Photo by ashley dryden
As all of my former A.P. students know, I am crazy about Emily Dickinson… She is dark, disturbing, riddling, challenging, thought-provoking — she truly taught me how to read and to think. So, I was thrilled to read in Critical Mass about a evening devoted to Dickinson and Susan Howe’s My Emily Dickinson: a 21st century response by Artists and Writers — recently reissued. I look forward to finding this gem (how could it not be?) and being confirmed in my belief that Dickinson will always be relevant.
In her poetry, Dickinson narrowed her focus to the most immense questions — mortality, religion, love, fear, nature, science and placed each subject under the spell of her unique, puzzling wisdom in order to illuminate and dazzle her readers. Her form matches her subject matter so perfectly — her tight, regular rhythm in perfect discordance with the chaos of her subject matter — the slant rhyme that dislodges complacency — the last line that haunts.
When students first confront her, the first reaction is “I don’t get it!” Which is exactly the attitude we (should) have about mortality or God or love. Then, with focused meditation on her cryptic gem, the meaning is revealed as readers realize her ability to “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant — / The Truth must dazzle gradually/ Or every man be blind –” (1129).