obsessive use of dashes,” he contrasts the “interruptive, strange dashes that don’t seem to do anything more than reveal her love of the dash” with the “other dashes to me that are indications of a leap of thought.... a sort of zigzag type of logic.” The entire interview is worth a listen, with Dickinson’s poems in your hand.

also from Fresh Air (NPR):
Biography Speculates Emily Dickinson Had Epilepsy
This is an interview with Lyndall Gordon, whose new biography of Dickinson, Lives Like Loaded Guns, supposes that the reason she remained a recluse was a physical handicap—epileptic fits. “‘I think that we have no way of knowing for certain,’ Gordon says. ‘But if it’s true, it would explain everything. If there was this stigma associated with epilepsy, the best solution for her would have been for her to remain in what she called ‘my father’s house.’”

and yet again from Fresh Air (NPR):
A Flowering Tribute To Emily Dickinson
This is a story about the New York Botanical Garden’s new exhibition, “Emily Dickinson’s Garden: The Poetry of Flowers,” Evidently, during her lifetime, “Dickinson was better known as a gardener than as a poet,” although her neighbors did know she was a poet because she “used to tuck little poems into bouquets of flowers that she gave” to them. The curators have chosen topical poems from Dickinson’s oeuvre and posted them on a walk through the Botanical Garden “next to plants and trees and flowers that inspired them.... And inside the Botanical Garden’s glass-domed conservatory is a re-creation of Dickinson’s own garden.” What a lovely idea—a must if you visit New York City this summer!

More on Emily Dickinson:
Biographical Profile of American Icon/“Belle of Amherst” Dickinson
Our Library: Poems by Emily Dickinson
Circling Back to Emily Dickinson” (July 2013)
Emily’s Pearls Still Shine in the 21st Century” (2008)
What Would Emily Say? An Indeath Interview,” by Robyn Sue Millerz (2003)
Emily Dickinson: Continuing Enigma,” by Jone Johnson Lewis

More on Walt Whitman:
Biographical Profile of the American Bard of Liberation
Library: Selected Poems from Leaves of Grass

More Poet Walks:
Wallace Stevens Walk (Hartford, Connecticut)
Dylan Thomas Walking Tour (Greenwich Village, New York City)
Poets Way (Boulder, Colorado)


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