Branching Out Little Rock: Kay Ryan on Emily Dickinson
The greatest iconoclasts don't set out to. Take Emily Dickinson. She just couldn't do some things as others did them. She couldn't seem to manage to get saved despite great pressure from revival-happy Amherst; she couldn't bend her talent to write poems in any way that her time could accept as poems; she couldn't want fame if it meant publishing; she couldn't trade the intensity of her own mind for the busyness beyond her gate. It is thoroughly remarkable to acknowledge that such a person—diminutive, clad in bridelike white, sealed within her rooms, doing no more to broadcast her poems than slipping them in with a batch of ginger bread—will never quit galvanizing American poetry. Her poems will never fit in. However scholars try to show us how they partake of this hymn form or that ballad convention, we know the difference. These poems have a crackedness that breaks all the way down to the original stuff of creation. Reading any but her tamest poems requires a welder's mask; we are in the immediate presence of a mind so intense and jagged, so un-smoothed-over, so hot, that it melts and reforms ordinary words, burns gaps in grammar and can seldom sustain itself for more than a stanza or two. But what a stanza or two. Kay Ryan will discuss Emily Dickinson's life and work.
A joint initiative with the Poetry Society of America, Branching Out: Poetry for the 21st Century is funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.