The Language of Emily Dickinson

September 30, 2020

I’m delighted to announce the publication of The Language of Emily Dickinson, an essay collection that explores the beauty, liveliness, and lasting power of Dickinson’s poetry. And you don’t have to be an English professor to enjoy this book! Anyone who loves words, music, or history will find it interesting. There’s even an essay for fans of Biggie and Tupac!

My essay provides a close reading of one of Dickinson’s fascicles, a subject I’ve been fascinated with for nearly 20 years. These manuscript “books” represent a substantial portion of Dickinson’s body of work, containing just over 800 of her 1,789 poems. The fascicles are the reason I went to graduate school. Before I knew about them, I thought Dickinson wrote poems only for herself, and the handful I read in high school did little to move me. During my third year at UC Santa Barbara, however, I took a course on Dickinson’s fascicles and became obsessed. Why, given the extensive amount of time required by such a large poetic project, had critics considered her a private poet who was unaware of her poetic genius? Why did so few know about the fascicles? And why had Dickinson scholars largely ignored this pivotal aspect of her corpus? (This was back in 2002, and Dickinson’s fascicles have since become a central focus for many Dickinson scholars. As of 2020, however, not all forty fascicles have been closely read.) These questions led me to graduate school and—finally!—to this book. Despite all the years I have been reading and writing about Dickinson, I refuse to claim I’m a Dickinson expert, for this would imply I have figured her out and that is simply impossible. But this impossible aspect of the poetry is precisely what makes it alluring. As Martha Ackmann writes in the introduction to These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson, “There is no doubt she is a towering poetic voice. But there’s something else about her too. Emily Dickinson reminds us what it’s like to be alive” (xxiii). Dickinson wrote memorable, captivating, and powerful poems, but there is something indescribable and indecipherable about her work that calls to us and keeps us coming back for more.

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