Review: Emily Dickinson: The Gorgeous Nothings
Posted on February 27, 2017
Although reviewing children’s book is usually more my style, I couldn’t resist sharing my love of this book, which I have borrowed from my library, but which I must have a copy of for myself.
In an age where it is increasingly difficult to persuade a publisher to publish a book of poetry, it is a joy indeed to see this book published, though the poems in question are the writings of that much celebrated American poet, Emily Dickinson, yet this large coffee table format book is gorgeously sparse in its delightfully indulgent layout, consisting as it does in photographs of Dickinson’s own stationery, scrawled poems handwritten on stamped envelopes, revealing her own unusual line breaks and punctuations, in the middle of white space. The opposite page might then show a printed transcription in a technical drawing replicating the shape of the stationery.
The stunning layout is the result of a collaboration between a textual scholar and a visual artist. What is quite breathtaking about the book is the way that the stationery, various handwritings and stamps get to speak their own sparse beauty aloud without being cluttered by commentary or peripherals. Some pages feature just the envelope itself, with the poet’s name written in a lavish copperplate, with postage stamps and the postman’s stamps featuring as the only other adornment. Other pages feature a poem scrawled on just the flap of the vintage paper, the manner in which the handwriting tapers down into the Vee perhaps determining the course of the poem itself.
In the final third of the book, though, the commentary is what thrills. This is literary analysis in the realm of heaven,
‘The singing of birds marks — some even believe causes — both the break and the close of day. If we read from left to right across the contours of the open wings, A 821 (of the collection) appears to record the moment when day falls into night.’
It is only when you reach the pages of index of envelopes by page shape at the end of the book, accompanied by thumbnails, that you see how meticulous and loving the placement of the papers on the page has been in the curation of the book; Flaps and Seals; Arrows; Pointless Arrows; Envelopes Addressed by Emily Dickinson; Envelopes Addressed by Others; Index of Envelopes with Columns; Index of Envelopes with Pencilled Divisions; Index of Envelopes with Multidirectional Text; Index of Envelopes Turned Diagonally; Index of Envelopes with Cancelled or Erased Text; Index of Envelopes with Variants (and so the extent of my own poetry nerdiness is revealed by my thrill in these details)
I leaf through this book with the time and attention that it demands, and the poet’s writings are transformed into something else, and I think of what a fluid, vibrant form of writing poetry is, and wonder again at its narrow niche in the wider world.
(It’s my birthday in April, by the way)
Linking up with Kylie Purtell for #IBOT