I’m at the end of day 1 of my Emily Dickinson readings project, reading all the poems in order as they appear in Thomas H. Johnson’s complete edition. Mirja Koponen, of ForestCentre+, has helped me to a title. I’d used an image of the book’s Subject Index and Mirja took these words on the poster to be the title of the piece. I’m glad she solved this for me. The back-up option was the Emily Dick-a-thon….
Reviewing today’s progress, I think I will get through all the poems if I speed up a little or put more hours in. I’ve got to poem 341. As one of my favourites, it felt like a satisfying, if dark, end to the day’s reading. At the pace I went today, another 20 hours should get me to poem 1755, and that’s doable (gulp!).
It took me a little while to get set up this morning, which had some happy moments in itself, such as Mirja giving me a leftover roll of paper from Colin Herd’s TotalKunst installation where she and I had first met. On my mind, though, was the feeling that I didn’t know, until the door was open and people started to appear on the other side of the glass, exactly how I was going to handle their presence. In the first session, I felt acutely conscious when there was someone on the other side, and although I wasn’t looking at their faces, it threw my action into relief, so that I was thinking about things like whether the way I was holding the pen was pretentious more than I would have liked. It took my reading voice a while to settle too.
The poems are more or less chronological in the Johnson edition, as they are in the more recent Franklin edition, and I was pleased to be spending time with Dickinson’s earlier poems that I’ve had a tendency to skip over in some sense to ‘get to the good stuff’. Actually, quite early on in the book are poems that I love. 76 was the first appearance of a real old favourite – which appeared in The Rattlebag, popular when I was at school – but I really liked number 26 when I got to it. I noticed that there was plenty of interest in the really early ones. In number 1, dated to the poet’s twentieth year, I was very struck by her line: ‘thou art a human solo, a being cold, and lone’, which seemed to hint at an early awareness of her proclivity for separation.
After an afternoon rest between the lunchtime and evening sessions, and some encouraging feedback from ForestCentre+’s Mirja and Ana, I felt more relaxed. One visitor sat for about fifteen minutes on the other side of the glass, which felt comforting by that point.
My fear that I’d be initially flummoxed by many of the poems and not really get what they were about, hasn’t turned out to be so founded. Actually, once my ear was in, I wasn’t feeling caught out by Dickinson’s slippery language use. The map of the poems is coming together in a way which I find interesting. In the context of reading the poems more or less chronologically, I was spotting the development of several lines of thought, which was very satisfying.
I also discovered some poems I’d never read before and loved, which was definitely a key objective for me. I’m interested to look beyond Dickinson favourites I know already to find other poems which really strike me with fresh first-readings. It’s a total delight that there’s so much still to discover in one of my favourite poets.
Here are some of the day’s pictures. Thank you to my photographer stars, Mirja Koponen, Emily Goodwin and Ana González Chouciño.
To conclude, I thought it’d be good to share a poem from the day’s reading. I felt like number 119 might have some advice for the current Tory party!
Talk with prudence to a beggar
Of “Potosi” and the mines!
Reverently to the hungry
Of your viands and your wines!
Cautious, hint to any captive
You have passed enfranchised feet!
Anecdotes of air in dungeons
Have sometimes proved deadly sweet!