Emily Dickinson: Writing on Whatever Was At Hand

We were surprised to learn that the great poet Emily Dickinson often wrote her poems on whatever scraps of paper were on hand: envelopes, a household memo, the back of a Western Union telegram. The fragments of salvaged paper that held her astonishing poems —many of them experimental work —  have been collected in the beautiful book The Gorgeous Nothings: Emily Dickinson’s Envelope Poems by editors Jen Bervin and Marta Werner.  Writes Bevins:

Sometimes Dickinson’s writing fills the space of the envelope like water in a vessel or funnels into the triangular shape of the flap…

The Gorgeous Nothings is a full-color facsimile edition of Dickinson’s late writings, reproduced life-size in full-color front and back, with an accompanying transcription to aid in reading them. For poetry lovers, and those interested in the creative process, it would make a sublime gift.

It is curiously heartening to know that this marvel of a poem was written on the strangely cut out envelope, above:

’T was later when the summer went

Than when the cricket came,

And yet we knew that gentle clock

Meant nought but going home.

 

’T was sooner when the cricket went

Than when the winter came,

Yet that pathetic pendulum

Keeps esoteric time.

 

…And that this beauty poured onto the flap of an envelope “like water”:

Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson

In    this    short    life

that   only    lasts   an   hour

merely

How much-   how

little—is

within our

power

 

…And the koan-like “But are not all facts dreams” was written in pencil on a fragment of  envelope:

la_ca_11118_emily_dickinson

But are not

all   Facts   Dreams

as    soon    as

we      put

them     behind

us—

 

A Western Union telegram shows some of her process, of changes and crossed-out words:

Emily Dickinson Envelope poem 3

 

Emily Dickinson I gave him leave translation

 

We realize that when poems or artwork want to come, they can splash onto many things and do their work…

Emily Dickinson Envelope poem 2

Want more of Emily Dickinson’s original writing? Check out this vast Dickinson Archive.

For those who live in or near New York City, there is a riveting exhibit at The Drawing Center of similar material . The exhibit is up until January 10 at 35 Wooster Street.

via The Dish

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