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Falling for Emily Dickinson, a Story of a Great Poet March 3, 2016

Posted by jayocallahan in Uncategorized.

Emilydickinson with creditIf you grow up in New England the leaves seem to whisper Emily Dickinson. She haunts us. And yet Dickinson is thought of as a lonely recluse in a white dress writing in her room.

In fact, as she said herself, “I find ecstasy in living. The mere sense of living is joy enough.” She was fascinated with all of life: its beauty, its struggles and its terrors. She loved language and worked at her craft so her language is fresh and startling. For instance, “The moon is just a chin of gold.” And “All but death can be adjusted.” Dickinson was a passionate, deeply thoughtful artist who never lost her sense of play.

What drew me first to Emily Dickinson was her “brush strokes,” short, brilliant lines like,

Night keeps fetching stars to our familiar eyes.

She startles. Another example is,

The only news I know all day

Is bulletins from immortality

This use of ordinary nouns like, bulletins and news come stunningly alive when immortality is the end of the line. She sees anew.

I discovered her playfulness in this poem

I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! they’d advertise – you know!

Storytelling is filled with rhythms and we can learn a lot about rhythm and sound from Dickinson. She was steeped in the hymns sung at the Congregational Church. She loved singing. There were times when she would run through the woods with a friend singing and she was a fine piano player. Some of her friends said her piano playing was weird. I imagine Dickinson experimented as she played the piano and I think of her as a young Thelonious Monk.

Dickinson contemplated all of life – its beauties, its sadnesses and its horrors. There is one poem about a wound so great it’s difficult to go on. As I read that poem I realized any soldier coming back from Iraq or Afghanistan hurt and unsure how to deal with life, could read that poem and say to himself or herself, “This person understands what I went through.”

Dickinson reminds us to keep growing, keep exploring and to take risks. She also reminds us we need to keep the child alive inside us. I’ve read Picasso said that his job was to get back to when he was five years old. Emily Dickinson sees all of life as if it’s just been created.

Dickinson worked with almost no encouragement. It was awe and commitment that kept her writing. There are times when life is difficult for all of us and we can take courage from her deep commitment.

Doubtless Emily Dickinson became discouraged at different times but she was clear about what she wanted in life. She wrote to her friend, Elizabeth Holland that, “My business is to sing and to love.” This clarity of vision gave her balance and made me love her. I admire her for being a “business woman.”

She wrote the bulk of her poems just before and during the Civil War. She wrote at a white heat and at a time the country was convulsed. She inspires in so many ways – with her language, her willingness to experiment, her love of life and her fearless examination of life.

Sadly people think of Emily Dickinson solely as a recluse and perhaps as a lonely woman who wrote cheerful poems. She was a woman who knew how to love but she also was a daring, ferocious artist who never lost sight of the fact as she said, “Life is the greatest secret, as long as it remains we must all whisper.”

Creating the story Falling for Emily Dickinson was a process of discovery for me. Two of Dickinson’s favorite words are awe and circumference. She found a circumference she could live and work in. It’s a paradox that my circumference grows smaller and yet larger in that there is more time for meditation, family, walking by the sea, reading and creating stories including exploring the written story and time for silence.

Emily Dickinson reminds me forcefully that commitment to one’s artistic work is important but love trumps work. Emily’s mother was an invalid for seven years. Emily along with her sister and the maid attended her mother and there was no complaint from Emily Dickinson. She was a lover who was bursting with life.