Emily Dickinson was most-likely a great self entertainer, too. Writers are weird, and poets worse of all. And just from what I’ve gathered about her, Dickinson must have possessed an inventive imagination, able to create all kinds of shit in her head, and like a lot of other poets/people try and maintain a ‘normal.’
As a poet, I’m also not normal. But yet has continued a ‘normal‘ for a shitload of years. A process of poetry on paper is natural, intimate and explosive, as any paper will do, like the back of envelopes, or maybe a piece of folded typewriter paper, or back of a cash-register receipt.
(Illustration found here).
Poetry is fairly-spontaneous. Prose is a bit different, slower. Unlike Forrest, even if I try real hard, I can’t remember my first poem, or even the time, when gibberish-worded stuff on paper before me was poetry. In prose, however, short stories about kids and shit in my neighborhood started arriving while in the sixth grade (circa 1961). Identifiable poetry ‘writing‘ didn’t consciously emerge until my 9th/10th grade (circa 1963-1965) and fueled on energetic literary-verbiage from people like Bob Dylan.
Although memory of the historic details is way-vague, my poetry at least attracted attention — somehow, I was voted “Class Poet” for my 1967 graduating class at Choctawhatchee High School in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
During the Senior Breakfast before graduation, this girl from the Drama Club read my poem — memory of the title only, “Buttercups and Green Lemonade” — in such a dramatic, oratorical fashion, actual, open crying came from the females. Wendy Mixon, this gorgeous cheerleader I’d known since sixth grade, came up to me with tears in her eyes and gave me a kiss on the lips — a glorious breakfast to say the way-least; also, my 15-minutes of poetic fame, more than 46 years ago.
Poetry is not of fame. Real, honest poetry is private, never really intended for the public at large. In the mid-1990s, I managed/worked at a most-incredible shop, The Black Pearl Coffee House, in Pismo Beach, California, and at one time helped organize an open-mic-kind of poetry reading. The Pearl, as regulars/locals called it, had what most good coffee shops have — customers/and staff of would-be writers/poets/musicians always ready for a staging.
Poetry in the raw open. And for a time, the readings at The Pearl became fairly popular, a lot of people attending and reading their own poems, and the thingy moved quickly from a single event, to weekly, and shortly thereafter, a weekend edition was added for the tourists. And then stopped, for reasons I can’t remember right now — I think someone vital to keeping the readings ongoing (wasn’t me) moved away, or something similar in fashion.
Sadly, The Pearl is no more, and hasn’t been for a long, faraway time.
Anyway, poetry is private until spoken, I guess, or something like that.
Emily knew, too.
Fame is a bee
It has a song —
It has a sting —
Ah, too, it has a wing.
See a YouTube video here of the poem presented by the New York Botanical Garden.
Dickinson herself attracts more than her poetry. Although I’ve read a lot of her stuff, the life of her was more fascinating, in a nearly-inarticulate way, and it wasn’t the history of it, either — that’s found in a shitload of books — but instead nuanced upon the vaporous-imaginative, poetic-self-entertaining person who created the stuff.
If memory serves anywhere-near correctly, sometime in late high school is when I started to like Emily Dickinson, and not from her poems and English class, but from the sample of her being herself. A strange gal, of course, but good-hearted and intelligent beyond appearance, and as we well-know, appearances can be deceiving.
Anyway, again, what got me on Dickinson this morning was linkage, first while on a morning news surf at The Dish, which connected to a story by Hillary Kelly at the New Republic about a new book about Dickinson, “The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems,” and how Dickinson handled these explosive flights of poetry — writing on anything that’s handy.
What makes The Gorgeous Nothings — a facsimile collection of the poems Emily Dickinson composed, as she often did, on envelopes — so riveting is that despite presenting reproductions it very nearly captures what Walter Benjamin would have referred to as the envelopes’ auras.
Perfectly to scale, warmly photographed, and positioned inside a generous, expansive white margin, the envelopes are nearly as breathtaking on the page as they might be in the hand.
But to merely call The Gorgeous Nothings, and the envelope poems within it, beautiful, would do a disservice to Marta Werner and Jen Bervin’s remarkable artistic and scholarly achievement.
The result is a collection of scrap paper that says more about the Belle of Amherst than most biographies could.
The madcap pencil strokes, torn edges, and higgledy-piggledy line breaks are the work of a quick-thinking, passionate woman.
But the carefully crossed through and reworked prose are the mark of a poet bent on perfection.
The harmony between the content and use of space, most of all, reveals Dickinson’s self-awareness and inherent knack for poetic construction.
One small triangle of paper reads, with the words forming an upside down pyramid, “In this short life/ that only lasts an hour/ merely/ How much — how/ little — is/ within our/ power.”
That self-important word, “power,” is smirkingly wedged between a smudge and a tear.
On another little rectangle, Dickinson merely wrote, “A Mir/ acle for/ all.”
And on an envelope whose face bears a carefully calligraphed “Miss Emily Dickinson” and whose rear is covered with a more elaborate poem, Dickinson has gently pencilled, “To light, and/ then return —”.
She’d been a neat person to know.
And backing up my own feelings about Ms Dickinson, was this piece I found at Cambridge University Press from October 2012 and focused upon the planned movie of Dickinson’s life, “A Quiet Passion,” which on a visit to IMDB reveals the project is still ‘in development.’
Heart of the matter:
Emily Dickinson was the definition of a writer.
She did it because she needed to, not for fame or fortune.
In fact, she wanted her many books of poetry to be burned after her death, a last wish that her family did not adhere to.
She wrote quite a few poems about the triviality of fame, which is my last reason for being angry.
Emily wasn’t the kind of person who enjoyed the spotlight.
She wasn’t the kind of woman who begged to be noticed, which makes the idea of a movie about her life laughable. She wanted to be a nobody.
And included is the humility of “I’m nobody! Who are you”
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d advertise — you know!
How dreary to be somebody!
How public like a frog
To tell one’s name the livelong day
To an admiring bog!
Poetry of the soul’s history.
The Dickerson illustration above I found at RomanticCentury, a scheduling for musical/cultural events site, and the surreal picture was a promo for a decade-ago concert, titlted, Emily Dickinson: Herself to Her a Music, which seemed in time: Emily Dickinson was one of the most elusive artistic personalities of the 19th century, living as a recluse for most of her adult life. Dickinson’s self-imposed solitude allowed her to construct a world of images, sensations, emotions and thoughts ruled solely by the breadth and refinement of her imagination. By delving deep into her inner world, she produced a body of poetry that remains exceedingly haunting and mysterious.
And have a fun talk, too, one where we’d get way-too-over caffeinated.