March 31, 2013

Bill Murray and Billy Collins party with Emily Dickinson

Echoing one of the world's greatest poems, 'The Waste Land', in which "Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee/with a shower of rain", World Poetry Day surprised me, coming over the Twitscape with a shower of verse. I didn't even know that World Poetry Day had been taking place every March 21 for the past 13 years, proclaimed by UNESCO and having as its main objective, in a very UNESCO sort of way, "to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression" with a special tick if endangered languages are involved.

The general public didn't seem to be particularly aware of the linguistic aspect, and spent the day happily sharing favourite poems, or lines thereof, from poets as diverse as the Earl of Rochester (a poem of his on the subject of premature ejaculation was offered up by Neil Gaiman) and John Donne. The only writing in an endangered language -- well, "potentially endangered" according to UNESCO -- I saw go by was a poem by Robert Burns, the Bard of the Scots language, long may it live on.

Emily Dickinson was the poet I noticed being quoted most frequently, which made me glad (to use a word from the ED lexicon), as one poet you can never have a surfeit of is Emily Dickinson.

I don't know about now, but when I was little this strange and audacious poet was sneaked into children's anthologies with her poems amputated of their 'difficult' quatrains. I still remember my surprise years later at discovering that "A bird came down the walk" did not end when the bird met the beetle, but when it "unrolled his feathers/And rowed him softer home/Than Oars divide the Ocean/Too silver for a seam".

So I sometimes wonder how many people were left thinking of Dickinson as someone forever writing about bobolinks, dew, daisies and death in a still room?

Bring it on, "My Life had stood -- a Loaded Gun" !

Bring it on, "Big my Secret but it's bandaged --" !

Here's a piece of Dickinsonia you're going to love: a video of Bill Murray reading an Emily Dickinson poem to the construction workers who had just finished building the new Poets House in Battery Park, New York City. Poets House (no apostrophe -- "some things must never be possessed but shared" is the idea) is a New York institution where anyone can go and read or listen to poetry for free. When its collection (all donated books and recordings) passed the 50,000 mark and it couldn't fit anymore in its humble Soho loft, generous donors, among whom Bill Murray, made it possible to build the new space you see being inaugurated in the video (produced for Poets House by Limey Films, inc.).

And to finish off, here's "Taking off Emily Dickinson's Clothes", by the American poet Billy Collins. Interviewed by NPR, he explained that the poem was inspired by the eternal curiosity and speculation around one of the biggest mysteries in literature: did Emily Dickinson ever make love? "I attempted to put the matter at rest in a playful way", he tells the interviewer, "by having sex with her". More than playful -- I found myself holding my breath along with Emily, she who confessed in one of her most famous poems, "I never hear the word escape/without a quicker blood..."

 “Taking Off Emily Dickinson’s Clothes”

First, her tippet made of tulle,
easily lifted off her shoulders and laid
on the back of a wooden chair.

And her bonnet,
the bow undone with a light forward pull.

Then the long white dress, a more
complicated matter with mother-of-pearl
buttons down the back,
so tiny and numerous that it takes forever
before my hands can part the fabric,
like a swimmer’s dividing water,
and slip inside.

You will want to know
that she was standing
by an open window in an upstairs bedroom,
motionless, a little wide-eyed,
looking out at the orchard below,
the white dress puddled at her feet
on the wide-board, hardwood floor.

The complexity of women’s undergarments
in nineteenth-century America
is not to be waved off,
and I proceeded like a polar explorer
through clips, clasps, and moorings,
catches, straps, and whalebone stays,
sailing toward the iceberg of her nakedness.

Later, I wrote in a notebook
it was like riding a swan into the night,
but, of course, I cannot tell you everything -
the way she closed her eyes to the orchard,
how her hair tumbled free of its pins,
how there were sudden dashes
whenever we spoke.

What I can tell you is
it was terribly quiet in Amherst
that Sabbath afternoon,
nothing but a carriage passing the house,
a fly buzzing in a windowpane.

So I could plainly hear her inhale
when I undid the very top
hook-and-eye fastener of her corset

and I could hear her sigh when finally it was unloosed,
the way some readers sigh when they realize
that Hope has feathers,
that reason is a plank,
that life is a loaded gun
that looks right at you with a yellow eye.

From the book  Taking Off Emily Dickinson's Clothes by Billy Collins.

-- Karen

Ditulis Oleh : Karen Craig // 17:00


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