May 2015 - Comments Off

Sylvia Madaras

Observations on Emily Dickinson

1. Emily Dickinson was obsessed with the brain. In her work it represents the curious intersection of body and the ethereal Self. The brain is both organ and the synthesizer of identity. Dickinson creates and explores entire worlds within the scope of this organ – for example, in #280 she describes a funeral in her brain, and the bustle of mourning rituals. Entire processions take place; there are crowds and even the unfolding of plots. The paradox of the brain is its dual nature as both physical (the organ) and intangible (the faculty of thought).  This paradox becomes something discomforting due to Dickinson’s reductionism: a person is boiled down to the various parts of Heart, Body, Brain. This discomfort stems not so much from the grisly anatomical connotations, but for its insinuation that the vehicles of our humanity are finite. The Heart will stop, the Mind will deteriorate, and the Body rot – and our personhood, so couched in these specific organs, follows suit. Even our individuality will decompose, and this is a kind of death more complete than we are comfortable imagining. The death of the body is the death of the self.

2. “I mostly write about disgusting, violent things. I’m really liking it.”
“Are you in that class on Emily Dickinson?”
“Yes.”
“Oh, good.”

3. Dickinson’s use of the dash is a precursor to modern free verse. It carries the movement on even after the verse has finished, a travelling or unraveling of thoughts that acts as a natural, stream-of-consciousness bridge from one isolated line to the next. Nothing is ever finished with a dash. It is dissipated or transformed. The dash allows a thought to exist beyond the words written on the paper as an indication of the magnitude of thought that exists behind the poem. It is the vector for a thought to return to the psychological landscape from which it first emerged.

4. It amazes me she even allowed visitors near her… ecstasy is such a precious thing to inhabit in the presence of the distractions that live downstairs. I would not want to have known her, only sat on her porch and known that genius was having its way upstairs, and I could drink my tea, alone, down here, and never see her face, but know her by the sound of creaking floorboards, a rustle of quiet cotton, maybe by watching the birds on the lawn. And my unstable and lonely, all that could live up in the attic with her, too. Great writers are like that – they carry the craft for the rest of us, the mediocre, who are happy just to sit downstairs on the porch

 

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