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.

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