Notes on Dickinson, Poetry and Language

from our afternoon lecture by Anne Marie Macari

-language is hypothesis and experiment
-poetic language expands our boundaries
-metaphor is instinctual groping

Dickinson’s definition of “redemption” is those things that force us into immediate experience, to the embodied, physical realm

Dickinson would improvise for hours on the keyboard, and was a singer with perfect pitch — no surprise that her poems are strong musical compositions, with lines of harmony and dissonance, and cannot be understood aside from this. The rhythm, the pacing — you have to pay attention to these, for they can change and shape the “surface” meaning of the words.

In many of Dickinson’s poems, she casts herself as a rival to God as a creator (Surprised? That whole “lonely spinister of Amhearst” crap has so limited how most of us understand Emily)

The male critics who spend all their time searching for men in Dickinson’s life, limited by their assumption that some man somewhere has to be connected to such creative brilliance, have “Dickinson Envy,” Anne Marie says.

Dickinson has, in the words of one biographer exploring gender politics, “a power disembodied from its user.” Dickinson claims so much power in her poetic voice, challenging religion, god, men, but at the same time is distant from that power. No surprise, given when she lived. Rich’s essay on this in On Lies, Secrets and Silences comments that, in a masculine-assumptive world, “active willing and creation in women are forms of aggression.”

Anne Marie talked about the often astounding endings of Dickinson’s poems, lines that turn the poem, and often social order, inside out. She described these as “guillotine endings” — the poem has its head chopped off. Martin Espada, in a workshop, talked about creating poems where the last line automatically makes the eye bounce back to the beginning to start over. That made total sense to me, but the endings that crack open the world also appeal to me – such different ideas, such different poems.

A Dickinson poem I didn’t know:

I reason, Earth is short-
and Anguish- absolute-
And many hurt,
But, what of that?

I reason, we could die-
The best Vitality
Cannot excel Decay,
But, what of that?

I reason, that in Heaven-
Somehow, it will be even-
Some new Equation, given-
But, what of that?

Anne Marie Macari

Anne Marie Macari


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