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Dickinson's Envelope Poems

A friend gave me “The Gorgeous Nothings,” an art book and scholarly work I would not have bought for myself, therefore, the perfect gift. I never liked Emily Dickinson’s poems when I was forced to read them at school; now I adore them. “The Gorgeous Nothings” is a collection of 52 poems, or drafts of poems, scrawled on opened envelopes. The hypothesis is that Dickinson was 1/being frugal and using whatever scraps of paper were to hand and/or 2/ creating visual as well as written poems. The distended and upended envelopes resemble birds in flight, birds migrating, resting, tension before flight. Dickinson loved birds. And these poetic notations, unlike the books (“bound fascicles”), are multi-media presentations.

For all her puritanical frugality and discipline, Emily Dickinson, we learn here, was a free-thinking artist; these are fugitive, ephemeral writings. She was courageous, she was inspiring. And she has inspired me. In her honor I created my own experiment last night: I asked my hard-working, earnest students to bring an envelope to our first workshop class to see what they would do with it when I asked them to use these fragile physical entities (that brown and brittle with age) to record three subjects they’d like to write about. I haven’t studied them all as yet, but a cursory glance suggests that the experiment came too early in the term and that everyone was attempting to stay within the confines of the closed envelopes without tearing them apart. I’ll have to conjure different instructions for the end of term. Or perhaps I won’t have to. By then the students will be as courageous and inventive as Emily Dickinson.
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