Wednesday, January 12, 2011

in memorium

Earlier today I learned about the passing of a dear mentor, Dr. Elaine Smokewood. She was truly a brilliant woman, and I had so much more I could have learned from her. She challenged me, in my writing and my thinking, and a majority of my literary thesis and on-going research into Emily Dickinson is because of her. She knew so much about the transcendentalists-- Emerson, Whitman & Thoreau-- as well as their contemporary writers like Hawthorne, Meville, and Dickinson.

She has suffered much, and she lived her life with graciousness and dignity. It was a comfort to know that she passed in her sleep, and I hope it truly was in peace. My prayers go out to her family. I wish we could have know just a fraction more of her thoughts and research. The world of literary criticism lost a brilliant mind, and we lost a beautiful person.

A friend of mine said it best when she simply stated "Thank you, Dr. Smokewood"

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

How Many Flowers fail in Wood--

How many Flowers fail in Wood--
Or perish from the Hill--
Without the priviledge to know
That they are Beautiful--

How many cast a nameless Pod
Opon the nearest Breeze--
Unconscious of the Scarlet Freight--
In bear to others eyes--

There is so much beauty around us, not only in the natural world but also in the people we pass each day on the street, the ones in the cubicles around us, in the grocery lines beside us, waiting in traffic behind us, sleeping the home across from ours. We pass by individuals with unique faces, finger prints, retinas, DNA. And yet it seems like more and more people struggle with self-esteem issues, with feelings of inadequacy, with body image issues.

This poem addresses the physical world and the millions of plants, of flowers, that exist that will never be seen by a human eye. They are works of art, unique and beautiful. Not only are they beautiful, but they will go on to create more items of beauty.

How often to are people just like those flowers, walking and living around us, and yet unseen for their beauty and uniqueness? What incredible gifts and passions have never been awakened, or are budding but were never truly noticed?

How many dreams die, shiveled and untended? How many people are passed over because someone failed to really look at them, to really get to know them, to really become part of their beauty? They are the ones that fail, in the darkness of a cold forest, withou the priviledge of knowing their precious value. They will cast their pods, their legacies, again unseen and unnoticed. Isn't the flower in the woods, never seen by a human, just as beautiful and worthy as the one in the flower bed or florist's shop? Aren't those who are never noticed just as valuable as those who are?

Maybe Dickinson is challenging her reader to step beyond the familiar, to appreciate the beauty around us but not stop there, not limit ourselves to what uniqueness we know. Instead, maybe it's time we started to look further, to seek out what hasn't been searched, to find what has never been found. Who do you know that needs to know they are beautiful? Do we know what we are throwing to the winds? Do we look where it lands and nurture it, bringing its beauty for others to see? Who do we invest in, and are we doing it intentionally?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

I stepped from Plank to Plank

I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The stars about my Head I felt
About my Feet the Sea--

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch--
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience
(F 926)

There is something about experience that molds and shapes us. Many people have experiences that scar them, some that strenghen them. No matter how a person responds to the challenges of life, these challenges often etch themselves upon a life with long-range effects. Stretching a bit of meaning here, the stars and sea could be archetypes of, respectively, dreams/hopes and challenges/fears. Throughout history, the stars have inspired wishes and might just be the substance of what Dickinson terms "possiblity." No doubt growing up in New England Dickinson would have been at least somewhat familiar of the dangers and challenges of the sea. While she might not have travelled extensively, her imagination clearly works. Seas are uncertain and often untameable.

This persona speaks of "planks," upon which he or she steps. Perhaps it is the speaker's desire to stay grounded, or possibly it is a symbol of man attemping to lay out structure or stability to an uncertain life. (to be continued)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

I dwell in Possibility

With 1,789 poems in her body of work, it's almost impossible to choose a single favorite. I almost hesitate to say one is my "favorite" when I have read only a small fraction of Dickinson's poetry. And yet... I dwell in Possibility is my favorite, and I never expected to write about it in my blog because it has so much meaning to me. It's a part of how I view the world, or at least how I try to view the world. I have the title of the poem on a board on my wall, white letters on purple and situated where it is visible from my bedroom doorway and from my bed where I write.

My ideal for myself is to truly live in "possibility" where I don't place limits on myself. Everyone says "think outside the box," but I think part of what Dickinson is trying to say in this poem is to LIVE outside the box. To me, this poem is about all of the grand and terrifying things that can exist beyond the constraints we put ourselves under. Is it scary to live trying to reach past what is taught and what is tangible? Absolutely. But why do we accept restrictions simply because it's what everyone says? This weekend I was at an amusement park, and I saw a group wearing tshirts with a quote I'd never seen before. I wanted a shirt immediate because they read: "Don't tell me the sky's the limit when there are footprints on the moon!" I think that's at least a part of Dickinson's message in this poem:

I dwell in Possibility--
A fairer House than Prose--
More numerous of Windows--
Superior-- for Doors--

Of Chambers as the Cedars--
Impregnable of eye--
And for an everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky--

Of Visitors-- the fairest--
For Occupation-- This--
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise--
(F 466)

While I have read this poem again and again, what stood out this time was that Dickinson's persona does not claim to dwell in poetry. Rather, she chooses to live in "Possibility." The reason for this is, I believe, also the reason why she did not choose to publish her work. Higginson constantly suggested editing to her poetry, seemingly trying to align it with the more conventional standards of poetry. Dickinson's poems are disjointed, the lines vary in length of syllables, and she relies heavily on slant rhyme and enjambment. To a traditional editor, these poems are a mess and hardly worth the title of "poem," but Dickinson crafts each word and phrase. She weilds language like a surgeon with a blade, severing and transplanting, exposing and flaying.

"Poetry" to Dickinson likely meant the careful rules and regulations of verse, following meter, rhyme scheme, and never daring to live in a place so uncertain as a mere possiblity. One of my lit professors, Dr. Elaine Smokewood, loves to say that Dickinson breaks language in her poetry. It is true that Dickinson takes words and their meanings and twists and morphs them, sometimes even breaking them into different parts to create an experience or emotion that is experience through the poem. I believe the decision to choose "possibility" over "poetry" reflects the exponentially larger opportunities that the former word details. Possiblity opens up those windows and doors, lifts the roof to everlasting, and might just stretch beyond the sky. Even in the consideration of possibility, the persona will not be limited to mere "poetry," and she will certainly not be constrained by a narrow definition of what poetry could be. Rather, it is all things, all possibilities, imagined and not yet imagined, plausible and implausible, possible and impossible-- all of these waiting to be gathered by even the most narrow of hands.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

It bloomed and dropt, a Single Noon

I never expected to write about this particular poem because I covered it in my master's thesis, "Emily Dickinson: Parables in Poetry." That said, today I came across this poem again, and I found something in it that I had not realized before, something relating to the concept of parable and its function in this poem.

It bloomed and dropt, a Single Noon
The Flower-- distinct and Red--
I, passing, thought another Noon
Another in it's stead

Will equal glow, and thought no more
But came another Day
To find the Species disappeared--
The Same Locality--

The Sun in place-- no other fraud
On Nature's perfect Sum--
Had I but lingered Yesterday--
Was my retrieveless blame--

Much Flowers of this and further Zones
Have perished in my Hands
For seeking it's Resemblance--
But unapproached it stands--

The single Flower of the Earth
That I, in passing by
Unconscious was-- Great Nature's Face
Passed infinite by Me--

This poem laments the loss of a flower, one which is unique and can never be reproduced. And yet, the speaker in the poem reproduces this flower for the reader. The gone blossom is, ironically, never truly retrieveless. Through the recreation of the flower and the parallel creation of a thing of beauty (namely the poem itself), the speaker re-creates his or her own situation. In parable form, the reader has a choice in response. He or she can blithely read the words and think something like "oh, how sad that that person didn't see such a lovely flower. Too bad. Nice poem," and move on with life, failing to recognize the power of the poem. This sort of reader remains completely unware, largely lacking self-awareness.

Or, the astute reader can understand what the poet is doing, or at least understand it on a subconscious level. While he or she may not be completely aware that he or she is taking part in the poem, the words and the message of the poem. The reader can realize that we are surrounded by the everyday miracles-- moments which are unique and common but each special in its own way. Moments which can never be recreated, except in memory. Thus, the parable extends the experience beyond the page, beyond the encounter of the speaker. The audience who chooses to be open now joins the exeperience and journeys into his or her own unique encounter. This encounter is rare and yet, paradoxically, an everyday encounter. It is to be cherished and remembered, for the great face of nature passes by in every moment of our lives if we would only open our eyes to see.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson

No, I haven't abandoned my blog. I finished reading Jerome Charyn's The Secret Life of Emily Dickinson last night, and I have to say that I was a bit disappointed by it. Originally I was entranced, but that quickly ended as I realized how fictional Charyn's Dickinson truly is.

I think we all create our own Emily Dickinson, that there is no possible way to ever know who and what she was, at least not accurately. Even her own family members have created their own versions of Dickinson, created in their own images. In this vein, Charyn has every right to write her as he sees fit.

My greatest objections to this book is that he creates too timid a Dickinson, one who cowers before man after man, depending on each to define herself. For the purely fictional Tom the handyman, she is an angel, she is her father's Dolly, then a deserter's Daisy, and Judge Lord's Jumbo. Her only slight definition of herself for herself is as the kangaroo, but for much of the novel, she seems very little of Emily Dickinson.

Surprisingly little is mentioned of her writing; it is hardly even mentioned in the first half of the novel. When it is brought slightly more into focus, it is presented as an attack on the poet-- sudden lightening that leaves her grasping and stunned. Just as she is defined only by the men in the novel, she is presented as a victim of her poetry. Yes, Charyn grasps the poet's love of the sudden words of poetry that come to her, but the event always seems violent and borders on destructive.

Additionally, I felt that it was belittling to Dickinson when Charyn addressed the poet's affinity for white dress. In his novel, he chose to attribute this to the death of her beloved dog. While no doubt Dickinson may have dearly loved her dog, it seems rather ridiculous to establish the pet's death as her reason for forever after wearing white alone.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Bring me the sunset in a cup (pt1)

Bring me the sunset in a cup--
Reckon the morning's flagon's up
And say how many Dew--
Tell me how far the morning leaps--
Tell me what time the weaver sleeps
Who spun the breadths of blue!

Write me how many notes there be
In the new Robin's extasy
Among astonished boughs--
How many trips the Tortoise makes--
How many cups the Bee partakes--
The Debauchee of Dews!

(first two stanzas #140)

This poem is dated by Franklin at 1830, meaning the poet wrote it when she was 29-30 years old. Anyone familiar with classic poetry might mistake it, at first read, for a poem by John Donne. The persona in this poem is demanding, exact and bold. It is a deviation from the circuitous poetry typical of Dickinson, but the strong nature images begin to give her away, along with the common charged Dickinson language: extasy & Debauchee.

This is not the shy doormouse that so many make of Dickinson, nor is it a ghost in white flitting about nature. The speaker in this poem gives a glimpse of a poet who was insatiably curious, always wondering "Why" and "How" at a point in her life when most adults were content with "because." The endless questions, of which above poem is only half, show the child's mind that thirsts and thirsts, craving more than can ever be known. Perhaps there is an imperious tone in the beginning, demanding the sunset in a cup and making use of the conceit. And yet this was Dickinson, who could find a sunset in a cup. Perhaps she is not asking the reader to bring a sunset to her, but challenging her reader to find the sunset in the cup for himself (or herself).

Monday, January 11, 2010

Coming back!

It's a new year, and after taking off to study up only to get distracted, get busy with Christmas, and go a good round with bronchitis, it's time to start again...

and new blogging is coming up. I'm back tomorrow, and my goal is to return again to daily blogging.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

I was the slightest in the House

I was the slightest in the House--
I took the smallest Room--
At night, my little Lamp, and Book--
And one Geranium

So stationed I could catch the mint
That never ceased to fall--
And just my Basket--
Let me think-- I'm sure
That this was all--

I never spoke-- unless addressed--
And then, 'twas brief and low--
I could not bear to live-- aloud--
The Racket shamed me so--

And if it had not been so far--
And any one I knew
Were going-- I had often thought
How noteless-- I could die--
(F 473)

working on my thoughts on this one... back later with commentary.

Friday, November 6, 2009

The Future never spoke (pt 2)

This poem is a sharp reminder of the mystery that is the future. It is something that many writers have grappled with, trying to sort through views of the future through a lens like Christianity or other religions which contain a divine order, as some see it, or what others perceive as deism, wherein a God created but then stepped back to no longer intervene and watch what unfolds. Some writers, like some of Shakespeare's plays, reference the wheel of fate and its cruel impulsiveness. Dickinson's speaker seems to take a rather athiestic approach, disregarding anything as mystical as prophecy as he or she declares that no one can know the future. For this speaker, not even the hint of the smallest sign will give away that lies a year, a month, a week, a day, an hour, or even a minute ahead.

Life happens unpredictably in this poem. In the second stanza, when the time arrives, what happens simply happens, leaving everyone to scramble to react and adapt. The future careens into the present, "Forestalling Preparation" and leaving man with little choice but to adapt. There is no "substitute" for the future or for the one experiencing. Man does not choose his joys nor his sorrows. And the future, fate or otherwise, remains indifferent to the human condition. The future remains exacting, "His Office but to execute", with no emotion, what fate dictates. There is a stoicism in the poem, an edge that is void of sympathy. In the end, this poem is the ultimate in "open endings" for the poem is left wide for the reader to interpret and to agree or disagree with both Dickinson and the speaker. And at the very literal text level, the poem in itself is wide open, lacking an ending and unknowing what fate awaits it-- to be remembered, to be forgotten among many other poems and pages, to continue, to end.