Friday, September 18, 2009

That nature poetry lady

While the stereotype of Dickinson as a recluse spinster and/or town nut is probably my biggest irritation when people start talking about Dickinson, here goes another...

I find myself frustrated when people talk about Dickinson like she's just "that nature poetry lady." High school (and middle school and college) anthologies like to publish poems like "A narrow fellow in the grass" or "I taste a liquor never brewed" and throw in something like "Hope is a thing with feathers" and "I dwell in possiblity" for good measure and call the Dickinson section done. Alright, usually the college anthologies are a little broader in their selections, but the perception of Dickinson as "just that nature poetry lady" persists.

Limiting Dickinson to such a narrow description is as bad as remembering Melville as "that whale story guy" or Jane Austen as "that lady with the love stories with the poor girls and rich guys." I'm sure that comment about Melville probably got a cringe from my grad school American lit prof. The point, however, is that all these writers did the things described, but they are much more than just that one thing and their work far exceeds such a narrow perception. It would be like talking to an IT worker and calling Bill Gates "that computer guy" or talking to a business man and referring to Donald Trump as "the rich dude with weird hair."

In my next entry I'm going to look at "I taste a liquor never brewed" and analyze several ways in which Dickinson goes faaaaaarrrrr beyond nature in that poem. Most people read it as a celebration of nature and the skies and clouds and "oh isn't it all pretty and free" and completely miss the point of the poem. To be continued...

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