Tag Archives: Emily Dickinson

A neighbourhood encounter involving Emily Dickinson

When I came home on Monday evening from a long weekend away, I found a small mystery in the room where my desk lives: three poetry books in a pile on the floor. Who could have taken the selected Du Fu, the selected Emily Dickinson and the Shambala anthology of Chinese poetry from the shelves? Surely not the Art Student, who is a staunch hater of poetry (unless, she says, it was written by me)? Perhaps she was looking for something to console a sick friend. Unlikely. Then I remembered she had pulled a muscle in her back  and been in pain all Saturday, barely able to sit at her desk. The books on the floor weren’t reading material at all, but a tool for an Alexander Technique Lie-Down. Apparently they were efficacious, because by the time  I arrived the back pain had gone.

Since the Emily Dickinson book had made is way into my hands, I decided to take it for a walk the next morning. The day was brilliant, cloudless, cool and pleasantly humid.  The third poem in the book is about spring, but it chimed beautifully with my Sydney-early-winter-induced mood:

The morns are meeker than they were –
The nuts are getting brown –
The berry’s cheek is plumper –
The Rose is out of town –

The maple wears a gayer scarf –
The field – a scarlet gown –
Lest I sh’d seem old fashioned
I’ll put a trinket on!

As I strolled past a friend’s house, by this time carrying a bulky plastic bag of dog poo as well as my book, the friend happened to be in her front yard. ‘That’s charming,’ she said.

I chose to interpret her as referring to the book. ‘Yes,’ I said. ‘I studied Emily Dickinson at uni but I’ve hardly looked at this book since.’

‘I love her,’ said my friend.

‘Listen to this,’ I said, and read her the poem.

‘She could have been writing about today.’

And we went our ways, me with the dog, her to her garden, wearing invisible Dickinsonian trinkets

Bill Murray reads Emily Dickinson

Remember Paul Robeson singing to workers in the Sydney Opera House under construction? New York’s Poets’ House isn’t quite on that scale, but this coming together of Bill Murray, Emily Dickinson and a group of construction workers is beautiful to behold.

I usually tend not to like actors’ readings of poetry, but this is masterly, especially his apparently casual use of props and the way he modulates degrees of seriousness. Even the little bit of ‘New Yorkers are special’ rhetoric isn’t too vomitous.

Thanks to Harriet the Blog.

Picture book for grown ups

Jenny Joseph and Pythia Ashton-Jewell (illustrator),  Warning : When I am an old woman I shall wear purple (poem © 1962, this edition Souvenir Press 1997)

0285634119I was mooching a book from someone in England, and they wanted me to take more than one book to make it worth their while. They had this illustrated Warning on their inventory. It’s a poem I’ve seen on feminist fridges for more than 30 years, so I added it to my list. I had it in mind to give to someone as a gift, but by the time it arrived – by surface mail – yesterday I’d forgotten who. So I gave it to the self-described poetry loather I live with.

She read it, said it had more in it than she remembered, and read it to me. Helped by the layout – one or occasionally two lines a page – she read it beautifully, slowly, thoughtfully. I vaguely remember reading somewhere that Jenny Joseph has said she wishes she’d never written the bl*dy thing. Certainly she’s famous for issuing take-down notices when her many fans put it up on their sites without thinking to ask. But it’s a good poem.

There’s a lot to be said for publishing poems with illustration. This is something I had used to agonise over when publishing a children’s magazine. By presenting poems with illustration were we straitening the readers’ responses, telling them how to read the poem rather than giving the words free play? It made the page more inviting, but at what expense?

I’ve had a couple of experiences recently that make me think there should be much more of it.

When Carol Ann Duffy was recently appointed Poet Laureate, I came across an animation of  one of her poems, and though I found the animation not at all to my taste, or a fair reflection of the poem, it slowed my reading down, and let the poem sink in – it’s a good poem. I’ve just found it on YouTube.

A couple of years ago, I was very taken with the Poetry Foundation’s sadly brief series Poem as Comic Strip, which similarly slowed the brain down to receptive speed. I particularly liked the Emily Dickinson–Gabrielle Bell page (this link is to a 580k PDF). See what you think.