From ‘Nobody’ to Somebody: The Morgan Library Brings Emily Dickinson in Context

Poetry News

By Harriet Staff

Meanwhile, PBS NewsHour’s Jeffrey Brown visited The Morgan Library yesterday to learn about Emily Dickinson. The poet who has for decades been shrouded by her reputation for wearing white dresses and being somewhat of a recluse is the subject of a new exhibition at The Morgan entitled “I’m Nobody! Who Are You?” This exhibition, curated by Carolyn Vega, is inspired by recent findings and artifacts that have complicated the poet’s history. In Vega’s words: “The stereotype that was attached to her very early on of this total recluse, of this woman in white who never left her bedroom, who penned these amazing verses, like, in a vacuum almost, in total seclusion, has really stuck to her…we’re fighting that, or just bringing it into context a little bit.” Let’s start there:

JEFFREY BROWN: This Emily Dickinson engaged with her times, including the Civil War years, through her reading and a constant correspondence with friends, leading thinkers, and others.

Often, she sent poems, sentences, stanzas and entire poems written on scraps of paper and envelopes, even chocolate wrappers, a new book, “Envelope Poems,” as well as the recent “The Gorgeous Nothings,” document this aspect of her work.

SUSAN HOWE, Poet: By God, she broke the glass ceiling in poetry. And Emily Dickinson is like a beacon of verbal power that will not be silenced.

JEFFREY BROWN: For Susan Howe, a leading contemporary poet and Dickinson scholar, the powerful voice of Dickinson is best heard and seen in these original manuscripts, the unusual line breaks, alternative word choices, poems as virtual works of art.

SUSAN HOWE: Ultimately, she leads me to the fundamental mystery of all poetry, which is the relation between the ear and the eye. Every mark on paper is an acoustic mark. Dickinson breaks down the barriers between poetry, prose and ear and eye.

JEFFREY BROWN: Marta Werner, a leader expert on Dickinson’s manuscripts, showed me an example.

MARTA WERNER: She talks about wanting to hinder time.

And as the poem unfolds, the way that the writing almost stumbles, right, performs that hindering of time, but you’re seeing, to some extent, the mind thinking.

Watch Jeffrey Brown’s visit to the Morgan Library at PBS NewsHour.

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Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, March 9th, 2017 by Harriet Staff.

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