Friday, March 31, 2017

As much of Noon as I could take

Before I got my eye put out
I liked as well to see —
As other Creatures, that have Eyes
And know no other way —

But were it told to me — Today —
That I might have the sky
For mine — I tell you that my Heart
Would split, for size of me —

The Meadows – mine —
The Mountains — mine —
All Forests — Stintless Stars —
As much of Noon as I could take
Between my finite eyes —

The Motions of the Dipping Birds —
The Morning's Amber Road —
For mine — to look at when I liked —
The News would strike me dead —

So safer — guess — with just my soul
Upon the Window pane —
Where other Creatures put their eyes —
Incautious — of the sun —

Knowing what she did, how she saw, how writing saved her life and sanity and to not write would have been to not breathe, imagine how she felt when she feared she might go blind. Emily Dickinson had an operation on her eyes in Boston (one of several journeys she made that both negate and explain the myth of her reclusiveness) when she was in her early 20s, and was told not to read for several months, to avoid bright light, and all sorts of other tortures for this person for whom reading and writing were life. One imagines her vowing through those dark days, that if she regained her sight, she would devote her life to poetry, wasting no time on frivolous social calls or small talk or infants or as many trivialities as she could possibly avoid.

And she did.

The Meadows — mine –
The Mountains – mine —

And they were.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

And Staples in the Song...

The Soul has Bandaged moments - 
When too appalled to stir -
She feels some ghastly Fright come up
And stop to look at her -

Salute her, with long fingers -
Caress her freezing hair -
Sip, Goblin, from the very lips
The Lover - hovered - o'er -
Unworthy, that a thought so mean
Accost a Theme - so - fair -

The soul has moments of escape -
When bursting all the doors -
She dances like a Bomb, abroad, 
And swings opon the Hours,

As do the Bee - delirious borne -
Long Dungeoned from his Rose -
Touch Liberty - then know no more -
But Noon, and Paradise 

The Soul's retaken moments -
When, Felon led along, 
With shackles on the plumed feet, 
And staples, in the song,

The Horror welcomes her, again, 
These, are not brayed of Tongue -

I often think of the line, "The soul has bandaged moments." Sometimes I wonder, what moment isn't bandaged. There are so many images in this poem by Emily Dickinson, the poem itself is almost like a collage. Look at the next-to-last stanza, where you think there's going to be some relief—"retaken moments"—but no, "retaken" seems to be even worse than "bandaged," because the soul has become a prisoner to that stapled song...

Seriously, "And staples, in the song." I wish I'd written that line! 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Saint (not) Emily

"I heard a fly buzz — when I died—" begins a poem by Emily Dickinson. Past tense: "died." Metaphor; we die a thousand deaths a day, after all, though we usually use more banal euphemisms: heartbreak, disappointment, setback, shock.

Saints do not write poetry. Saints are probably not even saints, except (to those who believe) in retrospect. Poets are human beings (what a radical thing to say, I know), with the spectrum of human emotions on display, and sometimes that spectrum is on display in a single poem. From acceptance to denial, from tranquility to upheaval, from sincerity to sarcasm—if every poem is an exploration of some aspect of the human condition, how can we expect a single tone throughout?

We have been conditioned to read Emily Dickinson as Saint Emily, living her monastic existence at a remove from such quotidian things as anger, desire, rebellion, discontent. We do her (and our own critical thinking skills) a disservice when we turn to her poems as examples of sainthood or sacrifice or selflessness. Instead, we should look for what is real, for what constitutes a living, breathing, rejoicing, hurting human being, susceptible to a thousand deaths a day, with the ability to tell us how it feels.

Sunday, March 19, 2017


A time-worn cliche, but one without which we cannot seem to do: the heart. I reread Louise Erdich's novel Love Medicine earlier this week (ah, spring break—week of favorite books!); in the title chapter (my English Comp. II students of recent years may recall this as a short story) hearts play a significant role, although the "medicine" doesn't quite work as expected.

Emily Dickinson uses the heart as a metaphor, though of course she puts her own spin on it. Here, for example:

The mob within the heart
Police cannot suppress
The riot given at the first
Is authorized as peace

Uncertified of scene
Or signified of sound
But growing like a hurricane
In a congenial ground

One of the ways she "spins" any metaphor is to mix it. What begins with a "mob" ends here with "a hurricane," all happening within the heart. Talk about interior landscapes, interior weather! Crowds and unrest—not two of Dickinson's favorite things, and yet this poem is almost an acceptance—almost a celebration—of the press and turmoil of one's inner "mob": memories, desires, one's entire storied and peopled past. The heart as a scene of a "riot"—something unlike our usual cliche, and that much nearer truth.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

A Reduceless Mine

To own the Art within the Soul
The Soul to entertain
With Silence as a Company
And Festival maintain

Is an unfurnished Circumstance
Possession is to One
As an Estate perpetual
Or a reduceless Mine.

It is tempting to look at Emily Dickinson's poems and assume that, for her, every moment was fraught with the potential for a poem. She seemed to live poetry, live on some higher plain of existence than most of us can manage. Of course, this can't be true. She had ordinary moments, no doubt. One cannot be always hearing that roar on the other side of silence (to paraphrase George Eliot, because I'm too lazy to get up and find my copy of Middlemarch and look up the exact quote).

(Brief tangent: Emily Dickinson read Middlemarch and loved George Eliot; one wonders if she lingered over that quote, put the novel down for a moment and allowed herself to go behind the silence...)

She did spend her adult life exploring how art is a bridge between experience and meaning. The artist takes what she or he perceives and reorganizes it, emphasizing what needs to be emphasized and discarding what isn't (at that moment) needed. The result is a creation in which possibility and meaning are represented and presented.  A poem to include in a letter to a friend. Or a poem to keep to herself, written in the middle of the night, a "reduceless Mine" as she reorganized her world according to her own vision.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

In the Zone

There is a Zone whose even Years
No Solstice interrupt—
Whose Sun constructs perpetual Noon
Whose perfect Seasons wait—

Whose Summer set in Summer, till
The Centuries of June
And Centuries of August cease
And Consciousness—is Noon.

I'm wondering what I can learn about the creative process from reading Emily Dickinson. I am focusing on her lesser-known poems, feeling there must be something I have overlooked in all my years of reading her work. This poem struck me as her statement of being "in the zone," carried away by the imagination to the land of truth, the place more real that that world outside her window (and yet, informed by it). A simplistic reading, I am certain, and yet it resonates: "And Consciousness—is Noon"—the acme of creativity. She felt it too: looking up and wondering how the oil in the lamp had gotten so low in so short a time, then realizing she had been writing for hours, not minutes, as it had seemed. Her "Noon" may have been midnight, but the metaphor holds. Is there any creative person for whom noon is Noon?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Delight without a Cause

It is a lonesome Glee—
Yet sanctifies the Mind—
With fair association—
Afar upon the Wind

A Bird to overhear
Delight without a Cause—
Arrestless as invisible—
A matter of the Skies.

"A lonesome Glee," "Delight without a Cause"—this Dickinson poem presents us with paradox upon paradox about what "sanctifies the Mind."

The magnitude of how she chose to live is no small matter. A life seemingly small in terms of its boundaries, yet limitless in intellect and imagination. "Arrestless as invisible— / A matter of the Skies." Breathtaking.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Her Parting Face

Frigid and sweet Her parting Face—
Frigid and fleet my Feet—
Alien and vain whatever Clime
Acrid whatever Fate.

Given to me without the Suit
Riches and Name and Realm—
Who was She to withhold from me
Penury and Home?

There are Emily Dickinson poems that feel as if they were written in a warm pantry just off the kitchen, the air fragrant with cinnamon and freshly-baked bread. Then there are poems that feel as if they were written in a room at the top of the house in the frigid and sweet hours, the hours when solitude and loneliness duke it out.

"Riches and Name and Realm"—the best description of love ever penned. Unrequited, unreturned, unregarded. The mind goes round and round, imagining the scenarios that could have inspired this poem. The mind alights on its own scene of past anger, of back-turning, of indignation. Dickinson transports us always, and the journeys are swift, and we find ourselves in midnight worlds.

The Little Toil of Love

I had no time to Hate—
The Grave would hinder Me—
And Life was not so
Ample I
Could finish—Enmity—

Nor had I time to Love—
But since
Some Industry must be—
The little Toil of Love—
I thought
Be large enough for Me—

Emily Dickinson's ironic voice is all the more intriguing for the way she is able to turn it off and on, the way she slides in and out of it. With a word, you suddenly find yourself in a whole new poem. "I had no time to Hate / Because" life is too short...for all the hating that needs to be done! And there isn't time enough to love, but, eh, one needs to do something.

Is this her way of telling the truth slant, of shocking our mild sensibilities with her hyperbole of hate and belittling of love, to make the reader consider the waste of the first and the real waste of a life without the second?

Or was she really of this frame of mind at this moment, that as for hate, where does one even begin, and as for love, well, why not? No irony intended? As with almost everything she wrote, it is never the same poem twice.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Then Thought of Us, and Stayed

Sweet, to have had them lost
For news that they be saved—
The nearer they departed Us
The nearer then, restored,

Shall stand to Our Right Hand—
Most precious and the Dead—
Next precious
Those that rose to go—
Then thought of Us, and stayed.

Another collage inspired by a poem by Emily Dickinson. I have always felt that a great poem names for us something we have always known. In this poem, that last line—that little explosion of surprise and joy when someone "thought of Us, and stayed." Funny, too, that I found this poem this afternoon, after this morning contemplating "The Soul that hath a Guest." This supposedly reclusive, antisocial poet cherished company, though one supposes she was very choosy.

The Soul that hath a Guest

Another Emily Dickinson poem for this morning's collage inspiration:

The Soul that hath a Guest
Doth seldom go abroad—
Diviner Crowd at Home—
Obliterate the need—

And Courtesy forbid
A Host's departure when
Upon Himself be visiting
The Emperor of Men—

Emily Dickinson wrote a lot about the internal landscape, its wondrous and terrifying topography, its dark places, the ever-changing quality of its light. All poets do this, of course, but Dickinson is our standard, the extreme by which all others are measured. She mapped this internal landscape in ways few of us would be willing to do.

What is a soul? Perhaps it is this willingness to look within, to explore one's inner landscape. That's about as true a definition as I have found, having never felt an affinity to any traditional religious or even spiritual definition of "soul." And "the soul that hath a guest"—wow, that must be a very beautiful, very inviting soul indeed, willing to look within and willing to be seen.

Soul and solitude and sense. Diviner crowd at home.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Shadows 1 (While I delay to guess)

Today's collage was inspired by this poem by Emily Dickinson:

Oh Shadow on the Grass,
Art thou a Step or not?
Go make thee fair my Candidate
My nominated Heart—
Oh Shadow on the Grass
While I delay to guess
Some other thou wilt consecrate—
Oh Unelected Face—

I could try to explicate that poem here, but like so many other poems by this poet, it deserves a book all for itself. The syntax alone provides enough ambiguity for about, oh, let's say fifty possible interpretations. The speculation about whose or what "Shadow on the Grass" could lead us to another fifty.

But that line, "While I delay to guess" is what, for me, is the crux of this poem. While one hesitates to make a decision—hesitates either out of fear, or the desire to make a well-informed choice—a decision is made without one.

It doesn't help that I misread the last line when I first looked at this poem this morning. I thought it said "Oh Unelected Fate," rather than "Face."

And what brought me to this poem was the word "shadow." I need to check a concordance, but this is not a word Dickinson seems to have used too often. More about this after I do some actual research.

It is the shadow in the poem that seems to be doing the consecrating, doing the choosing during the moment of the speaker's hesitation. That's one important shadow. Could it be her own shadow, the self that makes a difficult decision, only to regret or question oneself for the rest of one's days?

Well, as I said, it would take a book to even begin to understand this poem. That's what I love about Emily Dickinson.

The collage is titled Shadows 1 (While I delay to guess).

Saturday, March 11, 2017


Who were they, the people in my dream? I mostly saw their outstretched hands as I handed them glazed and patterned pieces of...pottery? Pieces of something that had something to do with each person's identity, each person's relation to me...

Ah well, as far as dreams go, this one was beautiful and mysterious and not too upsetting. Pieces of creativity, pieces of poems I think as I type this, which brings the dream back in a little more detail. I dream in color, but this dream was in earthtones. Perhaps my dreams are being influenced by my typical collage palette?

Why were they not each choosing their own? Perhaps they were.




Sunday, March 5, 2017


Weeks 5 and 6 of the semester are particularly trying. The routine that isn't quite routine is about to be made less routine by midterms. Even in classes in which I do not give an exam, everyone has the midterm blues. Spring break will bring the whole show to a halt, and then we begin anew, with only eight weeks until finals.

In my own creative work, I have put what may be the finishing touches on my new collection of poems, capping off a little over a year's worth of time wondering about the mind of Lavinia Dickinson. Two of these poems are being published in a journal, and by early summer I hope to have the manuscript off to be read by a publisher. Fifteen of my haiga will be posted on a haiku website sometime this spring.

And what's happening in the world? A madman for a President. (For the first time in our history we can say that: "We have a madman for a President. And we elected him.") Prejudice gaining ground. A whole new tide of pollution about to be unleashed.

Can a tide be unleashed?

Forsythia, are you certain you want to bloom this year?

I wish I could go for a long walk. I wish I could sleep for ten hours straight.

And that there is the story of early March.

rushing the season
in every winter dream
spring birds